A virtual reality headset may not be the first thing that comes to mind when “fire evacuation” is mentioned, but that is exactly the technology being used to help understand human behaviour in emergencies.
Senior Lecturer in Building Technology at Massey University Dr Ruggiero Lovreglio has been looking at the use of cutting-edge digital technologies such as Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Building Information Modelling (BIM) in emergencies since moving to New Zealand from Italy in 2016.
Dr Lovreglio says joining Massey in 2018 gave him the opportunity to move into a leadership role in the area of VR while also advancing his research into the potential of digital technologies in emergencies.
“I realised New Zealand is the perfect place for innovative research given both the outstanding government support for research and the strong links between academy and industry.”
His main goal was to investigate new digital technologies to enhance the safety of built environments. To achieve this, Dr Lovreglio established the Digital Built Environment Lab which includes state-of-the-art technologies such as VR and AR headsets, drones, eye-tracing and biometric sensors for research.
He has raised over $100,000 for equipment for the lab to ensure the lab’s continued development in the area. “By using these cutting-edge technologies, we can help advance understanding of human behaviour in disasters and therefore create better fire and emergency evacuation.”
Having started out studying engineering, Dr Lovreglio says he saw people simulating reactions to disasters through VR and was fascinated by it. “When I was first starting, VR was not what it is now- it was a baby. It was very complicated and time-consuming.”
Now, he uses VR and a combination of new digital technologies to investigate evacuee decision-making and has developed of VR and AR training tools to teach building occupants the best way to respond to fire and earthquake disasters.
Dr Lovreglio says using VR in this area has vastly expanded the existing body of knowledge on human behaviour during fire emergencies and has led to development of new tools for fire engineers and evacuation consultants
“Outcomes from this research can be to assess the time required to evacuate a building, create safer processes andreducing cost and disruptions for earthquake evacuation and fire safety training.”