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Virtual reality as a new trend in mechanical and electrical engineering education

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In their daily practice, academics frequently face lack of access to modern equipment and devices, which are currently in use on the market. Moreover, many students have problems with understanding issues connected to mechanical and electrical engineering due to the complexity, necessity of abstract thinking and the fact that those concepts are not fully tangible. Many studies indicate that virtual reality can be successfully used as a training tool in various domains, such as development, health-care, the military or school education. In this paper, an interactive training strategy for mechanical and electrical engineering education shall be proposed. The prototype of the software consists of a simple interface, meaning it is easy for comprehension and use. Additionally, the main part of the prototype allows the user to virtually manipulate a 3D object that should be analyzed and studied. Initial studies indicate that the device can contribute to improving the quality and efficiency of higher education, as well as qualifications, competencies and the skills of graduates and increase their competitiveness in the labour market.
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Open Access. ©2017 Dorota Kamińska et al., published by De Gruyter Open. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons
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Open Phys. 2017; 15:936–941
Research Article Open Access
Dorota Kamińska*, Tomasz Sapiński, Nicola Aitken, Andreas Della Rocca, Maja Barańska, and
Remco Wietsma
Virtual reality as a new trend in mechanical and
electrical engineering education
https://doi.org/10.1515/phys-2017-0114
Received November 2, 2017; accepted November 13, 2017
Abstract: In their daily practice, academics frequently
face lack of access to modern equipment and devices,
which are currently in use on the market. Moreover, many
students have problems with understanding issues con-
nected to mechanical and electrical engineering due to the
complexity, necessity of abstract thinking and the fact that
those concepts are not fully tangible. Many studies indi-
cate that virtual reality can be successfully used as a train-
ing tool in various domains, such as development, health-
care, the military or school education. In this paper, an
interactive training strategy for mechanical and electrical
engineering education shall be proposed. The prototype of
the software consists of a simple interface, meaning it is
easy for comprehension and use. Additionally, the main
part of the prototype allows the user to virtually manipu-
late a 3D object that should be analyzed and studied. Ini-
tial studies indicate that the use of virtual reality can con-
tribute to improving the quality and eciency of higher ed-
ucation, as well as qualications, competencies and the
skills of graduates, and increase their competitiveness in
the labour market.
Keywords: virtual reality, immersive education, educa-
tion, mechanical and electrical engineering
PACS: 01.50.H-, 01.40.gb, 01.40.Fk, 01.40.E-, 01.50.F-
*Corresponding Author: Dorota Kamińska: Institute of Mecha-
tronics and Information Systems, Lodz University of Technology,
Lodz, Poland, E-mail: dorota.kaminska@p.lodz.pl
Tomasz Sapiński: Institute of Mechatronics and Information Sys-
tems, Lodz University of Technology, Lodz, Poland
Nicola Aitken: Department of Engineering, Glasgow Caledonian
University, Glasgow, Scotland
Andreas Della Rocca: Polytech Nancy, Université de Lorraine,
Nancy, France
Maja Barańska: International Faculty of Engineering, Lodz Univer-
sity of Technology, Lodz, Poland
Remco Wietsma: Hanze University of Appl, Hanze University of
Applied Sciences Groningen, Netherlands
1Introduction
According to the European Commission Education &
Training 2020 programme, as well as the report on the
Modernization Agenda of Higher Education [1], one of the
main challenges facing higher education is improvement
of quality and relevance of teaching and learning. The ex-
pectations of the European market in relation to univer-
sities are expressed in qualied, competent and skilled
graduates. Future employees should have a thorough ed-
ucation, as well as knowledge, practice and experience
in a particular eld. They are required to solve unex-
pected tasks that involve intricate and unforeseen opera-
tions which require the application of gained knowledge
in practice. Graduates prepared for such situations will af-
fect the economic growth and prosperity of the European
market. According to the Operational Programme Human
Capital study, nearly 80% of employers reported problems
with nding qualied workers in 2014. This correlates with
the results of surveys conducted by Career Oce of Lodz
University of Technology, which show that over 50% of
mechatronics graduates feel unprepared for their profes-
sional work. Moreover the surveys show a high demand for
practical exercises, which the university is unable to pro-
vide due to limited resources in both sta and equipment.
In recent years mechanical and electrical engineer-
ing have joined the list of the most demanded study pro-
grammes. Many students have problems with understand-
ing issues connected to these disciplines, due to their com-
plexity, the necessity of abstract thinking and the fact that
some concepts are not fully tangible. Deciencies in fun-
damentals prevent further development and exploration
of more complicated problems.
Currently, classes are divided into two parts, theoret-
ical lectures and the practical laboratory lessons. During
these laboratory sessions, students get limited access to
machines or conduct computer-based simulations. In their
daily practice, academics frequently face lack of access
to modern equipment and devices, which are currently
in use in industry. There are no opportunities to disas-
semble available devices for the purposes of presenting
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the components and construction, as well as clarifying re-
lated physical phenomena. Laboratory exercises must be
carried out under supervision, therefore, students do not
have the ability to self-congure the equipment, experi-
ence states of emergency or the eects of misconguration,
as these may lead to the equipment being permanently
damaged. Moreover, there are no possibilities to practice
and catch up outside the laboratory schedule.
Current solutions rely on modern technology such as
online courses, blended learning, various computer-based
platforms and other options that allow students to repeat
the same topic and make mistakes several times in or-
der to learn from them. Numerous examples of hardware
and software that have been successfully used in educa-
tion process indicate that ed-tech industry solutions can
improve learning outcomes for most students. More and
more educational centers have started to introduce pow-
erful new technology-based tools that help them to meet
diverse student needs. For example, Virtual Labs (Govern-
ment of India Initiative), provides remote-access to labs in
various disciplines of science and engineering. Students
of Indian universities can access numerous tools for learn-
ing, including web-resources, video-lectures, animated
demonstrations and self-evaluations. However, most of
these packages consist of online or semi-interactive video
courses, which do not include a hands-on approach or give
any opportunity for experimentation, but rather resemble
a one directional lecture. Such tools provide the student
only with theoretical knowledge of a particular subject;
the practical part is omitted entirely. Only by combining
theory and practice (even in a virtual environment) will
students gain real experience [3].
The paper is organized, as follows. The next section
describes methodology: technology and software, scenar-
ios of exercises, details of 3D modelling, the created appli-
cation and the results. Section 3 shall present a discussion
of the results, the conclusion and plans for the future.
2Method
2.1 Motivation
Virtual Reality (VR) is a technology that provides an in-
teractive computer-generated environment, usually with a
dynamically changing scenario in which one can see and
move. VR simulates a user’s physical presence in an ar-
ticially created world and allows them to interact with
that virtual environment [4]. Most VR applications and so-
lutions focus on gaming and commercial industries, due
to these areas providing the largest groups of VR head-
sets recipients. However, the possibilities of virtual real-
ity do not end with gaming. Dynamic growth and inter-
est in the subject of virtual reality have rendered it appli-
cable in many other areas, such as the military, psychol-
ogy, medicine and teaching applications. Use of informa-
tion and communication technologies has been found to
improve student attitudes towards learning. Moreover, vir-
tual reality plays an important role in the teaching process,
providing interesting and engaging ways of acquiring in-
formation. It can help teachers to explain complex issues
due to its graphical nature combined with an explorative
approach, physical interactions and intuitive interfaces.
The case study by Beijing Bluefocus E-Commerce Co.
Ltd. and Beijing iBokan Wisdom Mobile Internet Technol-
ogy Training Institutions, presents the dierence between
VR-based teaching and traditional teaching in learning as-
trophysics. The team conducted two tests: immediate and
retention on groups of students with VR-based teaching
and traditional teaching. The immediate test was com-
pleted to show the dierences in learning eciency and
the academic performance of the groups, the retention test
was conducted to compare how long the students could re-
tain knowledge. According to the conclusion of the case
study VR-based teaching improves students test scores.
The score of the VR group on the immediate test was 93
right answers, and the traditional teaching group 73. What
is more in the retention test, the average score of the VR
group was 90, which was 32.4% more than that of the tra-
ditional teaching group which had an average score of 68.
The results show that VR-based teaching can not only im-
prove the knowledge gained by students after classes, but
can also help them to retain this knowledge [5].
Virtual reality can be a powerful tool in supporting
and facilitating learning and teaching processes. A lot of
surveys and reports show that most students remembered
what they saw in VR and concluded that VR is a more
memorable environment than laboratory-based demon-
strations [8]. Ultimately, the laboratory-based method (a
less ecient form of learning) results in deciencies in
fundamental knowledge and practice of graduates, which
may lead to inability to properly react to challenges that
arise in future workplaces. To work around the problems,
an innovative method for teaching and learning based on
virtual reality (VR) shall be proposed. VR environments
allow educators to conduct learning activities, which are
dicult to implement during regular laboratory lessons
(such as states of emergency). By including VR laborato-
ries as a part of the existing curriculum, it is believed that
it will be possible to improve the quality and eciency
of higher education, qualications, the competences and
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938 |Dorota Kamińska et al.
skills of graduates, as well as increase their competitive-
ness in the labor market.
2.2 Methodology
The project was conducted according to design thinking
(DT) methodology, which is an innovative approach to gen-
erate and develop ideas that match the end user’s needs.
The iterative cyclic process identies the desires of the tar-
get group, which they may not even be aware of. It is based
on intuition, creativity, logic and having an optimistic way
to cope with the challenges. It has been used as a method
of inventing products, services and experiences with a fo-
cus on the people who will use them, derived from ve
structured phases (see Figure 1): empathize (or discover),
dene, ideate, prototype and test [6].
Figure 1: Design Thinking process
Discover is the rst phase of the DT process: this step
is about immersion, doing research and interviews with
the target group. The main aim of this phase is to gather
rich background knowledge and to try to nd inspiration
for further challenges. The next part of this phase is em-
pathize; it includes observation of people, visiting work
spaces, asking questions and trying to understand the per-
spective of the potential user. After the rst survey with
students and academics we dened the real problem to
solve - lack of an environment in which students would be
able to learn about, work and experiment with latest ma-
chinery. Subsequent interviews were conducted during the
second empathy session. An online survey among 15 aca-
demics and 60 students (age 20-22 years) was conducted.
Interviewees reacted enthusiastically to the idea of creat-
ing a VR based learning tool. 73% of academic respon-
dents would invest in VR equipment to enhance the level
of learning in their unit. What is more, 93% of them would
use VR as a part of their training program for students. All
students agreed that VR has a huge potential as a mechan-
ical and electrical learning environment. Promising feed-
back from the target group led to the next step: prototyp-
ing.
2.3 Technology
Figure 2: HTC Vive - a virtual reality headset developed by HTC and
Valve Corporation, source: ww.microsoft.com/
The device provided for the project was the HTC VIVE.
HTC and Valve Corporation developed this virtual reality
equipment, with the rst launch of the product being on
5th April 2016. This device (see Figure 2) is composed of:
Wire-connected Headset - comprising a screen, two
lenses and a set of detectors: gyroscope, accelerome-
ter and laser position detectors. On this headset, the
distance between both eye lenses can be adjusted, al-
lowing adaptation for various face types and shapes.
There is a headphone jack, a front camera to see the
external environment without removing the headset,
and a microphone that can be used during multiplayer
games or phone calls via a Bluetooth connection to a
mobile phone.
Wireless Controllers - with a number of programmable
buttons, a touchpad and sensors such as a gyroscope,
accelerometer and laser position detectors.
Lighthouses - emitting pulsed infrared (IR) lasers to
detect the position of the headset and the controllers.
These devices can be placed in the corner of the area
used for simulation and can cover an area of 12.25 m2.
Connector Box - to connect the headset to the com-
puter or TV [7]. For further information, please see the
HTC Vive website: https://www.htcvive.com.
To develop the virtual environment of the prototype Unity
3D - Game Engine was used. This was considered the
most appropriate software to create VR applications [2].
The programming languages used for development were
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Virtual reality as a new trend |939
JavaScript and C#. To design and develop all necessary
virtual objects in the virtual scenes 3ds Max software was
used.
2.4 Application scenario
The scenario for the tool included ve stages:
Controls Tutorial - The idea of this stage was to pro-
vide the user with a tutorial, which illustrated how to
use the HTC VIVE controls while in virtual reality. This
includes showing what each button on the remote is
used for and how to navigate through the selection
menus.
First menu - The menu has a visual of a laboratory,
where the user could select the appliance of their
choice. For the purpose of this project, a washing ma-
chine and its components were the focus (see Fig-
ure 3). For selection, the device was highlighted and
selectable.
Figure 3: 3D model of washing machine in 3ds Max
Select Activity Type - In this stage, the user could se-
lect an activity, component or phenomenon to learn
about.
Figure 4: A screenshot of sample menu
The core of the application - An interactive VR simu-
lation (Figure 1) for learning and teaching mechanical
and electrical concepts, such as: the construction of a
Figure 5: VR learning and teaching environment on an example of a
washing machine and its components
device and its individual components, dening princi-
ple operations, all necessary mathematical and phys-
ical descriptions, all mathematical models and physi-
cal phenomena essential to simulate and visualize de-
vices in action.
2.5 Testing
The application was tested by a group of 60 students (20
male and 40 female) of dierent ages ranging from 20 to
24 years. The students who did not have any previous ex-
perience with VR were presented with a introductory VR
simulation prior to the test. Each test was performed in-
dividually, during a single session in a separate room. The
student was positioned at the center of the room and asked
to put on the VR headset. When the student was comfort-
able with the environment, the session was started. During
one session the student was supposed to use all available
functions and go through each of the available exercises
(see Figure 6). Then, the student was directed to another
room for an interview.
During the interview, students were asked to rate on a
scale from 1 to 5 (1 meaning the lowest score, 5 highest):
How was the experience?
Is this kind of presentation useful for memorization?
Is this kind of presentation useful for understanding?
Did the presented device seem real?
Would you like to use the system as a part of classes?
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940 |Dorota Kamińska et al.
Figure 6: A student in the process of testing the prototype
In addition, a similar test was conducted among 15 aca-
demics. Similarly to the students group, all academics
without any previous experience with VR were presented
with a introductory VR simulation prior to the test. Each
question for the academics survey had a 1 to 5 rating. The
questions were as follows:
How do you rate the experience?
Do you nd this tool useful for presenting the exer-
cises?
Do you nd this tool useful in passing down knowl-
edge?
Did the presented device seem real?
Would you like to use the system as a part of your
classes?
The results of the interview are presented in Figure 7.
Almost every student gave the best rating for the ex-
perience in the VR environment. All agreed that this kind
of presentation has positive eects on understanding and
memorization. Almost all would like to use this system as
a part of their classes.
In the case of the academics, the most important feed-
back is that a VR educational tool was perceived as use-
ful in both enhancing the presentation and passing down
of knowledge. Additionally, most of the respondents indi-
cated that they would like to incorporate such a tool into
their classes.
Neither group found the presentation to be realistic
enough. However, taking into consideration that the pre-
sented simulation was in its prototype phase there is still
room for improvement in that area. What is also worth
noticing is that even though the presentation might not
have seemed realistic to all respondents, they still found
the tool to be useful and the overall experience got high
scores.
Figure 7: The results of the interview among students (upper) and
academics (bottom)
3Conclusion
According to [9] virtual/augmented reality (VR/AR) earned
its rst billion dollars in 2016, with about $700 million in
hardware sales, and the remainder from content. The es-
timated sales of VR headsets amount to about 2.5 million
units and 10 million game copies. In addition, Goldman
Sachs predicts that AR and VR can easily earn about 80 bil-
lion dollars till 2025. Today, apart from Facebook and Ocu-
lus, most of global giants such as Samsung, HTC, Sony, Mi-
crosoft, Google, and LG have introduced commercial AR or
VR solutions. This increase in the number of VR devices in-
volves a growing demand for applications created on these
platforms. Many experts are convinced that VR/AR has the
potential to be one of the most groundbreaking technolo-
gies of the next decade and forecast that it may be a new
turning point for the development of multimedia technolo-
gies.
Increasingly, at the forefront of this innovation wave,
one can see schools, universities, and educational organi-
zations who have noticed how augmented and virtual re-
ality technologies could reshape students experience, im-
prove outcomes, deliver innovative new learning methods,
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Virtual reality as a new trend |941
and even train professionals. These statistics present how
rapidly the global market of VR/AR is growing.
Immersive learning is the main area for applying
VR/AR in education. It allows reduction of the cost of
putting a student or a trainee in a normally high-risk, high-
cost setting, or in a dicult-to-access environment. More-
over, one can train with the latest available equipment
without the necessity of purchasing expensive machinery.
This results in stronger retention of the presented material
and improvement in educational outcomes.
In this study, an interactive virtual reality environment
was developed to demonstrate that VR may serve as a rel-
evant asset to the mechanical and electrical laboratory.
Most participants without prior training, could easily in-
teract with the platform and complete all the indicated ex-
ercises. Data collected from short surveys show that VR
can be useful for improving the understanding and mem-
orization process. However, some students and academics
felt their immersion broke because the environment did
not feel real. Overall, to provide a realistic experience, fo-
cus should be put on the surroundings, not only on the re-
alistic look of the main device. In the future, instead of an
empty room as the surroundings, an entire laboratory with
various posts to choose from shall be designed.
From the technical side, further development of this
project would have to take into consideration utilizing
additional devices and functions to make the prototype
a complete mechanical and electrical laboratory tool. To
make the application more useful in a practical setting it
would be necessary to make it available for multiple VR
platforms. By doing so the application can be used on
smaller and less expensive devices making the applica-
tion portable (remote learning) and more attractive from
an economical point of view.
Additionally, the presented prototype sparked the
idea for creating a VR- based mechatronics laboratory
which could familiarize users with construction and op-
eration principles of electric motors, present work of typ-
ical production lines or their most important fragments,
and show electro-pneumatic actuators and controls used
in the industry. All the ideas based on discussion with both
the academic and student groups were gathered and sub-
mitted in a grant proposal to the Erasmus+ programme for
strategic partnerships for higher education. The grant pro-
posal received funding and further work will be continued
in the ViMeLa (Virtual Mechatronics Laboratory) project
[10].
References
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... Moreover, digital technologies can take education even further, in the direction of an approach that focuses on solving real business cases, whether students learn on digital platforms used in business or create an environment that simulates real business scenarios. For example, the AR technology can be beneficial for teaching [12][13][14] because it can simulate, at a significantly lower cost, a natural business environment that is particularly demanding in terms of conducting practical classes and exercises (e.g., costly machines and materials are needed or work environment is hazardous). ...
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Beijing iBokan Wisdom Mobile Internet Technology Training Institutions, A Case Study - The Impact of VR on Academic Performance
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