Virtual reality in the engine room

19 October 2020
Virtual reality module in the engine room

How and why IFP School's Powertrains and Sustainable Mobility Center has developed an immersive virtual copy of the engine showroom for its students?

In these times of health crisis, the start of the 2020 school year has been rather complicated for many schools. IFP School is no exception to the rule. Several of our students have not yet been able to physically join the School to follow their classes.  On a daily basis, this meant having to set-up a mixed tuition which would allow both on-campus and distance learning students to follow courses and practical workshops. For the lectures, several technical, educational and organisational systems have been put in place. But when it came to the practical workshops, things were more complicated! For example, how could we ensure that remote students got to experience the thrill of a "treasure hunt" organised on the recognising engine parts in the School's engine showroom?

A major challenge that we took up with the teams from the Powertrains and Sustainable Mobility Center was creating a virtual reality module! Let's go back in this article to the educational engineering and technical creation of this module.

Starting point: the visit to the engine showroom

At the beginning of the year, students in the Powertrains and Sustainable Mobility Center programs benefited from a one-day exploration of the School's engine room. Covering around 100 square metres, this room contains all the parts that make up a combustion engine: pistons, injectors, cylinder heads, etc.

Accompanied by a teacher from the Center, the students spend an entertaining half-day in the Center during which they must, in teams of 3 or 4, go on a sort of "treasure hunt" in order to identify the parts. At the end of this phase of discovery and exchange in small groups, they all debrief together with the teacher in order to clarify some points and go back in greater detail on each of the pieces. The objectives of this day are multiple:

  • First of all, through the playful aspect of the day, to create a team spirit in the class. Exchanging and discussing together, challenging each other, etc. helps create a group dynamic and cohesion that will be beneficial and useful throughout the year.
  • A second objective is to place students from different schools on an equal footing: depending on their profile, some are very comfortable in this mechanical part, others much less so. The teacher then takes the time to explain again the function of each of the parts.
  • Finally, this day is an opportunity for the teacher to present the educational path they will be following during the year (course content and speakers).

Living the experience remotely

This day is very important, both in terms of training and for the new class to build a team spirit. In order to give the same experience to the remote students, we have thought of and designed  a virtual reality module with the teachers from the Center in which everyone could immerse themselves and look at the engine parts as if they were there in person. If they can’t physically walk around the room, they can do so virtually behind their screen or in a virtual reality headset.

An immersive virtual copy?

The immersive module was designed in three steps.

STEP 1 - Rethinking training engineering

In order to achieve the above-mentioned objectives, it was necessary to imagine a scenario in which the students present and at a distance could communicate and still have access to the same resources; all the while maintaining the playful approach and the "treasure hunt" spirit!

The first solution considered was to set up "study buddies" who, thanks to a communication system such as Zoom or Teams, could visit the workshop and jointly answer the questions of the "treasure hunt". This solution was quickly abandoned for fear that the student present would have to be more of a camera operator than a learner.

A second solution was then thought of: to create a module based on 360° photos so that the remote learner could virtually walk around the room from their computer and zoom in on the mechanical parts, while retaining the principle of the present/remote pair. The pairs could then interact together, one in the School's workshop, the other remotely in the virtual copy workshop to find solutions to the questions asked. This solution, which was considered more engaging, was chosen.

STEP 2 - Creating the module in virtual reality

With the help of the Center's teachers, we took 2D and 360° photographs. In this module, 360° photographs have two uses:

  • on the one hand, they allow the learner to browse and immerse themselves in the room;
  • on the other hand, they act as a support medium or “prop” for the 2D photographs. The learner can use interactive buttons to display zooms of the different engines and parts present in the workshop. In total, more than 120 photos have been implemented in the virtual reality tour to enable remote students to visualise all the details of the parts.

This module is available at this link. It took three days of work to take the 2D and 360° photographs, to assemble the whole thing using Sphere software, and then to broadcast the finalized experiment on a server accessible to the students, as well as on the Learning Management System.

STEP 3 - Trial run with students

Two different uses of the module were tested:

In the Energy and Powertrains program, the experiment was made available to all students the day before the workshop. The most curious were therefore able to access it in advance and start to pinpoint the various locations. On the day of the workshop, the teacher began his half-day by setting up pairs and trios. The majority of them were made of students who were physically present, but some of them integrated a remote student.

In order to communicate, interact and identify the pieces together, the students used the Zoom application. At the same time, virtually, the remote student was also able to observe the room, advising and guiding his colleagues in their trio to answer certain questions from the treasure hunt!

In the Electrification and Automotive Propulsion program, due to a mandatory student lockdown, the module was used 100% remotely. After an initial visit to the virtual classroom - the teacher went around the room to show the pupils via Zoom - the module was made available to them so that they could independently identify the pieces and fill in a questionnaire: a real virtual treasure hunt!

A huge success!

The setting up of a virtual copy of the School's engine room has been a success, both in its development and in its use. Thanks to the technical mastery of the Sphere software and the reactivity and availability of the staff faculty, it was possible to produce in just under three days a tool with both educational virtues, enabling us to carry out the workshops  and social virtues - create links between the students in the program.

This educational innovation invites us to continue in this direction in order to offer new experiences to the students of other programs! To be continued...

Learn more.

Author of the article: Clément Cahagne, Head of  the educational innovation hub, Lab'Innov