LSBU USES VR FOR INTERACTIVE LEARNING
A state-of-the-art Virtual Reality (VR) Suite at London South Bank University (LSBU) comprising a VR Auditorium and a Head-Mounted Display (HMD) Suite enables four avatars to simultaneously interact with each other collaboratively and in real-time. This installation forms part of a far reaching vision by to get LSBU students learning interactively.
Tony Roberts, Academic Director within the School of Engineering at LSBU, explained: “We wanted to give our students a hands-on experience of using VR as a development tool, as we know that this technology gives engineers a much more realistic insight into how complex concepts behave in scenarios which are difficult to contemplate using other geometry visualisation methods. VR changes the way we interact not only with our designs, but with our colleagues too. So we are using these exciting technologies to challenge the next generation of engineers to think differently and develop more creative solutions. This is part of a new chapter of engineering teaching and LSBU is aiming to have a leading position in delivering the kinds of skills industry needs.”
The VR Auditorium is dominated by an ActiveWall with a 6 m x 3.2 m screen from Da-Lite. This enables complex engineering data to be projected at 1:1 scale, giving an additional sense of realism to large scale projects. The ActiveWall is an installed, immersive, interactive 3D visualisation system and is Virtalis’ best-selling system and probably the best-selling VR system in the world. High resolution 3D imagery is provided by a Christie Mirage 4k25 projector running at 120Hz. The system is fully tracked and uses Intersense wireless tracking and navigation is via a wireless MicroTrax controller. The high end Dell Precision workstation powering the computing element of the ActiveWall uses CUDA and QUADRO graphics processing solutions by NVIDIA and additionally supports wireless 3D navigation via a 3D Connexion’s SpaceExplorer. There is also an additional review monitor which enables operators the flexibility to operate freely within the immersive envelope. In order that large audiences can be accommodated, Virtalis has supplied 60 ActiveWorks stereo glasses. The VR Auditorium incorporates an ActiveSpace, Virtalis’ HMD-based system, which is centred on an nVisor’s ST50 HMD. Both the ActiveWall and the ActiveSpace are tracked under the same unified tracking volume as the main screen. To increase flexibility of use, this ActiveSpace can operate independently or collaboratively with the ActiveWall, as it runs from its own PC.
The VR Auditorium is divided from the HMD Suite by an electrostatic glass wall that can be made opaque at the flick of a switch; allowing users within that space to work on individual VR projects or in larger collaborative groups. The HMD suite is a fully tracked space large enough to accommodate physical equipment that can be linked via physical sensors and/or transducers to the VR environment. The objective here is to encourage students to explore how their designs actually work, fit together and can be modified to improve effective operation. The live link between the HMD suite and the VR Auditorium will enable users to understand how industry is increasingly using VR in conjunction with high tech physical sensor-based rigs to develop complex systems with aid of direct user input. The two ActiveSpaces in the HMD suite, also feature nVisor’s ST50s HMDs driven by Dell Precision workstations.
The Project Based Learning Lab
The Virtalis VR Suite at LSBU is closely allied to the Project Based Learning Lab – a purpose built high specification CAD suite equipped with 23 workstations running a range of CAD software from Autodesk, Ansys and Siemens. The facility is also home to a rapid prototyping suite with the capability to facilitate both post production and evaluation of solutions created in the CAD suite. Physical prototyping is available in the form of the 3D printing solutions from Stratasys, including the Fortus 360mc and the Connex Objet260.
“Our Rapid Prototyping Suite complements our investment in VR because together they encompass projects large and small, as well as being a valuable tool for engineers from all disciplines – Mechanical, Manufacturing and Design, Electrical and Electronic, Chemical and Process Engineering, said Roberts. “Postgrads, undergrads and even younger students from our affiliated Academy of Engineering all benefit from these facilities. We now have a blank canvas and have numerous opportunities to develop content to enhance the student experience. We are talking to our industrial partners to help us integrate content into the curriculum using real life projects. As part of the ongoing development of the facility, we are particularly keen on exploring how other disciplines, such as Applied Science, Architecture and the Built Environment could also make use of these technologies and we will be exploring with Virtalis ways in which this could be made possible.”
LSBU has invested in Virtalis VR software, with the installation of Visionary Render, StereoServer and Virtalis Exchange adapters. Students develop their own 3D models and analyse how understanding and reviewing CAD data is improved by rendering in 3D to create virtual, interactive environments at 1:1 scale. Students are able to perform detailed design reviews, rehearse in-depth training tasks, validate maintenance procedures or verify assembly and manufacturing processes. Visionary Render software is unique in that it delivers advanced rendering of huge models in real-time with ease of importing from a range of data sources, maintaining naming, hierarchies and the all-important metadata.