New simulation tool for handling hazardous situations

Published 29 July 2008

Irish, Israeli companies develop new simulation tool which immerse trainees in a scene which has been designed for them; new tool will help first responders and law enforcement familiarize themselves with situations before they occur

A training company and a multimedia organization have collaborated to produce an immersive 3D industrial simulator that lets users learn how to handle hazardous situations. County Durham-based Third Eye and Zodiac Training recently launched the Blue Room, a real-time interactive immersive reality technology in which six interlinked video screens cover 360º of view, projecting video images on all walls, floor and ceiling to encompass users who do not need virtual reality helmets or goggles. The system can be made to exact size specifications, potentially holding up 500 participants. It is controlled by sophisticated software and high-end computers. “The hardware that drives it allows you to immerse the occupant in a scene that’s been designed for them for training or entertainment or for visualising architectural designs,” said Tim Scott, Third Eye’s technical director. “As you move around the 3D environment, the imagery moves according to what you’d see, and you can interact with it. If the screen is designed to allow you free range, you can move anywhere you want, or you can be taken on a fly-through of an environment.”

The Zodiac Blue Room team believe it is novel. Although similar training environments such as aircraft simulators exist, they are single function, have a narrow market and are too big for an average company to accommodate. For the launch, Zodiac and Third Eye developed a simple interaction scenario set in a power station that gives users a choice of how to react in a turbine hall where there was fire and escaping steam. “That’s a very real scenario that allows people to be trained on something they hopefully will never experience,” said Scott. “In the simulation, we also take people down into the hall to look round the turbine but in reality, you’d be going the other way. You can see cause and effect, interacting with the module using a touch screen or mouse and see the consequences of the action. So from the control room you can see back into the turbine hall to see what’s happening, which reinforces the training.” Scott said the biggest challenge was getting Blue Room to work with real time rendering to make it truly interactive. The team is also working on a bigger Blue Rooms with a smaller external footprint, which is affected by the technology available for closer projection.

Chris Green, development director at Zodiac Training, said the Blue Room could be updated so a single company could simulate multiple environments, or the hardware could be sub-licensed to a training company with multiple clients: “Any industrial environment can be created in precise detail,” he said. “As businesses change, the Blue Room changes with them.” The behind-the-scenes training package was developed with an Israeli company called Simigon. “That training package monitors everything a participant does within Blue Room — the choices they make, their reaction times, whether prompting was needed or any additional help was required,” said Green. “Trainees are scored and their details are stored so their progress can be tracked over a period of time. So it’s a great way of monitoring how quickly a member of staff is improving, and to help put the right employee into a job.” Zodiac Blue Room is working on modules for companies operating in hazardous industrial environments, including oil and gas, and nuclear. A military application will be launched this year. It is also developing a camera to capture a live scenario in real time and display it in the Blue Room. “This would cover the whole spectrum, from serious engineering project and training on new plant to entertainment and sport,” said Green. He said Blue Room is a timely tool. “Companies are competing for skilled engineers. Those with Blue Room have the advantage as they can train new and upskill existing staff in a quick, realistic, cost-effective way. As firms diversify into areas like renewables, they can retrain their engineers into the new industry.”