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Using Virtual Worlds to Solve Real World Problems…Like Making Bridges Safer

The National Highway Administration is using Virtual World technology to prevent bridges from collapsing.

The Virtual Bridge Compter Based Training puts students in a 3-D graphically enriched environment to check a bridge’s conditions. The virtual world simulates real life bridge defects without putting the students in real world danger.

Meredith Perkins is a Senior Instructional Systems Designer at Sevatec a contractor for the National Highway Institute. She told Chris Dorobek on the Dorobek Insider Program why these technologies are so important.
Meredith Perkins talks Virtual Worlds with Chris Dorobek by cdorobek

What do you think, are the virtual worlds a good idea or just a waste of money?

To listen to Meredith’s full interview you can catch the full radio show at GovLoop Insights or your can subscribe to our itunes channel.

And don’t miss our interview with Paulette Robinson where we talk about the upcoming Virtual Worlds Conference: It’s not outer space…but it is a Virtual World.

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David Dejewski

When I was reviewing investments for the Military Health System, we agreed to spend several million on Second Life. The idea was that wounded warriors who suffered from PTSD would often retreat into virtual worlds online. The medical community wanted to help them, but had little chance of finding them again by the time PTSD had become a reality and messed up lives.

They created a virtual clinic online and strategically placed mental health professionals – armed with the signs of PTSD – into this virtual world intent on making contact. They engaged many Second Life avatars. When they found someone who needed help, they could offer the help through a virtual clinic in the virtual world – eliminating much of the stigma associated with physically going to a clinic in the real world.

I am not aware of the results of this program, but I sure appreciated the approach. When we were evaluating the investment, I set up an Second Life avatar myself and visited many such clinics run by the CDC and other professional organizations. There was help for families of Alzheimer’s patients, victims of breast cancer, etc. Avatars could visit clinics and download free literature – even attend virtual seminars – all from the privacy of their home computer. Brilliant.

Pam Broviak

Thanks for sharing this – it’s particularly exciting to me as an engineer!

I definitely think 3D immersive spaces provide tremendous benefits for training, networking, and design. Back in 2007 a friend of mine from TEEX set up a virtual bridge maintenance training site to explore its use for this purpose (here is a link to an article I wrote about it: http://www.gridworks.sl/past%20issues/200803gridworks.pdf). We both were convinced that one day virtual worlds would become an important tool in our industry. The resources have a relatively low cost to set up, they can be easily replicated for re-use, they save on travel costs, can be customized for each locality, and things can be tried and failures allowed that could never occur in a regular setting.

Since then I’ve seen a lot of people continue to develop other virtual resources for government. We are fortunate that there have been a lot of advocates for its use in government like Paulette, Lovisa Williams, Eric Hackathorn, Bill May, Doug Maxwell, Tami Griffith on the fed side and Chris Moore on the local gov side and probably a few others I’m just forgetting at the moment.

Since I’ve been exploring and documenting the use of virtual worlds in gov, I’ve seen a definite increase in their use and a greater acceptance of the technology. So I do believe this trend will continue. The problem is that once you see and experience the possibilities it becomes much harder to go through a regular training because you know there’s a better way!