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Page last updated at 00:42 GMT, Saturday, 17 October 2009 01:42 UK

Constructing a virtual building site

by LJ Rich
BBC Click


LJ Rich tests technology behind a new way of training construction workers

London's Olympic dream is less than three years away.

But before history is made, the project needs to be completed.

Planning the construction of a suitably impressive arena requires a lot of thought and manpower.

Olympic Stadium in construction
London's Olympic Stadium is already halfway to being completed

And construction, one of the biggest industries, is also one of the most hazardous. In Britain, it is responsible for nearly one third of deaths in the workplace.

The 2012 site is the largest construction site in Europe and Ian Crockford, project manager for the Olympic Stadium, offers training to his staff to minimise accidents.

Virtual sites

A new project which offers training on a virtual building site could prove invaluable for sites such as the Olympic Stadium.

Screen monitoring training
Trainers monitor what happens on screen and score the scenarios

The simulation is based on two real construction projects - a housing estate and a high rise block.

Over a two-year period, 50,000 reference photographs have been taken and rendered as 3D models.

The resulting five gigabytes of graphics are projected onto a 12-metre, 180-degree curved screen.

Nick Wood, director of 3D services at Make Media, discussed the difficulty with moving training to a virtual site.

"The challenge is getting the variety but keep the realism at the same time so that the trainees have a fully immersive feel as they are flying around the virtual sites," he said.

Beyond the screen, the training includes site huts and actors so that soon-to-be construction project managers can get their hands virtually dirty in a selection of realistic scenarios.

Trainees react to disgruntled builders or happy clients, while people in the control room monitor what is happening and will score them based on how they are doing.

A typical session lasts about 90 minutes, giving trainees plenty of time to become immersed.

Dangerous profession

Michiel Schrijver, managing director of ACT-UK, said that the secret of the training was in its realism:

Olympic construction site
Nearly one third of work-related deaths occur in the construction industry

"A simulator is not only excitement - sometimes it's difficult like real life, sometimes it's dull like real life," he said.

"You show us how you are really acting, that's the most important thing of the simulator."

Research following trainees who have been through the simulator in the Netherlands showed there was a significant drop in controllable incidents and building defects.

But until the machines are able to do the site managing and building for us, we will still need humans.

So, for the time at least, there is no chance of needing a simulated tea break.

Watch Click on BBC News Channel, Saturday 17 October at 11.30 (BST).

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