Samsung Gear VR shines a light in the depths of Western Australian mines, bringing a father together with his family for the world’s first live-streamed birth that he would have otherwise missed.
Removing Obstacles When They Matter Most
The world's first live-streamed birth allowed an Australian father to share in the experience of a life-defining moment – the birth of his son – from 4,000km away. This technology holds promise for individuals who travel for work, particularly in Australia, as it can increase feelings of connectivity and togetherness across what is often thousands of lonely miles.
With Virtual Reality, It’s Possible to Be in Two Places at Once
When expectant parents Alison and Jason (“Jace”) Larke discovered that Jace, a “fly-in-fly-out” (FIFO) contract worker was scheduled to work 4,000 km away from their Perth home in a remote mining town on Alison’s due date, they assumed he would inevitably miss the first cries of their new baby. But Samsung had other plans for them.
Speaking about her experience, Alison said:
After we found out I was five weeks pregnant with our third child, we watched our baby grow, found out he was a boy and dreamed about what the future may hold. Then at 30 weeks pregnant, Jace's contract roster was confirmed and it was more than likely he would miss the birth our baby, pending a miracle. But that's exactly what we got.
We were given the opportunity to be involved in the Samsung project. Jace was able to see our son born & experience the birth as if he was in the room with me even though he was working away on the other side of the country. For me it was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders knowing he would not be missing out on such a precious moment in our lives and we would virtually be experiencing the birth together. It has been an absolutely amazing, once in a life time experience that has changed our lives forever.
Source: company website
With Samsung’s Gear VR, powered by Oculus technology, and Galaxy Note 4, Jace had the opportunity to don a headset that may be the closest thing to teleportation on the market.
Wearing the headset, Jace was able to virtually see and move about the delivery room, support his wife, and witness every precious moment of their son’s birth.
Samsung’s Chief Marketing Officer, Arno Lenior, said:
Being a father myself, I know how incredible the birth of a child is. Alison and Jason's story is familiar to millions of Australians and the reality of being away from family and friends is a heart-wrenching experience that most of us understand. But through the power of the Gear VR technology, we could help Jason welcome his third son into the world, in an exciting, unique way. This is true innovation. This is what technology is all about – enabling human experiences.
The Emotional Toll of FIFO Work
In Western Australia, the FIFO model of work is quite common. As of May 2014, the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimated that there were 102,000 individuals working in the resources sector, and approximately 63,500 of them were assumed to be FIFO workers.
FIFO workers are contract workers that travel to remote locations to perform their jobs. They work 12-14 hour shifts for 2-4 weeks at a time, with a week off in between rosters to rest and spend time with loved ones. Like Jace, they often miss out on important events at home (i.e., weddings, births, deaths, first steps, etc.).
In a survey conducted by Lifeline WA, FIFO workers reported difficulty adjusting to long shifts, fatigue, stresses related to work and accommodation conditions, feelings of isolation and entrapment, and a lack of formal supports.
It is most common for FIFO workers to be away for significant events, and this would obviously contribute to depression,
Jason’s father, Brian Larke told Samsung’s videographers.
Although FIFO workers feel well compensated for their sacrifices, their mental health is often overlooked.
John Schuman, of Minds in the Mines, told ABC in an interview:
Mental health is the overlooked factor in occupational health and safety in the mining and resources sector… Certainly FIFO has a number of deleterious effects on the communities and the workers themselves: some of them are used to it, do it very well and happily, but often people go out on the mine sites in the FIFO context expecting that all the hardships and the separations and the split lifestyles are going to be offset by the amount of dough that they earn . . . but they find that some of the stressors and strains are a bit much on them and their relationships with their families….
If you’re not used to a remote location and you’re not use to a mining camp where you get up in the dark and you go to work underground, you come out when its dark, you have a couple of beers, and you wake up and start again – you might do that for two or three weeks on the trot… Unless you’re prepared for it and have some [coping] strategies in place it can be very damaging.
The Center for Rural and Remote Mental Health published a report titled Dangers Lie Below the Surface in November 2010, calling attention to mental health issues faced by FIFO workers. “Long hours, heavy work, and challenging conditions can make it bloody tough,” the report said. “But what is often overlooked is that this work can also be psychologically and emotionally demanding.”
It's fair to say the stresses placed on a FIFO workforce are different than a different type of work arrangement, not saying they are greater, but they are certainly different, and they are exacerbated by those facts of isolation,
Although it seems apparent that mental health support is essential for the well being of FIFO workers and their families, virtual reality gear may help them to feel a bit closer to home when it matters most.