A virtual reality firefighter training startup spun out of Deakin University has raised $6.7 million Series A, with the Victorian government’s investment fund Breakthrough Victoria, taking a minority stake in the business for $5 million.
FLAIM Systems has developed what’s believed to be the world’s first fully immersive virtual firefighting training system, offering a safe and cost-effective way to replicate the stress and uncertainty of real-world fire situations.
It combines a VR headset with haptic technology, which creates a kinaesthetic “feels-real” experience by applying force feedback to the user. This includes simulating an operational fire hose and a thermal vest that reproduces the heat firefighters experience in different scenarios from the direction of the fire.
Existing seed investors, including major shareholder Deakin University as well as Significant Capital Ventures, and FLAIM management and staff chipped in the balance of the Series A. The startup’s CEO Simon Miller, has invested $1 million since the Seed round four years ago.
The capital will be used expand FLAIM’s operations, further develop its technology, and create 25 new jobs by 2026.
FLAIM emerged out of Deakin in 2019, and has clients in more than 300 emergency services agencies, defence, training organisations and private enterprise across Australia, the USA and UK.
Breakthrough Victoria chair, John Brumby, a former state premier, knows the importance of training for emergency responders.
“Firefighters put their lives on the line to keep our community safe – this innovation in virtual reality training will help keep them safe during training and provide the experience they need on the frontline,” he said.
“We see a real potential for this world-first Victorian technology to be adopted by emergency services agencies around the world.”
The FLAIM Trainer is both safe and cost-effective way to train firefighters in the wake of the use of toxic chemicals at a Victorian training facility, which lead to an increased cancer risk for firefighters who trained there. Last year, the state government introduced a $57 million redress scheme to support around 1,3000 firefighters exposed to the carcinogens during training at the former Fiskville training facility, which shut down in 2015.
FLAIM Trainer tracks performance data, from task completion time, to air and water usage, stress levels, where the trainee is moving and looking within the scenario, how they position themselves and interact with virtual objects in the scenario such as gas meters, electrical boxes, or the fire itself. It has 80 different VR training scenarios, spanning bushfires to fires on aircraft, industrial sites and residential properties.
Simon Miller said the fresh capital will set up FLAIM for global expansion.
“With the annual cost of firefighter injuries estimated by the US Fire Administration at between US$1.6 billion and US$5.9 billion in the US alone, and 14 % of all injuries incurred during training, we see significant scope to commercialise FLAIM’s innovative Australian technology as we seek to protect the lives of those who respond to hazardous fire, safety, rescue and emergency situations,” he said.
Many in the team are firefighters, including Chief Technical Officer Dr James Mullins a third-generation rural Victorian firefighter with a background in robotics engineering and virtual training capabilities.