A training boost for traffic accident and hazmat emergency responders through extended reality

A multi-sensory extended reality system developed by NUS CUTE Center from the Smart Systems Institute, together with HTX (the Home Team Science and Technology Agency) and the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), will boost training for civil defence officers in road traffic accident management and hazardous material (hazmat) mitigation procedures. The system, a world’s first, will bring the officers through realistic training scenarios which engage their senses of sight, hearing, touch and even smell.

Realistic, resource-efficient training

Current training and assessment methods adopted by SCDF for road traffic accidents and hazmat management involves a mix of theory and practical sessions. For training involving traffic accidents, scrap cars are used for the hands-on sessions. However, each scrap car can only train up to four emergency responders at a time which limits resource efficiency. Scrap cars are also costly and limited in availability. In the case of hazmat scenarios, there are challenges to simulating realistic conditions as actual chemicals cannot be used due to safety and environmental concerns. 

To tackle these challenges, the NUS CUTE Center worked with HTX and SCDF to build a system to train SCDF officers using Extended Reality (XR). The XR system comprises a Multi-Sensory Augmented Virtuality Suit (MAV Suit), a Virtual Reality (VR) headset and accompanying mock-ups of tools needed in rescue scenarios. In the case of traffic accident training, a car frame mock-up equipped with sensors and magnets to provide realistic haptic feedback is also used.

As part of the training, SCDF officers will don a VR headset to enter an immersive emergency situation while holding physical replicas of equipment, such as a spreader cutter. This allows them to mimic real-life movements which are reflected in the virtual world. The MAV Suit worn by trainees also adds realistic elements to the scenario such as smell, for example the scent of smoke, and the sensation of heat.

From XR to real-life

“We are pleased to leverage our Centre’s expertise in multi-sensory simulation to customise a system that can train and prepare current and future emergency responders for real operations. We worked closely with HTX and SCDF to address the needs of their officers, and are proud that our technology is in the process of being deployed at the Civil Defence Academy for training,” said Associate Professor Yen Ching-Chiuan, who is the Co-Director of the NUS CUTE Center and from the NUS College of Design and Engineering.

“The XR system allows our officers to practice their skills in a safe, controlled environment where they can experiment, learn, and adapt without being restricted by real-world limitations. The cross-cutting benefits of such interactive and immersive training systems can be potentially repurposed for use across other Home Team Departments. And we are continuously working with partners to develop novel senses and actuators that are miniaturised and that can be integrated into the headsets or haptics suit to enhance training realism and trainee’s situational awareness via simulation,” said Dr Saravana Kumar, Deputy Director (Modelling & Simulation), Human Factors & Simulation Centre of Expertise, HTX.

“The XR and VR training systems are able to simulate various fire and rescue scenarios, as well as incidents involving hazardous materials. This provides our trainees with an immersive training experience in a virtual environment that will bring about greater training dynamism, effectiveness, and learning efficiency. The added realism will supplement existing theory and practical training sessions, giving trainees the opportunity to practice and refine their skills and techniques in a safe and controlled environment,” said Lieutenant Colonel Foo Yiing Kai, Commander for Punggol Fire Station and Project Team Lead for the XR/VR training systems, SCDF.

The VR scenarios were developed by the CUTE Center team to address specific scenarios based on SCDF’s established curriculum materials. Elements such as the type of vehicle, entrapment conditions, extrication techniques, types of hazardous materials were customised to meet training needs. For traffic accident training, up to four trainees can work collaboratively on a rescue mission with each trainee performing a specific role such as stabilising the car, or putting out a fire.

In addition to providing realistic training, the XR system serves as a standardised platform to assess the performance of a trainee. This boosts the objectiveness, consistency and accuracy of assessing officers. The XR training system will supplement SCDF’s existing theory and practical training sessions.