Using Virtual Reality to Teach Tomorrow’s Engineers
Erin Green posted on November 16, 2015 | 11299 views

Not long ago, virtual reality was the stuff of science fiction - but soon it will be the way that engineering students learn their craft.

A virtual reality (VR) suite, comprised of a VR auditorium and a head-mounted display (HMD) suite, has been installed at the London South Bank University (LSBU). The suite will teach budding engineers to examine complex problems and develop creative solutions.

The HMD suite is separated from the auditorium by an electrostatic glass wall. Spectators in the auditorium have access to stereo glasses for review or participation. (Image courtesy of Virtalis.)

The HMD suite is separated from the auditorium by an electrostatic glass wall. Spectators in the auditorium have access to stereo glasses for review or participation. (Image courtesy of Virtalis.)

Building a VR Environment

The main feature of the suite is the auditorium and its 6 m x 3.2 m (19.6” x 10.5”) ActiveWall screen. The screen provides an immersive 3D visualization projected at a 1:1 scale to give large projects a sense of realism.

The second feature of the VR suite comprises an ActiveSpace HMD suite.

This space is large enough to accommodate physical equipment, which can be hooked up with sensors or transducers to enhance the virtual experience.

The HMD suite is separated from the auditorium with an electrostatic wall, which users can turn opaque with a switch to alternate between collaborative and independent projects.

Combining Interactive VR and CAD

Both components of the VR suite incorporate wireless tracking and navigation to monitor motion and create an interactive experience for users. The system uses four avatars so students can interact collaboratively and in real time.

The VR suite uses HMD visors to immerse students in the subject matter. These visors enable students to control interactive avatars. (Image courtesy of Virtalis.)

The VR suite uses HMD visors to immerse students in the subject matter. These visors enable students to control interactive avatars. (Image courtesy of Virtalis.)

The VR suite at LSBU, designed by Virtalis, will enable students to explore the fit and functionality of their designs and potential modifications to improve effective operation.

It will work in conjunction with the school’s Project-Based Learning Lab, a CAD suite with 23 workstations running various software programs from Autodesk, Ansys and Siemens. This lab also facilitates rapid prototyping and physical prototyping using Stratasys 3D printing technology.

VR: Engineering Education

The combination of the VR auditorium and the HMD suite is intended to help users understand the use of VR in a range of engineering disciplines including mechanical, electrical and chemical.

“We want to give our students a hands-on experience of using VR as a development tool,” said Tony Roberts, academic director at LSBU’s School of Engineering. “[W]e know that this technology gives engineers a much more realistic insight into how complex concepts behave in scenarios which are difficult to contemplate using other geometry visualization methods.”

“Postgrads, undergrads and even younger students from our affiliated Academy of Engineering will all benefit from these facilities,” Roberts continued. “We now have a blank canvas and have numerous opportunities to develop content to enhance the student experience.”

For more information about the virtual reality suite, please visit the London South Bank University and Virtalis websites.

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