When he began developing his simulator, the first thing Horan’s team did was visit the locations of the sewers that had the task of digitally replicating.
“We visited several sewers and one of the pumping stations: we did not go down ourselves; we have lowered the cameras “, explained Horan.
To properly prepare utility workers, Horan wanted to create an immersive experience. Therefore, the simulator also includes movement, communication and smell to create an environment as authentic as possible.
“A person wears a harness and goes down,” Horan said, explaining that even though they only go down 100mm in reality, they feel 30m in the simulation.
The subject then navigates a training scenario. A treadmill responds to their location and allows them to move.
“It’s a pretty confrontational experience,” McMillan said. “The person who is training knows it’s a simulation, but the conditions are so close to reality that it’s like you’re working in a legitimate confined space in a complex job.”
In developing an immersive environment, the team had to consider which experiences were worth recreating, if compensation between realism and complexity could be justified.
This is where the distinctive smell of sewers comes in.
“The smell is really hard to make, but you can imagine getting into the sewer, it’s very important,” Horan said.
“We can all imagine how virtual reality headsets are worn. You see things, you hear things. We can imagine that we are wearing a harness … But then we smell. It’s really important to do this in this context it ‘s as real as we can be. “
“We want to use as many senses as we can in our projects,” McMillan said. “We try to make things as memorable as possible.”
The solution is, in Horan’s words, “reasonably primitive.”
“We have a fan, which not only provides, on the sewer stage, gusts of air, but also the smell of what a sewer would look like,” Horan said. “It’s a fan that smells, but it’s really immersive.”
Simulation of snakes in the grass
When Melbourne Water first began working with the CADET lab, the association focused its attention on training that would help workers who had to venture into bushy spaces.
The result was a virtual reality simulation that prepared staff to respond in the event of being bitten by a snake, with haptic feedback to give information about the correct application of bandages.
“Look at the bandage through the headphones and then you’ll be able to hear if your pressure immobilization technique is right,” Horan said.
“You don’t have enough pressure or you have too much pressure, in which case the technique is ineffective.”
Horan said the common thread between the snake bite treatment simulator and the confined space entry simulator is that they use virtual reality to do things that regular training cannot do.
“Apart from being the start of the partnership, you will see that there is a common thread in what we do, where virtual reality can let us do things that we otherwise could not do,” he said.
“We are in a research group looking at how these technologies bring better innovation to different areas.”