Loft Dynamics AG, a Swiss startup that uses virtual reality to train helicopter pilots, said today that it has raised $20 million in its first institutional funding round to help expand the company’s reach into international markets, including the United States where there’s a pilot shortage.

Investors for the round included U.S. investors Craft Ventures, Sky Dayton and Up Ventures. The company also announced a rebranding from VRM Switzerland to Loft Dynamics, marking its name change alongside the funding round.

“After many years in development, we are ready to expand Loft Dynamics to become a global company and bring our technology and training solutions to the world,” said Fabi Riesen, co-founder and chief executive of Loft Dynamics. “This funding comes at exactly the right moment as we will be able to meet the escalating demand for flight schools and accelerate the range of aircraft types we support.”

The company said Loft Dynamics is the world’s first and only VR full-motion simulator qualified by a major aviation regulator, which means that pilots can train in its simulation software and receive credit as though in an actual aircraft. So far pilots can get European Union Aviation Safety Agency credit for the Airbus H125 and the Robinson R22 helicopters.

Compared with traditional simulators, Loft Dynamics’ VR simulators are more lightweight, smaller and less costly to maintain. They also make training safer since they require less equipment. Traditional full-motion simulators require bulky equipment, which are huge apparatuses available only in specialized training centers that are specially outfitted for them.

Loft Dynamics engineers spent the past six years creating a realistic training alternative using virtual reality, which can generate high-resolution, immersive simulations. They then combined it with a dynamic six-degrees-of-freedom motion platform and a full-scale replica cockpit in a package 10 times smaller and roughly 20 times less expensive than the traditional full-motion simulators. According to the company, this can also cut air-time training by up to 60%.

Big-name companies are already using Loft Dynamics for pilot training including Airbus Helicopters, Air Zermatt, Colorado Highland Helicopters, Helitrans Norway, Meravo and Mountainflyers. The company hopes that its solution will help bring more pilots into the industry quicker with the effect of the pandemic creating a gap in the current flock of pilots and reducing costs for training pilots more quickly.

“Loft Dynamics is paving the way for the integration of virtual reality applications in pilot training,” said Patrick Ky, executive director and head of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency. “EASA looks forward to seeing the flight safety benefits of this as soon as possible, in line with the objective of EASA’s Rotorcraft Safety Roadmap of increasing safety by 50% by the end of 2028 compared with 2017 figures.”

Businesses have been exploring VR as a means to train workers for years including parcel delivery service UPS, which uses the technology to prepare drivers for road hazards, and Rolls-Royce, which uses it for remote training programs for aircraft engine repairs. More recently, in August, FundamentalVR, the maker of VR surgery training software, raised $20 million in funding to train surgeons remotely.

Photo: Loft Dynamics

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