Behind the Scenes of SENAR Simulators (Interview)

Behind the Scenes of SENAR Simulators (Interview)

An interview with Corine Barbazanges, Production Director at SENAR

Corine Barbazanges directs the entire process of creating AR simulators, whether they are standard or specifically produced for our clients. She offers a glimpse into her role and the activities of her team.

What is your role at SENAR?

As the Production Director, I am responsible for the entire creation chain of our mobile Augmented Reality simulators. This ranges from interactions during client briefings to the final delivery of the simulator. My job mainly revolves around organizing and coordinating a multidisciplinary team of 3D designers, animators, and developers for each project. I ensure everything aligns with the client's expectations, and the production process runs smoothly in terms of compliance, quality, and timeline.

How did you start working in AR?

Before co-founding SENAR in 2019, I was the Head of Production at GuidiGO, its sister company. During that period, I managed over 70 mobile AR experiences, created for prestigious museums worldwide.

GuidiGO Clients Logos

Through various projects, our successes – and sometimes our mistakes – I discovered the immersive potential of AR, its educational value, as well as its technical constraints and pitfalls. When GuidiGO diversified by creating SENAR, I naturally transitioned to the Production Director role for our AR simulators.

How do you relate playful AR museum experiences to the type of simulators SENAR produces today?

The connection is not just real; it's strong. When a museum visitor picks up a tablet at the entrance for an immersive experience, they should instantly feel comfortable with the interface, without prior training, regardless of their age or mobile familiarity.

The same holds true when a learner uses a simulator to practice a process or conduct a safety inspection in a virtual scene. They should immediately dive into their professional logic without wasting time understanding the simulator's workings.

Our experience with GuidiGO has given us a strong expertise in creating user-friendly simulators. We understand the significance of providing an intuitive interface that allows users to focus on learning or performing tasks without fretting over technical aspects.

Can you outline the steps in a typical AR simulator project?

A project kicks off with discussions with the client. We aim to understand their business deeply, the training their teams undergo, and most importantly, how AR can enhance it. We determine the exact objective the client hopes to achieve with AR and advise them on feasible goals.

Then, our team contemplates the best approach to adapt the client's training process to mobile AR. We brainstorm ways to enrich the process so our technology adds real value. Everyone shares their thoughts on the ideal user experience, without being confined to their expertise.

For certain simulators, we undertake extensive research to understand a process, source reference photos and videos, ensuring an authentic representation in the virtual scene.

In some cases, we prototype specific parts of the process, especially if it involves a new interaction type. We recently did this to simulate the use of a bone drill during the placement of an implant in a virtual knee. This allows us to test ideas and see how they work in practice. Prototyping is a valuable tool for rapid experimentation and iteration.

We also draft a storyboard detailing various elements for each experience stage: where the user should look, instructions to provide, SDK components in use, animations to design, etc.

Additionally, we brainstorm to conceive "wow" effects to enhance user engagement, be it special interactions, accident recreations, or any immersive feature.

How do you ensure the simulator meets client expectations?

Throughout the simulator's development, we conduct regular tests by placing ourselves in the end user's shoes.

We ensure the experience is simple to understand, engaging, and educational. If any element falls short, we make the necessary adjustments.

Moreover, we ensure all in-simulator texts are relevant, concise, understandable, and available in the required languages.

AR Simulators with Spanish, Dutch and Indonesian Interfaces
AR Simulators with Spanish, Dutch and Indonesian Interfaces

Our aim is for the simulator to perfectly cater to the client's needs but, more importantly, add significant value to their team training.

What challenges are unique to creating a mobile Augmented Reality simulator?

Mobile AR provides users with unparalleled freedom of movement, but it comes with constraints. Before triggering an animation, for instance, we must ensure the user is positioned correctly and looking in the right direction.

A major challenge lies in balancing the 3D AR immersion and 2D interface constraints, considering it exclusively occurs through a smartphone or tablet screen. We must innovate to maximize interactivity within this framework, which demands immense creativity.

Striking the right balance in guiding the user is also tricky. When a learner uses a simulator, it's vital they understand what's expected of them at every stage. However, they shouldn't be led straight to the answer, as it would skew their knowledge assessment.

Lastly, it's essential that the user never feels stuck to avoid discouraging them from using the simulator.

How does creating an AR mobile simulator differ from other digital projects?

Creating this kind of simulator requires specialized expertise. One must know how to adapt a physical procedure specifically for AR, considering its unique features and constraints. This notably includes the need for the virtual environment to integrate seamlessly with the user's real environment. Immersion requires displaying objects at their actual size. However, with some simulators, the represented scene might be so expansive that it surpasses the confines of the user's room. This is a variable that one must learn to manage.

Moreover, it's essential to break down the procedure into steps that provide a smooth and immersive experience, while still making pedagogical sense. This skill is honed by developing various types of simulators and through feedback from users across diverse industries.

Lastly, it's crucial to make the right choices; one must avoid getting lost in time-consuming "gimmicky" effects that lack genuine educational value. The primary goal of our simulators is to help users grasp key concepts and the different stages of a process, through hands-on practice and repetition. For instance, when an electrician trains on our electrical cabinet simulator, we'll check if they know which component to dismantle at which step of the process, indicated by a tap on the component at the right moment. Similarly, to adjust a rheostat, they can slide their finger over the knob to turn it to the required value. The gesture in AR might slightly differ from real-life actions, but the simulator's aim isn't to check if they can turn a knob. What matters is their understanding of the procedure.

Adjusting Rheostat Value in Augmented Reality Setup
Adjusting Rheostat Value in Augmented Reality Setup

Our goal is to envision the most efficient way to practice and remember each concept to be assimilated, while avoiding overly complex interactions that might hinder the experience's fluidity.

What advice would you give to a company considering adopting AR for training?

Firstly, I would advise them to clearly define the objectives for the simulator – because some educational goals are perfectly achieved without 3D or AR. Setting precise objectives is crucial to ensure augmented reality is the best solution for reaching them. It's also vital to collaborate with experts familiar with the specifics and constraints of mobile AR since this experience vastly differs from what one might create for a VR headset. 

Lastly, I would recommend always prioritizing the user experience; ensuring the simulator is not just educational but also engaging and user-friendly.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

It's the joy of working alongside an outstanding team of 3D designers and developers. Not just because they are each experts in their field, but because building alongside them is exhilarating. I am particularly proud of their undaunted approach to challenges and the mutual respect they share for each other's work. Their ability to accurately recreate environments and set them up is genuinely awe-inspiring.

I also love contributing, in my own way, to the final output of the simulators. I add my personal touch by sourcing photos of labels and sounds that ensure the simulator is detailed and realistic. For this, I often collect real sounds from actual machines and tools.

Do you have an anecdote about your experience with mobile Augmented Reality?

What always amuses me is that, despite my extensive experience and having delivered dozens of AR experiences to clients of GuidiGO and SENAR, my brain still gets tricked by the immersion. Once, while testing a scaffolding inspection, I caught myself raising my foot high to avoid hitting a metal tube... which was, of course, virtual. This goes to show how realistic a simulator, even on mobile, can immerse the user in a training scenario.

What do you believe is the future of augmented reality in the field of training?

The integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) presents fascinating prospects. We can envision training sessions where scenarios adjust in real-time based on user actions, thanks to smart algorithms. Training where learners can ask open-ended questions, and the system would respond appropriately using natural language understanding. 

AI might also analyze data in the background to optimize training scenarios based on learner performance. This would allow for truly personalized training paths, tailored to each learner's level and specific needs.

We're at an exciting juncture where these technologies are just beginning to showcase their potential. I'm convinced that AR, when combined with AI, has many more surprises in store for us.

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