'Building-scale' VR is helping inform disaster simulations

Microsoft showcased the system designed for evacuation training.

Scaling up VR to areas larger than your living room is a focus for a number of game developers right now, but other researchers are working on expanding the size capabilities of the tech for a much more important reason: disaster management. In a lecture hosted by Microsoft, professor Katashi Nagao from the Graduate School of Informatics at Japan's Nagoya University explains how his team is reconstructing entire buildings in a VR sphere, to help occupants learn how to act in disaster scenarios such as earthquakes or flooding.

Using a mobile robot equipped with a laser-range sensor, an RGB depth camera and a 4K panoramic image camera, the team can virtually reproduce the interiors of buildings in what it calls "Building-scale VR". The mobile robot also scans individual physical objects by moving around them automatically. In the disaster simulations, both the building and objects can be manipulated, giving the VR headset wearer the opportunity to safely experience potentially dangerous situations, which according to the researchers is just as, if not more, effective than real world training. Future work will include large-scale experiments with indoor 3D maps of more complicated buildings, such as libraries and museums.

UPDATE: This post has been edited to correctly attribute the work to Nagoya University, not Microsoft.