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Heaters and smoke simulate fire emergencies in new ‘immersive VR’

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Researchers at Nottingham university have discovered how a pioneering immersive virtual reality system might be able to improve workers’ response to a fire – by getting users to smell smoldering ash and feel heat.


Users in the test were asked to respond to two scenarios: a building fire and evacuation and an engine disassembly task with a fluid leak. As participants using the software approached a virtual fire, they felt heat from three 2kW heaters and smelt smoke from a scent diffuser.

This group was compared against another group who were observed in this scenario using only audio-visual elements of VR. 

The Nottingham research, funded by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), established contrasting reactions between the two groups.

Those in the multi-sensory group had a greater sense of urgency, reflecting a real-life scenario, and were more likely to avoid the virtual fires.

However, evidence from the audio-visual participants suggested that they were treating the experience more like a “game” and behaviours were “less consistent” with those expected in a real-world situation. 

As participants using the software approached a virtual fire, they felt heat from three 2kW heaters and smelt smoke. Photograph: IOSH

Dr Glyn Lawson, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Engineering, University of Nottingham, said: “Health and safety training can fail to motivate and engage employees and can lack relevance to real-life contexts. Our research suggests that virtual environments can help address these issues, by increasing trainees’ engagement and willingness to participate in further training.”

The full study is in a report released today for IOSH’s annual conference, titled: ‘Immersive virtual worlds: Multisensory virtual environments for health and safety training’

British Safety Council offers virtual and augmented reality training. Find out more here

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