Virtual reality training for first responders

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On March 17, 2003

A virtual reality simulation system being developed at UMR could help police, firefighters and other first responders train for terrorist attacks.

Top image: In this virtual reality simulation, a gunman (at center in red shirt) has entered an airport ticketing area. Bottom image: UMR researchers inside a virtual reality "cave," a 10-foot by 10-foot enclosure designed to simulate the real world.

The project has been funded through a $1.05 million grant from the Army’s Tank-Automotive and Armament Command (TACOM). The project is designed to determine whether a virtual reality training system would be useful for training first responders.

"The goal of this project is to examine the feasibility for development of a virtual reality training system where people such as policemen, firefighters and hazardous material technicians can be trained effectively," says Dr. Ming Leu, the Keith and Pat Bailey Missouri Distinguished Professor of Integrated Product Manufacturing in UMR’s department of mechanical and aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics.

Trainers could program the simulation system with synthetic environments to allow first responders to train in numerous scenarios. UMR researchers are focusing on scenarios involving terrorist attacks with the use of chemical agents.

"One goal is to determine how trainees can be fully immersed in a virtual environment that replicates an actual situation and can be changed quickly to meet the needs of the persons being trained, says Leu. This way they will be able to respond to a variety of potential situations. The hope is that the simulation will provide an effective and less expensive method of training first responders to meet the challenges of an actual weapons of mass destruction event." A simulated environment would also be less dangerous than training in a "live" environment, where some elements of the physical environment can not be controlled, says Leu. Scenarios that are very difficult or even impossible to replicate in a live environment can be created in a virtual environment.

"In order to make the virtual training experience as real as possible, personnel being trained will wear the same or similar equipment to what they would wear if an attack occurs," says Leu. "Another goal is to mentally challenge and physically stress the trainees while requiring them to perform tasks to the same standard that they would be required to in a real situation in order to complete their mission."

Other UMR researchers involved include Dr. Mike Hilgers, associate professor of computer science; Dr. Sanjeev Agarwal, research assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering; and Dr. Richard Hall, associate professor of information science and technology and director of the Media Research Laboratory.

Other institutions involved in this research effort include Army’s Tank-Automotive and Armament Command (TACOM) in Warren, Mich.; Army’s Maneuver Support Center (MANSCEN) in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.; Battelle FLW Operations in St. Robert, Mo.; and EDSPLM in Cypress, Calif.

Related Links

UMR’s Virtual Reality and Rapid Prototyping Lab

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On March 17, 2003. Posted in Research