Holmes Hall has a new “virtual reality” Lab!!!
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The Lab is rigged with cameras, motion detectors, speakers and computers.
Students will need to wear virtual reality goggles, 3-D glasses and use remotes with joysticks to get the greatest use out of the room.
That is because the room is a virtual reality lab. It is known as VIPER, or the Virtual Immersive Portal for Engineer Research.
Richard Behr, dean of the U.A. Whitaker College of Engineering at FGCU, is hoping to make the new lab the showpiece of a Construction Management Program that the university is trying to launch but is having difficulty getting off the ground due to money.
FGCU also is building a 6,000-square-foot, open-air covered worksite behind Holmes Hall, the home of the engineering college, for the construction management program. It is for students to learn construction methods in a quasi-realistic construction zone, Behr said.
But even if the construction management program never happens, the lab, the worksite and the roughly $800,000 the university has spent on both won’t be wasted, Behr said.
He said other university departments will be able to make use of the lab and other departments in engineering will make use of the worksite.
“Even if it never happens, these will be very good facilities to have,” he said. “If it does happen, they will be right on the mark.”
If the construction management program comes to fruition, the room will be where students will go to simulate and visualize the construction of a building. When the lights go out in the lab and the room’s equipment is functioning, students will be thrust into an immersive environment and will be able to walk through a virtual building.
Behr said large construction companies use virtual reality labs, similar to the one at FGCU, to simulate the construction process and in an effort to prevent and solve problems during the actual building process.
“Solving problems during construction is very expensive,” he said. “Solving problems in a virtual reality environment can be very cost-effective and informative to the students and practitioners.”
The dean said he also thinks the lab will be important for something other than as a training tool.
“That VR facility is going to be a great recruiting tool,” he said.
“The current market that’s their world, and so we are not going to attract the kind of students I want just by showing them how to mix concrete.”
The use virtual reality technology
Todd Gates, chairman of Gates Construction, said the technology FGCU is planning to use sounds interesting.
He said his company uses 3-D technology to build projects, but it’s only on a computer.
“You can … make the project be constructed in a much more efficient manner when you have a virtual reality type system,” Gates said.
The use of virtual reality technology isn’t limited to the construction field.
Mitch Cordova, dean of the Marieb College of Health and Human Services at FGCU, said he can foresee the lab helping many students, ranging from those who want to be nurses to those training to be physical and occupational therapists and athletic trainers.
He said one of the things that his college has not done much of but could do more of with the use of the virtual reality technology is sports performance.
He said, for example, his college could partner with athletics and use a virtual reality environment to improve the biomechanics of an athlete’s technique.
FGCU has been trying the past two legislative sessions to get money to start the construction management program and two other degree programs.
The Legislature has given FGCU money for the programs, but the money has not been enough or the type that FGCU needs to launch the programs. FGCU says it needs recurring funding, but the money it has been getting from the state is one-time funding.
In 2016, lawmakers approved of giving the school $1 million for the programs. Legislators voted to give FGCU $1.7 million during the 2017 session.
“You cannot start an academic program, you can not hire faculty and staff without permanent funding,” Behr said.
FGCU has talked about other options when it comes to trying to get money for the construction management program, including asking the local construction industry to donate to the program, Behr said.
Behr said there are many options for donors ranging from putting up money for scholarships to making a contribution large enough to have the program named in their honor.
He cited the Rinker School of Construction Management at the University of Florida as an example.
“Why can’t we do the same thing here?” Behr asked.
Higher Education Reporter