Virtual reality building site is a first for UK construction training

Building Site VR
Building Site VR

A group of Coventry construction workers have become the first employees in the UK to train on a virtual reality building site simulator.

Costing almost £9m, the ACT-UK Simulation Centre uses computer reality simulation to create a virtual construction site in exact detail, right down to fully-equipped site cabins like those found on any building site.

The pilot three-day training course for construction company Balfour Beatty was undertaken by 12 delegates.

Dariusz Mrugala, a 27-year-old Balfour Beatty sub-agent, said: “This is the best training I have ever had – I really enjoyed it. In the next 10 or 20 years this type of training will be standard in the industry.

“Normally you have people talking to you within a group exercise – I liked the fact that you are working on your own. I had never really thought before about the type of person that I am and that I can use my passion, imagination and power. The supervisors and actors showed me new ways to work and new ways to manage people.”

And Adam Parker, HR director for Balfour Beatty Construction Scottish and Southern, said: “This takes our development and training to a different level. Using VR enables us to put our trainee project managers in a live environment without exposing them to any risks. This kind of cutting-edge training also makes us a very attractive proposition for graduates looking to come into the industry.”

The course, which uses a combination of computer simulation and professional actors, has taken two years to develop and Balfour Beatty says it includes the latest in current practice.

To make the training experience as lifelike as possible, trainees have to deal with demanding site management scenarios – based on real-life situations – with site personnel, colleagues, and members of the public played by professional actors.

The centre, which is the second of its kind worldwide, includes a three-dimensional computer simulation of a construction project projected on to a 12-metre panoramic screen showing virtual reality simulations modeled using thousands of photographs from two actual construction sites: a housing development and a high-rise office block.

Trainees use a computer joystick to tour the virtual site and view the construction work in close-up and supervisors observe trainees’ behaviour via cameras and work with them to help identify and develop their talents and strengths.

The simulation concept is based on an idea from maritime simulation training and its designers say it shares similarities with the aviation simulators used to train airline pilots.

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