In a college’s virtual reality (VR) lab, a trainee investigator is immersed in a three-dimensional fire scenario based on a real blaze that happened at a residential block in downtown Shanghai last year.
A controller allows the trainee to explore and interact with the computer-simulated environment, such as opening a door or picking up an object from the ground.
The idea of using VR technology to train investigators came from Gu Yaoyao, a fire investigation expert with Shanghai’s Fire and Rescue Bureau. Over the past nine years, Gu has participated in a host of investigations to help determine the origins and causes of fires and explosions.
“Investigations of such incidents require a systematic approach and knowledge of basic fire science,” Gu said.
“VR technology simulates as many senses as possible, such as sight, hearing, touch and even smell, so it offers a safer and more economical solution for those beginning fire investigation work.”
Gu works with a team of VR researchers from the East China University of Science and Technology in Shanghai, who bring the artificial world to life.
According to one researcher surnamed Xu, the VR technology simulates entire fire scenarios, including how the fire was started and the reactions of the injured.
“We also have post-production experts and programmers to help us reproduce the scene,” Xu said.
Xu added that they work closely with the Fire and Rescue Bureau to make sure that their VR training ticks all the boxes required by the program.
The first VR training program was conducted in August last year. Gu said the second program, expected to start before the end of this year, will include more interaction with fire witnesses to improve trainees’ inquiry skills.
“With the help of VR technology, trainees can practice over and over. The more they practice, the better decisions they will make under pressure in a real case,” Gu said.
“Advanced technology alone can’t qualify someone as an outstanding fire investigator, as they should have deep knowledge and experiences to collect sufficient evidence. Only carefulness and being sensible and responsible can make a difference.”