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Virtual reality game simulates earthquake to keep children safe

University of Auckland’s 2019 Velocity Challenge recognised and awarded for its education category a virtual reality game that could save lives during an earthquake.

According to a recent press release, the Editable Immersive Virtual Reality Serious Game simulates what might happen in an ordinary school classroom during and after an earthquake.

How the game works

The project is a result of collaboration between experts in education, computer science and engineering and is aimed at students in Year 7, 8, and 9.

The five to ten-minute game gives players different pathways as well as right and wrong options. The overall goal is to help them stay as safe as possible should the real thing happen.

An Engineering PhD student, who is one of the project partners, explained that the visual landscape of the game is based on an actual building in Ormiston Junior College in Flatbush, East Auckland.

He wanted to design the game realistically. To achieve this, he took photos and made a model of a particular building at Ormiston, and included the sound of a real earthquake.

Teaching students how to respond to earthquakes

Later on, he trialled the game with 150 students from the school and noticeably found significant improvement in the students’ knowledge about what to do in an earthquake after playing it.

They were able to learn that some students had thought running outside to escape being crushed was a good idea.

However, it is best to get under something solid like a desk and stay inside until the shaking stops.

The original idea for the game came from Dr Vicente Gonzalez, a senior lecturer in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Dr Gonzalez won a Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) Natural Hazard Platform (NHP) Grant to develop the concept, alongside Professor Robert Amor in Computer Science.

Zhenan Feng joined the group in 2017, having changed his original PhD topic to focus exclusively on developing the prototype.

Associate Professor Carol Mutch, from the Faculty of Education and Social Work, came on board as the PhD student’s co-supervisor in 2018.

Her contribution lies in her extensive expertise in teaching and learning, as well as her own experience of having survived the Christchurch earthquakes of 2010 and 2011.

Future plans

The next step for the project is to develop a business case for the game’s launch to market, with the team hoping to take out the big NZ$ 40,000 Velocity prize, open to all category winners in August.

This game can be globally attractive, having a range of possible emergency situations, users and location, which even include offices and outdoor environments.

The game has already cleared the first hurdle by being chosen as one of the best projects out of hundreds in the 2019 Velocity Challenge.

The team hopes the value and uniqueness of the game will see it made widely available, both nationally and internationally, for everyone’s future benefit.

Velocity is an entrepreneurial programme based at the University of Auckland that supports innovative projects through various stages of development.

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