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Research team reveals immersive ‘hybrid reality’ H&S training tool

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A team based at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh has developed a health and safety digital training system that integrates virtual environments and the real world.

Funded by the CITB, the Immersive and Controlled Environment for Construction Training (ICE) system allows people to view both objects that are real and those that are virtual in a system termed “immersive Hybrid Reality” (iHR).

Users of the training system wear an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, which projects a virtual world. But real items, such as the user themselves, their tools and nearby structures can then be programmed to appear and move in the virtual world.

The system is already being used by construction trainees at Edinburgh College, allowing students to experience difficult environments, with Fife College likely to adopt the system soon.

Dr Frédéric Bosché, the project's joint principal investigator (along with Dr. Mohamed Abdel-Wahab), told BIM+: “The system combines the 3D real world with the 3D virtual world. This allows people to see themselves – their real legs, real hands and real tools in a virtual world.” 

At present, the system can be used to demonstrate the experience of working in challenging environments, such as at height. This could enable trainees to have the experience of being at the top of a crane, for example, before being placed in that situation in real life. The results can then be used to determine if additional training is required.

Bosché said: “If you can see yourself in an environment then you really feel that you are there. Walking across a high beam without seeing your feet in a virtual world can be scary, but when you can see your feet it’s even scarier.”

At present, people the system is being used to allow people to see themselves in environments, but in the future this “mixed reality” system will enable college apprentices to perform actual tasks while being immersed within virtual but realistic site conditions.

Bosché explained: “Now we can simulate going up on a wind turbine and inspecting the blades and equipment, but in the future people we will be able to simulate working on the turbines.”

“We can use this technology to determine if people have difficulties working in difficult environments, such as at height. These people may need additional training,” he continued.

Using tools while wearing the virtual headset is still one or two years away, however, due to the safety issues caused by the lag time between actions happening and being picked up by the system according to Bosché.

Bosché is seeing a greater interest from contractors to use the system for both training and health and safety briefings and sees no reason why contractors won't be using it soon.

“Fewer and fewer people are being sceptical about the project. They are not saying this will never happen any more, now they are saying “how much does it cost,” he says.

Bosché and his colleague Aparajithan Sivanathan presented the ICE system at the APS and BIM 4 Health and Safety conference at the Building Centre last week.

We can use this technology to determine if people have difficulties working in difficult environments, such as at height. These people may need additional training.– Dr Frédéric Bosché, Heriot-Watt University