A New Approach to Engineering Education: AR/VR

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AR/VR is increasingly being used in educational settings, opening the door to new professions and a workforce equipped to use technology.

Students of all ages learn in increasingly different ways thanks to new technologies. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools were already using virtual and augmented reality (AR/VR) in their lessons. Though they may have initially seemed more like technology intended for amusement, AR and VR have already shown them to be the most effective instruments for learning, teaching, and developing new job options.

The global educational AR/VR market is anticipated to grow from $1.8 billion to $12.6 billion over the next four years, assuming estimates hold true. In the meantime, the International Data Corporation (IDC) published a report that said the pandemic was the driving force behind an amazing estimate of global spending on AR/VR, which is anticipated to increase from $12 billion in 2020 to $72.8 billion by 2024. Those figures are a blatant indication that using AR and VR for study and employment is going to be necessary. They also show that not only one industry will employ this technology.

Future and practising healthcare professionals are already being immersed in the technologies—from undergoing spinal surgery to receiving training at a cutting-edge facility like the Davis Global Center at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, which offers holographic and AR/VR technologies among its many other amenities. Almost every industry, like transportation, retail, manufacturing, tourism, etc., can use the technologies in some way. Engineering plays a significant role in maximizing the potential of these cutting-edge technologies.

All indications point to a large rise in the use of AR and VR, which begs the question of why these tools are so useful in the classroom, how educational institutions are utilising them, and what the future of engineering might entail.

Benefits of VR and AR in Education

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A lack of focus and engagement can readily manifest themselves throughout the educational process. AR/VR is a technique to bring learning right in front of them, whether they are primary students who are easily distracted or college students juggling a busy schedule and navigating early adulthood. The main idea behind these technologies is to remove distractions from the user while getting them interested in the lesson being taught. This visual technique is frequently more interesting than a standard fact-based, aural strategy, which results in a better knowledge of the subject matter because students get to experience it.

When pursuing a vocation involving substantial training, learning through experience is especially crucial. Real-time feedback is also available in real-world simulations, making them a more cost-effective method of instruction. The opportunity to picture a notion often results in improved comprehension when it comes to difficult theories or topics.

The use of AR/VR learning tools by teachers enables more individualized instruction. Because not all students learn in the same way, these technologies make it possible to change the way lessons are taught. This makes it possible for professors to make customized study guides for each student as needed and for students to learn at their own speed.

The ability of AR and VR to help overcome language hurdles is another advantage. It can be difficult for pupils to learn in institutions with international students because of this barrier. Many of the technologies currently in use support software translation of different languages. Eliminating that difficulty can lessen the tension it causes, which could improve performance.

Creativity plays a significant role in learning at any age. AR and VR provide a variety of approaches to foster creativity. When it comes to engineering students, originality is pretty much the industry standard. Students are preparing for careers in a field that is always experimenting with cutting-edge technology. In 2019, researchers looked into how project-based learning (PBL) might improve learning outcomes by fostering effective communication and problem-solving abilities. Unsurprisingly, combining VR and 3D prototype had favourable outcomes, such as an improved overall project grade for the test subjects, particularly the project’s implementation component, as well as increased engagement and motivation.

Institutions of higher learning are embracing immersive technologies

Educational institutions all over the world are expanding their AR/VR offerings with funding to improve remote learning and cutting-edge immersive labs.

Innovation Academy at University of Hong Kong

The new Innovation Academy, which was made to inspire students, connects students from all 10 faculties so that they can work together across disciplines. The CAD, AR/VR, and multimedia studios are all located separately in one cutting-edge 2,400 square foot space. Additionally, a makerspace is available, along with a variety of instruments like laser cutters, engraving machines, measuring devices, electrical workbenches, and more.

There are a variety of activities at the facility to encourage STEM learning, such as workshops, student-led courses, forums, and a project display. The goal is to bring the community and students together to make new projects.

Nano Immersion Laboratory at MIT

The MIT.nano Immersion Lab just opened, and all MIT students, professors, researchers, and people from outside the school can use it. MIT.nano is an innovative space that lets AR/VR users interact with data, as its name would imply.

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With a focus on data exploration, the lab combines technology, software, and a distinctive setting to develop potentially revolutionary new approaches to education and research. A two-story cube with 28-foot sides, the area is outfitted with tools and platforms for both system and individual use. Through the use of an OptiTrack device, the immersive experience offers active or passive motion analysis.

The facility has a number of additional features that make it a perfect option for multidisciplinary research and study. These features include a photogrammetric station for creating 3D reconstructions of spaces and augmented reality creations, as well as a Lenscloud system with 126 cameras and specialised software that enables 360-degree photogrammetric scans of human bodies or human-scale objects.

Other elements allow users to engage with data and produce material, such as a backpack computer, VR headsets, editing software, green screens, and more.

MIT.nano enables new opportunities to interact with designs, better comprehend how the internal workings of an architectural design will work, or establish a toolset to help advance 3D modelling in a variety of fields, including entertainment, health care, and engineering.

The University of Michigan’s Augmented Tectonics

Architects need to see a building site or a finished project, which isn’t always possible, especially during a pandemic. The University of Michigan discovered a solution to this issue through its Augmented Tectonics course. Students can interact with 3D models through a mixed reality app or VR headset using AR/VR to virtually explore a construction site. Through the programme, students can also take on new tasks like experimenting with a new material or describing how to put together a structural component.

The institution is making sure that students who are interested in the technologies may learn more about them in addition to continuing to provide more AR/VR experiences to students on campus or at home. Three online courses on extended reality (XR), a combination of augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality, were created by Professor Michael Nebeling in collaboration with a team from the university’s Center for Academic Innovation (MR).

The three courses, which are appropriate for anyone interested in the subject, allow students of any knowledge level to pick up the fundamentals or go much farther into it. XR, XR design, and XR development are the three courses. In the era of rapid prototyping, XR design places a strong emphasis on physical and digital prototype. More persons who want to design and programme XR are targeted by the advanced course, XR development. A certification is available to anyone who completes all three.

Skill-XR at Purdue University

Purdue University’s Skill-XR may easily adapt to different industries, despite its manufacturing concentration and efforts to address the widening skills gap. Although many businesses are considering using AR and VR for training, programming it can be difficult and expensive. To offer a learning experience that reduces those drawbacks, Skill-XR was created.

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The experience combines AR, VR, and MR into a single platform-agnostic solution that can be used with any device or technology now in use. With the use of AR glasses that would provide graphic overlays and immediate feedback, this revolutionary method would allow a new employee to train on a machine. In addition to having a manufacturing-specific focus, Skill-XR is being put to the test in the real world by a number of businesses and community institutions in the hopes that this hands-on teaching approach might be easily extended to engineering ideas.

With InsightXR, UC Berkeley

The pandemic has altered how kids are now taught. It can be a little challenging when everyone is learning remotely when it comes to needing to discuss designs and thoughts. The InsightXR project, developed by the College of Environmental Designs at UC Berkeley, found a way around that.

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InsightXR, one of the recipients of the Berkeley Changemaker Technology Innovation Grants, started testing in the fall of 2020. With the help of a new programme, remote instructors and students may now synchronise and collaborate on each other’s 3D models. AR is the first “reality” that is being tested. With augmented reality, architecture students can experiment with many design options, such as adding overlays on actual designs. Additionally, the app generates interaction highlights and accepts feedback.

The Engineering of the Future

Even though these are just a few of the many applications for AR/VR that are being investigated, it seems inevitable that it will be used in engineering in some capacity both now and in the future. AR/VR gives engineers, designers, and others the capacity to better explore parameters and visual designs and to generate data that may have previously been inconceivable. This includes CAD, assembly, training, and quality control. Because so many educational institutions are recognizing its potential, it will result in a workforce that is more able to adopt new technology and methods of problem-solving.