Virtual reality training could make construction sites saferThis article first appeared in the CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365 newsletter.

Around 60,000 worker accidents have fatal consequences every year on construction sites worldwide. About 25 percent of those relate to heavy equipment.

Three German researchers say the rise of virtual reality (VR) consumer hardware and software presents a feasible way to tackle this issue.

Professor Markus König, Thomas Hilfert and Dr. Jochen Teizer at the Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany have developed interactive training courses in VR that enable construction workers to experience hazards from a first-person perspective without risking injury or death.

As the costs and hurdles surrounding implementation scenarios have decreased over the last few years, creating experiences is feasible even for small construction sites and budgets. The use of 3D BIM (building information modeling) on the majority of today's building projects gives the creation of virtual experiences a head start.

Instead of using parallel development efforts or building only shallow visual models for presentation, Hilfert integrates BIM and the actual geometry of equipment, providing a meaningful context to the created worlds that is easily integrated into normal engineering workflows.

Workers then interact with the scenario to fulfill a given task while maintaining attention to their surroundings. Recording their interactions gives test instructors an extensive set of data to analyze. Replays can be shown to users for debriefing, and automatic processing of data shows hotspots of human-machine interaction on the construction site.

Areas that increase the chance of an accident happening can be highlighted and taken into consideration for the overall jobsite design, even before the real-world project has started. As the VR technology and graphics hardware undergoes even greater iteration steps in the years to come, more realistic experiences with construction sites and equipment will enable better training and analysis.

The acceptance of such measures will increase with mainstream market penetration, led by the gaming industry: Future equipment operators and workers will most likely have experience with VR in their own living rooms from an early age.

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