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How 3D technology can enhance safety awareness

Giam Swiegers with Oculus Rift

Aurecon Senior Transport Engineer, Antony Johnstone, discusses how a 3D visualisation tool developed by Aurecon has contributed to increasing safety in design practice and workplace training.

Advancements in 3D technology have allowed for increased safety awareness in both design practice and actual use of infrastructure. The technology can illustrate equipment operations, safety training and maintenance procedures.

Designing in a 3D environment allows consultants, clients and stakeholders to engage directly with a design model, and gifts the power to foresee some potential safety challenges that may have been missed using traditional methods of design. Evolution in both software and hardware has allowed this type of technology to become more available, viable, accessible, and responsive. Beyond this, 3D simulations can also positively influence safety training.

World-leading virtual reality technology developed by Aurecon’s transport teams in Christchurch and Perth has recently been used to help train Red Bus drivers ahead of using the new Christchurch Bus Interchange.

Case Study

The forward thinking virtual technology encompasses a ‘life like’ design of the circular layout. This allows the drivers to become familiar with their new environment and consequently affords them a much safer and smoother transition.

Due to the relatively tight constraints of the circular interchange site, a unique design that requires drivers to use reverse driving methods was used to ensure the required number of bus services could be accommodated.

Aurecon had been experimenting with virtual reality technology, and after some testing, were able to import the 3D model into a virtual reality environment that allowed the drivers to step into and become immersed within interchange design.

By wearing a virtual reality headset, wherever they moved their head, the headset provided them with a full peripheral view as if they were actually within the interchange. With the addition of a steering wheel and pedals, Aurecon created a virtual reality driving simulator for the bus drivers to control and practise how to enter, manoeuvre to their specified bus bay, and exit the interchange from the driver’s perspective. This method of training, using this technology, allowed drivers to learn, and become comfortable with the new Aurecon designed interchange, playing a pivotal role in reducing risk and improving safety.

Questions and answers regarding the case study below.

What made this solution a success?

Ease of use definitely played a large part in why this solution was a success. The staff who used the simulator were able to get a firm grip on how to use the technology quite quickly as the simulator portrayed a familiar environment; it made it quite realistic for them. The novelty factor also helped gain the interest of staff and encourage them to utilise the tool. In regards to safety, we were able to offer staff the opportunity to train in a risk free environment where they were given the freedom to explore without consequence; this prompted even more curiosity.   

As we are living in the digital age, do you think training like this will become more popular?

Yes, we are already seeing it. Recently, in a tender issued by the Western Australian Department of Fire and Emergency Services, a 3D simulator was requested to test different environments for various different scenarios that are difficult to create in the real world without risk. In this case, the simulator would create a virtual environment and allows people to get acquainted with what these scenarios will look like, in a safe environment, as opposed to exposing people to hazardous situations.

What future developments in this technology are likely, and how will this ultimately impact future projects?

With the bus simulator, you can drive around, however it doesn’t give the user a lot of feedback. Future development will see this technology become even more realistic by enhancing senses other than just sight. Developments are being made where the user will be able to relate to other dimensions within the simulator that will give it a lot more functionality by enhancing more senses such as touch.

There is also technology out at the moment such as the Microsoft HoloLens that puts the user in a partial visualisation within a real world environment. We could see more of this type of partial simulation in near future.

How do you think further advancements could continue to change the way we approach safety?

In due course, we will need to implement a type of safety identification process. When we create these environments, we can assess any potential risks or noticeable flaws in design ahead of construction, making it a great alternative to traditional 2D engineering drawings. Software could in fact become advanced enough where it identifies safety issues itself. 

Furthermore, we can use these tools to communicate such issues to clients as it gives us a visual aid to demonstrate why there could be cause for safety concern. For example, when designing a complex environment such as an operating theatre in a hospital, we could look at where large equipment is installed within the theatre and determine if staff can safely and easily undertake their tasks within the room and so on.

This gives us valuable foresight and allows us to identify safety hazards and consequently respond to the bespoke needs of the situation.

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