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Transforming Highway Construction Training through Multi-User Immersive Augmented Virtual Reality

Transforming Highway Construction Training through Multi-User Immersive Augmented Virtual Reality
Transforming Highway Construction Training through Multi-User Immersive Augmented Virtual Reality

The highway sector is the most dangerous sector in the construction industry. Highway and roadway workers carry out their jobs in close proximity to construction equipment and high-speed traffic, which exposes them to an elevated risk of collision, leading to high number of serious injuries and fatalities each year. Exposure of roadside workers to these struck-by and caught-in-between hazards is a major safety issue faced by state governments and their departments of transportation (DOTs). 

Safety training has a direct impact on the prevention of workplace accidents, especially in hazard prone construction environments. Increasingly dynamic and complex working conditions require that construction workers and professionals, and novice workers in particular, acquire the safety-related knowledge they need to make safety-conscious decisions. A 10-hour training course developed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the most widely used safety training program for construction workers. Research has confirmed that high-engagement methods offer a more effective learning experience compared to traditional methods for training workers to identify hazards on a job site. Yet, OSHA 10 is using a traditional presentation-based approach that is not engaging workers. 

OSHA 10 has never been revisited to incorporate technological advancements and the needs of a new generation of workers. Further, the current program trains workers on an individual basis, and thus does not take into account the collective nature of the construction work, and ignores the benefits of collective, social engagement in worker learning. Finally, although highway construction sites are one of the most unsafe work environments, there is no training tailored to the specific environments governing these work sites. 

An interdisciplinary team of CHCI faculty and students is addressing these problems through a comprehensive assessment of the nation-wide construction worker safety training, OSHA 10. The team is also developing immersive augmented virtual reality training to incorporate findings and good practices.  The team is comprised of:

Nazila Roofigari-Esfahan, Assistant Professor, Department of Building Construction, Myers-Lawson School of Construction, College of Architecture and Urban Studies.

Todd Ogle, Executive Director, Applied Research in Immersive Environments and Simulations, University Libraries.

David Hicks, Professor, History and Social Science Education, School of Education, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

Tanner Upthegrove, Immersive Audio Specialist, Institute for Creativity, Arts and Technology (ICAT).

Macy Cohn, Computer Science Major, and research intern with the VT Applied Research in Immersive Experiences and Simulations (ARIES) program.

Ahmed Elshazly, Construction Engineering and Management Student, Myers-Lawson School of Construction.

Transforming Highway Construction Training through Multi-User Immersive Augmented Virtual Reality

The comprehensive assessment of the OSHA 10-hour training program will identify its strengths and limitations. It will transform the program into content-based training by developing an enhanced multi-user immersive augmented virtual reality training approach that incorporates their findings and current best practices in adult education. 

In this project, the team is using panoramic virtual reality augmented with different layers of spatial audio and safety-related information for replicating  complex situations on real highway construction sites.

Transforming Highway Construction Training through Multi-User Immersive Augmented Virtual Reality

Panoramic augmented virtual reality creates highly realistic and detailed representations of real construction sites while giving users a sense of immersion. In such an environment, construction workers and professionals are capable of navigating within the data-rich environment of a real construction project to observe and identify the safety challenges present in various circumstances.  The training is composed of various immersive scenarios, with each scenario aiming to convey multiple types of safety information, and to examine and build on the knowledge acquired in each scenario. The team uses a combination of various features in the  immersive scenarios, depending on the type of safety information that is planned to be conveyed. For example, while audio-augmented 360 environments can enhance worker situational awareness, interactive 2D images in the environment can convey less situation-related safety information. 

The team is transforming current (traditional) worker training methods into seamless training experiences for workers, taking into account the specific job environments they will be exposed to, incorporating user preferences, and visually conveying information to users through creative strategies. The multi-user approach of the research further enables simulation of the real environment and encourages collective engagement in mitigating hazardous situations. 

The innovation of the research is threefold:

  • Taking a user-centered approach in designing training for construction workers, based on needs of the new generation of workers, technology advancements, and adult education; 

  • Designing an interactive immersive training platform that closely simulates the real work sites and is uniquely tailored to the needs of highway construction workers;

  • Providing intuitive active, multi-user learning experiences for workers to facilitate and enhance their hazard recognition through collective engagement.

This research contributes to the improvement of safety conditions at roadside work zones and, in so doing, also contributes to economic and health benefits for the construction industry, state governments, and workers, nationwide. Given how widely used the OSHA 10-hour training is, the resulting enhanced approach, when translated into practice for trainers, is expected to generate far-reaching improvements in highway construction workers’ safety and health. 

The result of this project can be easily adapted to designing interactive user-centered worker training in other sectors of the construction industry, as well as other industries. The team is engaging students and field experts in the study to ensure the developed system enhances their experience and addresses their needs. Future expansions of the research will involve developing a second step augmented reality training for new workers that can be taken at the job site and can help new employees not only to learn the requirements for the job, but also to become safety certified.