Arizona State University (ASU) is turning to augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies to teach the next generation of construction industry professionals.

Steven Ayer, an associate professor of construction engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, is behind the push to use AR and VR in educating construction industry professionals. In a press release, ASU explained that Ayer identified two major challenges where AR and VR technologies can help students during their education and as they enter the workforce.

The first challenge is helping students visualize design concepts from two-dimensional plans that represent a three-dimensional space.

“We take this 3D concept; we have this building around us. And the way we communicate that is we dumb it down to flat paper plans,” Ayer said. “Instead, we can give them augmented reality glasses with the idea of saying, let’s make it easy to understand the design. They just see the model show up almost like it was there, but it’s virtual.”

Ayer said this can help students learn the underlying construction competencies they need to be successful on the job.

In a press release, Ayer cited a class he conducted a few years ago aimed at helping students explore buildings as if they were the end-users. He gave one group of students an AR setup and the other group a computer setup. Both were given the same task of exploring the building to find flaws in the design. While both groups could identify the flaws, Ayer said the group utilizing AR was able to come up with ways to improve the design and correct the flaws.

“The students using the computer setup, which was still a 3D model on the screen, knew something had to be considered, but couldn’t effectively articulate what about the design was problematic,” Ayer says.

The second challenge Ayer identified is improving job site safety.

“We see a lot of times where we use very antiquated modes of teaching safety courses that are ‘chalk-and-talk’ lecture-style learning, which by almost any accounts have been ineffective, and, by empirical data on sites, still don’t stop injuries,” Ayer says. “People from industry will say, ‘I didn’t care about safety until …’ and they’ll tell you a story of when they saw someone hurt, or someone lost a life,” he says. “And when they’re the one that makes the phone call to the husband or wife saying, ‘Your spouse isn’t coming home today,’ it hits them.”

With that in mind, Ayer looked to create an experience for students that balances real-life decisions with the dangerous outcomes created by mistakes.

“What makes people change behavior is when they see or experience a bad thing,” Ayer says. “What we’re doing with virtual reality is putting students and even industry personnel into this environment. But, unlike most virtual reality training environments that give a report card when something goes unrecognized and they fail to identify the hazard, we will show them the impact of their decision.”

Ayer says showing the impact is accomplished through the use of slow-motion video or animations. He added that the negative effects never impact the AR user, but another character within the virtual environment.

“The situation would be to see if we can have a virtual artificial stimulus, the VR experience, trigger a real psychological response,” Ayer says. “So, now students or industry professionals can say, ‘I didn’t care about safety until I had this really impactful training experience that didn’t actually harm anyone.’”

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs