From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Ergonomics Gets a Boost From Make Believe

Is it practical to think that a simple office chair could be tested out long before the prototype is developed, or that a control panel could be organized for effectiveness by the person who will run the panel rather than the panel’s designer? According to a research group focusing on the widespread potential for virtual reality in the workplace, the answer might soon be “yes.”

The problem, believe researchers with View of the Future (VIEW), a research group/project comprised of five industry members and seven research institutions funded by the European Union and the Information Society Technology (IST) program, is getting industries to become more willing to adopt virtual reality.

According to VIEW’s website, virtual reality “replaces the real world with a synthetic computer generated environment. . . with the goal of enabling users to interact in real time within virtual environments.” In ergonomics, virtual reality’s potential is far reaching with applications ranging from job simulation that acts like training for workers who may not be able to acquire real-world training (astronauts, pilots or surgeons, for example) to product development in which designers need to test a product as if they were actually the user. Ultimately for product design, virtual reality technology can mean more end-user feedback before a design is completed, less financial commitment to the early stages of a design, fewer errors and costly design changes, a shorter time period between an idea’s conception and the date the product hits the shelves, and an overall better fit between user and product. For business, virtual reality could also mean a greater potential for profit.

But according to a VIEW, while the potential benefits of using virtual reality and virtual environments may be great for industry and business, currently barriers exist that need to be overcome before virtual reality can take a larger role in manufacturing and industry. Over the course of VIEW’s three-year project, adoption barriers identified included the perceived and real difficulties in using virtual reality and virtual environments, the need for better technical development, integration problems with current workplace technology, a lack of examples to show businesses how virtual reality would truly benefit their needs, and even possible health and safety problems.

While VIEW has yet to deliver details on the outcome of their project which ended in December, 2003, the project’s final report stated that “the VIEW OF THE FUTURE project has successfully moved the field of [virtual reality] development, application and evaluation forward, in terms of good adventurous science and also well-founded, industrially relevant application.” Researchers noted that further research still needs to be conducted to fully realize the potential value to business of virtual reality and virtual environments.

Sources: Information Society Technologies; Virtual and Interactive Environments for Workplaces of the Future (VIEW of the Future)