Fran Bertagni, project manager of operations at PlayWerk
Fran Bertagni, project manager of operations at PlayWerk, demonstrates the company’s signature product, Forklift-Simulator.

Meet the makers of a virtual forklift

PlayWerk is an example of Irvine’s thriving startup community

by TOMOYA SHIMURA

Who said video gaming isn’t productive? PlayWerk, a startup company based in Irvine, has invented a Virtual Reality (VR) simulator that allows companies to train and evaluate forklift operators in a safe environment away from the hustle and bustle of real warehouses. Trainees ride the simulator with a VR headset that gives them a 360-degree view of a warehouse and presents them with real life tasks.

PlayWerk’s Forklift Simulator is now used by about 100 companies around the world like Toyota, BMW and L’Oreal as well as government agencies, making it an example of the innovations emerging from Irvine’s startup community. Irvine Standard interviewed CEO Ryan Breed to ask about his company and why PlayWerk chose Irvine as its home.

Why was Forklift-Simulator such a big deal?

It was one of the first examples of VR being applied to industrial learning. And it was done in a very high quality way for  an extremely large industry that has a real need.

Why apply virtual reality technology to forklift training?

There are companies out there that put up a foam wall and have people drive a forklift through it to simulate something going wrong, which is very difficult. All of this can be done very safely in VR.

Also, you can see and measure actions that somebody takes in VR. We can record and report on that so that people can give their operators direct feedback like, “Hey, you didn’t look for three seconds at the intersection.” They can do it in a classroom setting as opposed to being on the floor where there’s a lot of activity and is incredibly chaotic.

Why did you choose Irvine as your headquarters?

Investment and talent. Irvine has a really good mix of a burgeoning investment community along with a strong bench of gaming talent coming from UCI and existing gaming companies that provide potential future hires for us.

What’s next for your company?

We are still finishing the journey we started with forklift simulation, and we have a lot of ideas about other places that VR can be applied to industrial learning. Gamified Learning can be applied to just about anything.

PlayWerk CEO Ryan Breed
PlayWerk CEO Ryan Breed