Purdue’s Envision Center is taking virtual reality mainstream by applying it to construction safety.
Using a grant from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a research team is developing a VR simulator to prevent job site hazards.
James Jenkins, associate professor of construction management technology, is the source of expertise behind the Virtual Reality simulator. The avatar was made in his likeness, first as a joke by the student developers hired, but he went along with it and is providing the narration for the modules.
“We have six modules that we’re working on, and what we’re doing is we’re trying to help with fall protection training so the six modules kind of walk someone through a whole lot of information,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins said he has been working on these modules since October, writing the lesson plans from the information presented on the OSHA website. The goal is to replace traditional safety lectures with an interactive VR simulator.
“What we’re trying to do is trying to have more hands-on learning in a virtual environment, and with demos, it is a safe environment (for learning),” Jenkins said.
Construction employees are required to undergo training before they start work on site, Jenkins said. With the VR training simulators, this information could be more fun and engaging.
“We’re hoping this will help supplement (the information) and make it more memorable and by being fun and having a game-like atmosphere,” Jenkins said.
George Takahashi, a research programmer with Purdue’s Envision Center, is Jenkins’ partner. He is in charge of developing the program using the information Jenkins provides.
“We wanted to make this as close as you can without going to a real construction site,” Takahashi said. “Getting this information from a real specialist rather than sitting down and being presented with lecture information with non-stop facts can be overwhelming.”
The work can be dangerous
Construction workers on campus this week seem to think a more modern training method is a good idea.
Jeremy Ammend, with Thurston Construction in Indianapolis, likes the idea of bringing VR into training for the job.
He said the main reason he didn’t go to college was he didn’t like learning from books or sitting in classrooms. Ammend said he has commuted from Indianapolis every day since October to work on the Hub project at the corner of Pierce and Wood streets.
The 31-year-old said the business can be hazardous, pointing to a small scar on his left hand from a 1/4-inch drywall screw. A friend he works with once fell 52 feet on a construction site and nearly died.
Dale James, an electrician from Delphi also working on the Hub project, said he likes the idea of integrating VR into training lectures.
“You get them more into learning, they can get into visual learning,” James said. “A lot of people nowadays are visual learners.”
‘A whole world out there in safety’
The integration of the learning modules could also help companies cut down on costs, according to Jenkins.
“(The) usage of resources such as equipment but also personnel can be quite expensive to have a personal trainer to walk you through all of this,” Jenkins said. “You may have mentors on the construction site that can give you some of this information, but time is money. They just can’t stop what they’re doing to teach somebody new and do this every time you get a new person.”
Construction sites are operated by a lot of people, so with the inclusion of these VR learning modules, learning on the job will be safer and employees will be able to retrain, if necessary, many times in a safe environment, Jenkins said.
While a release date has not been finalized, the team is looking into several platforms to release the product once it is finished. Steam, a popular gaming website, is one of the platforms the team is eyeing to release the finished product, but they are also looking at other avenues, according to Takahashi.
“We have the right to redistribute this as well, so we’re looking at a couple others,” Takahashi said. “There’s a company out of Ohio that does a lot of training simulators similar to this, and we’ve considered partnering with them because they have a platform similar to Steam designed for distribution of educational materials specifically for construction safety.”
The team also plans to add learning statistics and a personal scoring function to the database, rather than keeping it internal to the app. Developers also plan to use it in Jenkins’ classroom, complete with an entire grading system.
After the completion of the modules for fall protection, the team has other ideas for future projects.
“This is going to be a stepping stone for other projects,” Jenkins said. “I mean, there’s a whole world out there in safety.”