November 8, 2011
University Relations and Marketing
Virtual Reality Helps Improve Emergency Evacuation Procedures in Aviation Safety
Students, faculty at Bowie State University simulate emergency scenarios using advanced 3-D equipment
How quickly can a place like Dulles Airport be evacuated in an emergency without putting people in danger? That's the question students at Bowie State University are working to answer using a new virtual reality laboratory and advanced 3-D equipment to simulate emergency evacuation scenarios.
Backed by a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, students and faculty in the Computer Science Department have created ‘virtual' environments to evaluate emergency evacuation procedures for sites like airports, airplanes and large buildings. Sophisticated equipment enables them to evaluate the impact of crowd behavior, time and signage during the evacuation.
"The idea is to see how people react in an emergency environment like how quickly they are able to find an exit," said Dr. Sharad Sharma, assistant professor of computer science at Bowie State University and principal investigator of the NSF grant. "We can learn why a person may trust a stranger, which exit signs are most effective and how long the whole process takes."
The results of this research will support ongoing efforts to enhance national security and preparedness to respond in emergency situations.
Starting from a flat, or 2-D, floor plan the students can create a near exact replica of any building or vehicle using 3-D modeling software. Users, which consist of students and computer-generated users, can then log on to the virtual environment to participate in the evacuation simulation. With the 3-D wall and head mounted display equipment, users can be present ‘virtually' in that environment and use the computer or something called ‘cyber gloves' to navigate their way out during an evacuation or other scenario.
"Students who participate in these virtual reality experiments gain training and knowledge of what to do when a real emergency occurs and we learn how long it takes them to get out and what dangers they are exposed to along the way," said Stephen Otunba, a computer science doctoral student at Bowie State University, pictured above.
Bowie State University is further expanding its research in emergency evacuations with another $250,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security. The three-year grant also supports enhancements to the academic program including the addition of new graduate level courses designed to prepare students for careers in national security and information technology. Dr. Sharma and Dr. Quincy Brown, assistant professor in computer science, are the principal investigators.
The Computer Science Department is also using virtual reality laboratories to conduct research on traffic intersections and airport runway safety and is exploring ways to use the labs to create virtual classrooms for online instruction. Bowie State University offers courses in virtual reality, computer graphics, gaming and engineering that utilize this equipment. Click here to visit the BSU Virtual Reality Laboratory website.
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Bowie State University (BSU) is an important higher education access portal for qualified persons from diverse academic and socioeconomic backgrounds, seeking a high quality and affordable public comprehensive university. The University places special emphasis on the science, technology, teacher education, business, and nursing disciplines within the context of a liberal arts education. For more information about BSU, visit the website at www.bowiestate.edu.