STEM & STEAM

VR Interface Lets Students Explore Civil Engineering

An open immersive virtual reality interface for pre-university and first-year students allows them to explore engineering disciplines, such as structural or hydraulics, as part of engaging their interest in STEM careers. The VR program allows the user to navigate through a 3D model of a building and see the construction components that are "normally hidden" behind other layers, such as the plumbing, columns, slabs and beams.

"Civil Virtual Reality Laboratory" is openly available online and can be tested using the HTC VIVE headset, the corresponding controller and a VR-ready computer.

Visualization of the rebar hidden within a concrete slab. Source: "Disseminating Civil Engineering through Virtual Reality: An Immersive Interface" from the University of Porto.

Visualization of the rebar hidden within a concrete slab. Source: "Disseminating Civil Engineering through Virtual Reality: An Immersive Interface" from the University of Porto.

The team of researchers at the University of Porto in Portugal that's behind the project reported that the "immersive virtual environment" they've developed lets students understand how construction elements come together in a visual environment that avoids students having to go through the "steep learning curve" of general modelling software tools. The idea, according to a research paper published by the International Journal of Online Engineering, is to enable students "to visualize and understand complex geometries," without having to use advanced tools before they're really needed. The program uses an actual building on campus as its model.

The team said it expects to develop additional interfaces and perform a "more thorough assessment" to validate the effectiveness of VR for civil engineering applications.

The laboratory along with a demonstration video and a link to the downloadable application is available on the project website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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