Companies are using virtual reality methods to train their employees, and two Lafayette companies are out front of that trend

By Dan Boudreaux

Virtual reality workforce training is the latest trend for numerous industries, and Lafayette is the home of two businesses and an educational institute that is on the forefront.

Tantrum Lab and Digital Twin Studios are Lafayette-based tech companies that specialize in virtual reality workforce training for the oil and gas and hospitality industries. They create programs for companies that allow employees to train in real-world situations with just a simple virtual reality headset.

Virtual reality workforce training may appear on the surface like employees playing video games, but it has numerous benefits that are difficult to replicate. Studies have shown that virtual reality training has seen information retention at levels far outstripping traditional training methods such as reading handbooks or watching videos.

“People tend to have a seven-to-10 minute attention span when you sit them down for training,” Tantrum Lab founder Elliot Green said. “Studies have shown that traditional training methods have as low as a 15 percent retention rate after just one month while virtual reality — which is much more hands-on and interactive — has seen it as high as 75 to 90 percent after three months.”

Tantrum Lab, which started in New York City in 2012 as Tantrum Experience, began its life as a company that made promotional material and marketing events for Ferrari, Maserati and Audi. The company first got into virtual reality by setting up the equipment in a race car to allow them to create a virtual reality experience for Maserati.

It then branched off and went fully into the VR training industry when Green moved to Lafayette with his wife and started Tantrum Lab in 2015.

Since then, Green and his crew of four employees have created virtual reality training simulations for firefighters, the health care industry, crane operators and oil rig workers with interest in the programs coming from as far away as Hong Kong and Dubai.

Meanwhile, within Lafayette’s small business incubator Opportunity Machine, Digital Twin Studios, started creating virtual reality experiences to train oil field workers. The company now serves other industries, including hospitality and education, with some of its clients including Shell, Virgin Hotels, Carnival and the Pugh Family Foundation.

“It really started to pick up when we became tactical partners with Shell and focus in on the energy sector, but we’ve also started expanding into other sectors like hospitality as well,” said Marcus Brown, chief marketing officer at Digital Twin Studios. “We’re also working on a project with Pugh Family Foundation in the Lafayette Parish School System to enhance reading comprehension and reading fluency through educational virtual reality games.”

This workforce training trend in Lafayette has also been propelled by these two company’s proximity and relationship with the Academy of Interactive Entertainment.

AIE is a nonprofit digital arts college that trains future video game designers, animators, programmers and visual effects artists for film. Lafayette has one of the two AIE campuses in the United States, based out of the LITE Center, and students from the academy have moved on to working at both local VR businesses after graduation.

“A lot of your VR training is done in the game programming curriculum, and the assets are done in the game art animation class,” said AIE communications coordinator Billy Walker. “The students are learning the skills to go into that VR world if they so choose. Digital Twin was started by AIE graduates, and both them and Tantrum are comprised almost entirely by AIE’s students. It’s been very good for us.” 

Walker said having Tantrum Labs and Digital Twin Studios in Lafayette has also helped the school learn how best they should teach future virtual reality students because they now have companies that can tell them exactly what’s needed in the industry from employees.

Tantrum Lab and Digital Twin Studios have also given some credit for their growth and success to the local support they have received from organizations like Opportunity Machine, the Lafayette Economic Development Authority and the Small Business Development Center.  “Several Fortune 500 companies are integrating virtual reality into their education and training programs to achieve up to a 75 percent increase in retention rates and up to a 40 percent improvement in productivity,” Opportunity Machine director Destin Ortego said. “Lafayette is poised to be a hub for immersive technology innovation in all of its base industries to include energy production, health care, education, entertainment and tourism.”