Camosun alumnus Hebron Watson believes that virtual reality will revolutionize local manufacturing and enhance the educational experience.
“As students, you gain a more thorough understanding because in virtual reality you can see it in scale, you can actually pick it up and turn it around and see it from every angle and quickly get an understanding of an object.”
The added ability will save time, reduce costs and lead to better overall design and manufacturing techniques. “When you have to print something out, it’s very costly,“ says Watson. “When people can only see something through a computer screen they end up spending more time figuring out if it is what they really want. Virtual reality is very intuitive and you can quickly grasp the information that you need to start the manufacturing process.”
Watson came to Canada from the Bahamas in 2014 to study at Camosun, attracted by the college’s leading reputation in engineering and computer science. After completing a Diploma in Computer Systems Technology, he worked for a time in retail but wanted a job more aligned with his professional expertise. “I found the Camosun Innovates office at Interurban and just started talking to everyone there and learning about their work,” he says. “They were doing amazing things and I wanted to be a part of it.” When the Camosun Innovates team needed a computer programmer, they called on Watson and gave him the challenge to design and program a stimulated VR lab environment, which he worked on successfully from May to September 2017.
Hebron credits Camosun for giving him exciting opportunities to apply his skills outside of the classroom. “I would say that education I got was very comprehensive and very thorough,” he says. “All the instructors put in so much work to help us, they were dedicating to giving us what we needed to succeed in the real-world.” After designing graphical content for online courses at Camosun and proving his coding skills on the VR project, Watson landed a coveted programming job with CGI Canada.
Camosun’s virtual reality lab works when individuals put on a headset with goggles connected to a computer with pre-programmed settings that can simulate different environments and contexts such as research spaces, classrooms or manufacturing labs. “Our mandate from the college is innovation,“ explains Jamie VanDenbossche, Associate Director, Camosun Innovates. “There’s a lot of technological disruption happening in the world right now. The industrial revolution took decades, but what is going on now is happening in real-time. Our job is to be at the forefront and VR gives us an exciting opportunity to do that.”
VanDenbossche explains that the possibilities for using VR as a tool for education are virtually limitless. “We know that students coming to school now have a gaming background and we need to reach them,” he says. “Now we can create virtual and augmented reality spaces as a tool for learning and we can program that to be whatever we want it to be.”
For example, virtual reality can be used to simulate a classroom experience in a variety of disciplines from humanities to trades and health care. “Imagine in nursing, we could have students put on the goggles and walk around a simulated hospital environment, picking up different medical objects, learning about them and we could use that as part of the testing process,” says VanDenbossche, who pointed out similar opportunities for students working in trades to learn about pipe installations, electrical grids or new construction techniques, all in VR specifically tailored to their unique learning needs.
For manufacturers, VanDenbossche sees the opportunity to take things to a whole new level, no longer constrained by the cost or availability of materials but limited only by one’s imagination. “Manufacturing in a traditional sense takes for example a block of something, mills it down and you can transform it into something else that’s tangible,” he says. ”When you step over into the 3-D world, you don’t need a block of something anymore, your idea starts from absolutely nothing and you can create something innovative. That’s a game changer.”
Camosun Innovates has considerable bench strength in the field, explains VanDenbossche. VR Projects Manager Matt Zeleny has over seven years of experience in 3-D scanning, printing and imaging. He is leveraging his expertise in these fields to develop innovative and cost effective processes for implementing real-world environments, and further push the boundaries of VR to incorporate a strong educational focus.
VR’s implications for education, local manufacturing and working across sectors and disciplines to solve global problems are immensely exciting. “We can enrich the student’s learning experience by becoming the leaders in applied learning,” says VanDenbossche. “I go to conferences and virtual reality is expanding in potential every year. At Camosun, we are leading the charge and want to be recognized as leaders.”