The emergence of Virtual Reality and Community Engagement

Virtual reality has been used as a tool for immersing gamers, engineers and managers in content rich environments for decades. Only recently however has the technology reached levels of maturity and cost effectiveness in which it can be used for public sector campaigns, awareness messaging and broader public experience training.
With the release of the latest generation head mounted displays and tracking technology improvements, gone are the days of the nausea generating, migraine inducing low quality visual systems of yesteryear. Current systems are robust, relatively cheap and can accept high quality content from a wide variety of sources.
Virtual technologies can be used to provide strong messaging to the public in an engaging and thought-provoking way. We’ve heard of the concept of 3D, three-dimensional video. 4D has made its appearance in theatres with the introduction of wind and rain effects. We propose to introduce FireD. FireD combines traditional virtual reality, with full immersion fire effects and escalating scenarios that engage people and provoke a positive response in preparedness for fire.

Case study

The FLAIM Trainer™ is an Australian technology developed by FLAIM Systems Pty Ltd, a Geelong based start-up, has been designed to immerse and train firefighters at all levels in complex firefighting techniques and experiences. The technology builds upon the fundamentals of virtual reality by including ‘haptic’ or force feedback hose systems that provide realistic jet reaction forces, heated suits to simulate the effects of a firefighting in hot environments, and immersive sound effects.
One of the interesting things discovered by the FLAIM Systems team was that the technology appealed to a much wider audience.
In January 2017, the FLAIM Trainer™ system prototype was demonstrated at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas California. Attracting over 180,000 visitors, CES is a showcase of new technologies. FLAIM Trainer™ was selected to represent ‘the next big thing’ in virtual training for enterprise applications but something else happened. Videos of a wide demographic from celebrities to mums and dads were posted online with one video released by a technology website attracting 1.6Million hits in its first week. A true viral video.
When showcasing the technology at trade shows and public events, a line forms (sometimes out the door) of children, adults and the elderly. All wanting to experience what it’s like to be a firefighter, but also commenting after the experience, how hard the work is, how much respect they have for those wearing the uniform, and how they really need to revisit their family fire plans and look at purchasing fire extinguishers and fire blankets. Ages from 4 to 85 have used the system and we often find children crawling around on the floor under the smoke layer (neutral plane) and understanding the ‘get down low and go-go-go’ message. Virtual reality enables this effect to be experienced in a tactile manner that is impossible with smoke machines or video alone.

Next Steps – Building Community Engagement and Education

What if it were possible to place virtual reality technologies into shopping centres over school holiday and provide children with a ‘real life’ experience of escaping their home during a fire. Alternatively, give them the opportunity to ‘attack’ a fire and experience firefighting first hand. I personally joined the CFA as a third-generation volunteer in my family because I grew up riding in the fire truck on Sunday drives with my father. Sadly, this is no longer possible due to safety concerns, but I can’t help but think this might be leading the demise of volunteering in our communities. How can we give our children the feeling of helping the community and engage them at an early age?
Shopping centres, school visits, sporting events, public open days could all benefit from having a system such as FLAIM Trainer™ and the FireD concept generating interest in the community and prompting the discussions that we all need to have on fire safety in our homes.
James Mullins
FLAIM Systems

James Mullins
This post was originally posted on to Facebook on 08 January 2018.