HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - A recent engine test for NASA's SLS is impressive. Lots of flame, smoke and noise. The only way to make sure a rocket engine works is to fire it up, but of course you can't do that when you want to learn how to work on the engine.
In fact, it would be tough to find a model you could take apart to learn how it goes together. With virtual reality, you don't need to be around the engine at all. "We can take actual things to scale, and texture them so they look realistic, and present them so they actually have to walk around it. They have to look underneath it," says Michael Lee Yohe, the Virtual Reality Lead at Huntsville's Intuitive Research and Technology.
In the Immersive Sensory Research (ISR) Lab at Intuitive, you can put on a special viewing mask that allows you to see three-dimensional representations of multiple objects. It's not to work on them, but to get an idea of what is possible. "We're arguing that the type of learning that someone gets from it is far more effective than staring at slides all day," says Micheal Lee Yohe.
A good example of how the Immersive Virtual Learning Environment would be used is a three-dimensional representation of a battlefield. There are mountains, defensive Patriot Missile batteries and an enemy missile launcher. Using the system, you can see the layout of the battlefield, and understand how terrain affects what happens. It's the kind of thing that could teach soldiers a number of concepts they'd need on a real battlefield, using real weapons. "And the reason why virtual learning is so effective to me personally, is because it allows us to make mistakes without destroying something. It allows us to make mistakes without hurting something. It allows us to play all the scenarios out because life isn't predictable," says Micheal Lee Yohe.
One thing to note about virtual reality, and the project at Intuitive. They believe it can be used to learn about almost anything. "It's not an official motto, but if it can be envisioned, I believe it can be virtualized," says Michael Lee Yohe.