Health and safety training delivered through immersive virtual reality could be more effective than the real thing, researchers from the University of Nottingham have discovered.
In a study, participants were taken through a fire evacuation drill using a VR headset providing the sights and sounds of a fire. They were also exposed to the smell of smoke and heat from three heaters. When compared to a group only wearing sight and sound headsets, those who could smell smoke and feel heat acted with greater urgency and were more likely to avoid danger.
In real-life fire situations, researchers have found a lack of understanding of how fire spreads leads to individuals making poor judgements, so simulating an evacuation in a hyper-real but safe environment could improve reactions in a real emergency.
Researchers also compared VR training to learning via PowerPoint presentations. While those trained via PowerPoint knew more about fire safety theory when tested directly after the session, this knowledge dropped significantly when tested again one week later. In contrast, those trained in VR retained the knowledge at a much greater rate, and were more willing to take on further training.
Mary Ogungbeje, research manager at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, which funded the study, says it gives “a taste of what’s to come” as technology becomes more affordable.