There it is, the new bus interchange. You’re looking at it from behind the bus windscreen. There’s traffic, pedestrians, other buses, digital display screens, passengers are waiting, looking, and you’re trying to navigate all of this.
That’s what the bus drivers of Red Bus were going to face the moment they entered the new Christchurch Bus Interchange. That’s when Aurecon developed a fully-simulated bus interchange in virtual reality with a gaming wheel, pedals and virtual reality goggles.
It was a ‘lifelike’ design of the circular layout. This allowed the drivers to become familiar with their new environment and, consequently afforded them a much safer and smoother transition to the real bus interchange.
As businesses returned to the Christchurch CBD after the devastating earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, a single-level, L-shaped building rose from the ground.
The US53 million Christchurch Bus Interchange was the first anchor project to be completed in the central city and opened in October 2015. It offers an airport-style lounge facility with retail and cafes around the edge, providing a sense of place for commuters and visitors.
Due to the relatively tight constraints of the circular bus interchange site, drivers must use reverse driving methods out of each busy bay so the required number of bus services can be accommodated. This is the first application of backing buses in the Southern Hemisphere.
Paul McNoe, Chief Executive of Red Bus, says that the circular layout and reversing bus movements created uncertainty among the drivers before it opened.
“They were understandably nervous about how the new interchange reversing bus bays would operate within the circular design. We had to find a way to address these concerns before the interchange opened, and to train new drivers before they drove through the interchange for the first time.”
“That is where Aurecon stepped in with the virtual reality simulator,” says McNoe.
The Christchurch Red Bus drivers used Aurecon’s virtual reality simulator to get themselves up to speed on the city’s new bus interchange. Red Bus drivers might admit to not being gamers, but the way in which they trained to drive through the interchange was the same as being inside a video game.
“Bus drivers were trained subconsciously into understanding where the conflicts were with cyclists or passengers, upon entry and exit,” says Simon Yorke, Aurecon Advanced Design Technologist.
“They were also familarised with the bus exchange’s digital screens, the bus bay technology and also how far into the bus bay they must go to align with the doors. The simulation reflected the exact layout of the new bus interchange and nearby streets. It presented potential hazards, including other vehicles while reversing,” says Yorke.
The project team still remember the lightbulb moment, when an engineer looked at the 3D drawing and said, “how cool would it be to turn this into a bus driving simulation to train bus drivers."
Simon Yorke explains that a virtual reality headset, together with a steering wheel and pedals allowed the creation of the virtual reality driving simulator.
“This was one of the first applications of virtual reality technology in the engineering industry. By wearing a virtual reality headset, wherever drivers moved their head, the headset provided them with a full peripheral view as if they were actually within the interchange,” says Yorke.
With the addition of a steering wheel and pedals, Aurecon created a virtual reality driving simulator for the bus drivers to control and practice how to enter, manoeuvre to their specified bus bay, and exit the interchange from the driver’s perspective.
This advanced technology method of training allowed drivers to learn, and become comfortable with the new Aurecon designed interchange, playing a pivotal role in reducing risk and improving safety.
Ease of use definitely played a large part in why the virtual reality training was a success. It’s immersive. Because the brain receives visual feedback and the ‘game’ is so real, everywhere a user looked felt as if they were really there.
So, Red Bus drivers were prepared for the real thing. They knew the layout of the interchange, it became a familiar environment for them before going onto real life training, then engagement with passengers once the interchange opened.
The novelty factor also helped gain the interest of staff and encouraged them to utilise the tool. Drivers had the opportunity to train in a risk-free environment where they were given the freedom to explore without consequence; this prompted even more curiosity.
This market-leading innovation in applying 3D modelling to visual training enabled bus drivers to quickly complete the training and get back on the road.