Imagine this: A colonel enrolled in Air University’s online master’s degree program dons a virtual reality headset to prepare for her war strategies course in the metaverse. Her avatar can interact with other real-life service members and even other branches of the military in a virtual war scenario, making critical decisions, solving problems, collaborating and discussing strategy.
While this seems like a scene out of a video game, this type of technology is already developed and prototyped in various industries, thanks to companies like C2 Technologies, Inc.
“Our whole focus is on improving human performance using tools and technologies — as well as modeling and simulations blended with traditional training and education methods as appropriate — to train people,” says the company’s co-founder and CEO Dolly Oberoi.
And as Oberoi puts it, C2 Technologies takes the learning to the learners. It’s focused on online immersive learning environments, simulation and modeling, synthetic training environments using augmented and virtual reality, metaverse and digital twins — driven by artificial intelligence, machine learning and analytics. The company works with a variety of industries in the private and public sectors. It is largely in the defense, intelligence, security, and aviation industries training the future workforce including aircrews and war fighters in the defense market.
Yet education technology, while recently proven critical because of the pandemic, isn’t a new industry for Oberoi. In fact, she’s always been drawn to exploring the possibilities and future of educational technology. It didn’t just lead her to C2 Technologies; it also brought her to the U.S. in the first place.
An Eye for the Future
Oberoi came to the States in the mid-1980s from India to learn about educational technology and take her knowledge back to her country. In Boston, she found such learning through a combined Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology program.
“It was one of the first of its kind,” Oberoi says. “So, what you are seeing today with COVID, I had envisioned in the mid-’80s taking learning online and distributing it across the globe.”
This, Oberoi says, was and is her vision.
Her perspective also plays a significant role here. Her mother had a K-12 school for first-generation learners, but when they didn’t have the basics — like a home to live in — what Oberoi was teaching felt meaningless.
“What I felt was that if I immerse them in technology-based learning environments and connected them — if I’m teaching them about Africa, well, why not connect them with kids in Africa and they learn firsthand?” she says.
This wasn’t possible yet. It was a pipe dream at the time, Oberoi says. She studied the application of technology to educate and train using videodiscs, during her time at Harvard. Once she graduated and returned to India, she realized India wasn’t yet ready for technology-based learning. She’d later return to the U.S. to discover the States were also not yet ready for technology-based learning at the time.
However, when Oberoi eventually moved to Washington, D.C., in the late-1980s, she was introduced to the defense industry — which constantly looks for new ways of training to remain mission-focused.
Still, she hit another roadblock.
“When I came to Washington, I met a lot of people and I still could not find myself a job because I was so ahead of the time that people couldn’t relate to it,” she says. “So, I started my own consulting practice on helping organizations look at the efficacy of using distributed learning and developing distributed learning environments.”
Oberoi landed several small projects that led to the launch of C2 Technologies in 1989, largely because of research studies that proved that using educational technology solutions actually worked. Interest within agencies grew as they were looking for someone to develop these solutions.
“I would say that our company has been a pioneer,” Oberoi says.
And when much of the world transitioned to virtual work and school during the pandemic, it drove the need for the types of solutions C2 Technologies provides. Oberoi may have been ahead of her time, but “now globally, everybody has had to by necessity embrace online learning and education,” she says.
Homing in on Immersive Technologies
The concepts of synthetic and virtual learning environments aren’t new, but now, technology has caught up to make it possible. Advancements in development tools and 5G networks combined with commercial digital pushes through the gaming industry and upbringing of digital-native generations are making immersive environments a popular reality.
C2 Technologies’ services go beyond online training, and into immersive learning to provide life-like experiences through AR/VR, mixed reality and the metaverse. In other words, the company is bringing together the physical and digital worlds to improve human performance.
C2 Technologies caters to two groups: adults in the public and private sectors; and the higher-education industry.
“So, two different target audiences, but the outcomes are very similar,” Oberoi says. There must be a transfer of learning, and the programs must be on demand, so troops, for instance, can access learning anywhere at any time.
C2 Technologies took Air University’s programs online in 2007, allowing service members to study from wherever around the globe they are stationed. Similarly, if troops are on air carriers and something breaks down, they don’t have the luxury of having all the personnel to train them on demand. With C2 Technologies’ platform, they can pick up their headset and use VR to simulate a repair.
“We develop a variety of solutions to meet the learners where they are,” Oberoi says. “They don’t even always have to have a headset or have a mobile device; they can simply watch a video. They can open a standard operating procedure, which can be an app.”
Take the Patriot missile system, for instance. Launching this missile requires many steps, and Oberoi says her company developed an app to help troops do so in theater on demand. And then, they took that app to VR.
“They don’t have to go to a schoolhouse like they used to traditionally and learn to do something,” she says, “they can learn literally on-demand, any time, any place on any device.”
While VR simulates real-life environments, the metaverse is where the physical world and digital world come together. Avatars controlled by humans with VR headsets interact together in the metaverse, meeting in various environments like gaming, work and school. And while Meta — the recently named umbrella company of Facebook — has made the term metaverse more popular, the synthetic environment has been conceptualized for a while.
“It’s actually going to become mainstream as it evolves just because people are going to grow up working and playing together in the metaverse,” Oberoi says. “They’re going to go shopping in the metaverse.”
Walmart has already developed a shopping app where users put on their headset, shop and pay in the metaverse. The product is then picked up or delivered, or a store clerk puts you on a waiting list if the product is out of stock — it’s just like being there in person.
“Metaverse is just going to be another environment that you operate in,” Oberoi says.
And she believes conferences, meetings, concerts, shopping, real estate transactions, and other day-to-day social events will eventually be held in the metaverse.
“If you are using just virtual reality apps, you don’t feel the presence of another person, but here, if you and I were meeting today in the metaverse and you had your avatar, I had mine, and we are talking, our voices are still the same,” she says. “We would feel very comfortable sitting, maybe having a cup of tea together and chit-chatting around a coffee table.”
The metaverse is essentially creating a communication and collaboration environment — the future of human immersive culture, Oberoi says.
Working on the Future
Just last month, C2 Technologies hosted its first meeting, client demos and training in the metaverse. The company has also developed an online career-pathing tool for customers focused on career growth and future jobs, roles and functions as technological demands evolve.
“When people go into this career-pathing tool, they do a self-assessment of where their skillsets are and where their gaps are, what sort of jobs they can potentially get, and how do they meet the gaps,” Oberoi says. “What we’re also doing is taking it and step further now, taking into the metaverse.”
If a general mechanic is interested in becoming an aircraft mechanic, for instance, she can enter an aircraft maintenance situation in the metaverse and shadow an actual aircraft mechanic to decide whether the profession is for her. That’s the benefit of immersive technology and experiences.
“We are immersing them into different job functions and having them experience it,” Oberoi says.
The company is also working to take Air University’s online master’s degree programs to the metaverse, especially following the push to virtual learning during the pandemic. Courses like war strategy especially benefit from war-like environments in the metaverse, where students can interact in a joint planning environment to make critical decisions and collaborate.
“That is a very powerful tool,” Oberoi says. “We have created gaming exercises and simulations, but they’re still working individually. In this metaverse, they’re working with others. It’s creating a lot more collaboration and real-time decision-making, problem-solving, or even if there’s conflict, they have to address that.”
C2 Technologies is also developing digital twins, which is defined as “a virtual representation that serves as the real-time digital counterpart of a physical object or process.” It’s typically updated with real-time data and uses simulation and machine learning to replicate the physical world. This is particularly useful for training purposes as it helps take users through the entire lifecycle of a process.
Another area the company is looking to develop in the metaverse is small cities so public works officials and others can work together to make decisions about infrastructure or pollution.
“Whether it’s a digital twin or whether you’re taking them into the metaverse, that’s the way it’s going to be in the future,” Oberoi says.
A Cultural Shift Toward Adoption
Not too long ago, a common belief was “training requires using and feeling the hardware or being present,” when presented with an opportunity to take learning to virtual simulators. Fast forward to 2020, and the need to keep training, education and work going forced many industries to accept virtual environments.
The same happened for C2 Technologies’ customers. When COVID shut down the world and certain in-person training exercises, like pilot training, couldn’t be performed, the Air Force agreed to pilot airmen training in a virtual environment before using a simulator — which is far more expensive.
“Ninety percent of what they need to learn can be learned in a virtual environment using virtual reality and 10% practiced in a real simulator,” Oberoi says. “So, if you follow my drift here, we develop prototypes, gather data to validate the effectiveness of innovative training methods, so our clients can make data driven decisions, but we don’t push them.”
Ultimately, the Air Force ended up adopting this approach after a successful pilot and experiment. In fact, C2 Technologies has recently hired additional staff to develop VR pilot and maintenance training solutions at that base. Providing on-demand training allows airmen to train at home or wherever they are using their mobile devices.
“That’s how we work with our customers — we are not selling them tools, technologies. We are getting them to buy into improving human performance,” Oberoi says. “We are very invested in transfer of learning and human performance improvement outcomes and getting the target audience mission ready.”
Along with the need to improve and ramp up national defense training, investing in virtual training environments means being prepared for the next unprecedented event.
“The future is not in bringing people to physical spaces, making them wait for a year before they can go to a training physical academy,” Oberoi says. “The future is in AI, in the metaverse, in virtual reality and offering just-in-time education and training, any place on any device.”
And once this becomes commonplace commercially, people won’t accept anything less.
A Dedication to Innovation
Oberoi believes these next few years will be crucial for the development of and investment in the metaverse.
“These technologies, they’re creating experiences,” she says. “It’s tearing down barriers and borders. It’s creating opportunities . . . it is becoming universal. It is becoming one world, one metaverse.”
The metaverse unlocks remote work and school for billions of people around the world, breaking down accessibility barriers and driving inclusion and diversity.
“All you need are some tools, internet and a device and you can be a part of that global world,” Oberoi says. “This will not be controlled by entities. That’s the future.”
And ever since Oberoi first saw a Macintosh Apple computer, she’s had her sights set on the future. She’s been fixated on the idea of connecting people globally through technology and computers and continues to evolve with that vision as technology evolves. That’s how C2 Technologies stays on the cutting edge.
“I felt that innovation really comes when you can think freely, and you are unfettered. Innovation doesn’t come when there are too many boundaries around you,” Oberoi says. “The reason we have lasted for three decades is because not only have we done pioneering work, we have evolved with the technology.”
That, she says, along with leveraging the best the world has to offer and keeping an open mindset, are critical components to the success of any innovative company.