The University of Michigan’s XR Initiative and the Extended Reality Nuclear Reactor Laboratory Project

The University of Michigan‘s Center for Academic Innovation founded an XR Initiative in September 2019, to work with all the U of M’s schools and colleges to fund new projects and provide consultation on the use of VR/AR/MR technology to support teaching and research.

The State of XR and Immersive Learning Outlook Report 2021 (available to download here), recently published by the Immersive Learning Research Network, describes one such project:

At the University of Michigan, the Center for Academic Innovation seeded six new XR projects in spring 2020 as part of an ongoing effort to fully embrace immersive education. One upcoming project explores the challenges of working within nuclear reactors. The school’s Ford Nuclear Reactor in Michigan permanently shut down in 2003 and was decommissioned in the years following, leaving the top-ranked university program without a research reactor. This XR project will develop an Extended Reality Nuclear Reactor Laboratory simulation where students can virtually walk around the reactor, look into the core, and interact with the control panel.

As Brendan Kochunas, project manager and assistant professor in the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences described it (2020): “In reality, one does not simply walk up next to an operating nuclear reactor core, but in virtual reality one can. We can also overlay simulation results on the virtualized physical systems allowing students to experience neutron fields or temperature fields visually, where in reality this is not possible.”

The faculty and staff newspaper UM Record provides some more background:

The College of Engineering is home to the No. 1 nuclear engineering program in the country. For several decades up to the early 2000s, the program included training at a physical nuclear reactor. The Ford Nuclear Reactor, originally established as a WWII memorial under the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Project, permanently shut down in 2003.

It was decommissioned over the next four years, leaving U-M as one of the only programs without a research reactor, both in the Top 5-ranked university programs and the Big 10, said Brendan Kochunas, project manager and assistant professor in the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences.

The Extended Reality Nuclear Reactor Laboratory simulation would allow some retired courses that used the Ford Nuclear Reactor to be taught again to upper level undergraduates and graduate students.

“I hope to gain experience and insight into how to apply XR technologies in a practical way to enhance education and research in the field of nuclear engineering,” Kochunas said. “I think XR has such potential for this area of science, or really any area of science where the reality is you have a physical system that is expensive or potentially hazardous.”

An article by Sara Norman on the University of Michigan College of Engineering website describes the project in more technical detail:

Over the past year, a project team within the U-M Department of Nuclear Engineering & Radiological Sciences (NERS) has been working with the XR Initiative in the Center for Academic Innovation to develop the Extended Reality Nuclear Reactor Laboratory—a virtual representation of the now decommissioned Ford Nuclear Reactor (FNR) that was once the center of the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Project (MMPP).

Yuxuan Liu, a member of the project team and an Assistant Research Scientist within NERS, has received a Simulation Grant from the Office of the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education (ADUE) to develop a simulation of heat transfer in the original FNR. Understanding the heat transfer in a nuclear power reactor is essential to its operation and maintaining safety, making this virtual experience an important lesson of the NERS Extended Reality Nuclear Reactor Laboratory course. The other member of the project team is NERS Prof. Brendan Kochunas.

The XR Initiative is a good example of a university-wide program to make XR technology more accessible on campus and encourage its use in higher education, working with university faculty to actively look for new ideas and opportunities to support immersive learning projects, and enhance students’ learning experience. I look forward to seeing other such initiatives spring up on university campuses!

Prospect by IrisVR: A Brief Introduction

IrisVR is marketing a VR design product called Prospect, which is a building industry design tool which supports multiuser meetings:

Intended for the architecture, engineering and construction trades, Prospect offers full automatic conversion from Nacisworks, SketchUp, Revit, Rhino, FBX, OBJ and other 3D content creation formats and tools. You can then share your imported work with others:

Walk through your 3D files with colleagues in VR, no matter their location. Multiuser provides reliable voice chat and a shared virtual environment for presentations and design reviews.

Prospect supports Oculus Rift, Oculus Quest, HTC Vive, and Windows Mixed Reality headsets. You can follow IrisVR on social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube.

And (of course), I have added it to my ever-growing list of social VR/virtual worlds.

Dimension10: A Brief Introduction

Dimenison10 is similar to products I have reviewed earlier such as InsiteVR and The Wild, in that their purpose is to experience a three-dimenstional model in a virtual meeting space for collaborative design meetings. (This appears to be a growth area for social VR.)

Dimension10 supports models created using the following software:

  • AutoCAD
  • Catia
  • Revit
  • Maya
  • Solidworks
  • 3ds Max
  • Navisworks
  • Catia
  • Rhino3D
  • Sketchup

Dimension10 is a Norwegian company with an impressive list of case studies on how its software has been used on projects throughout Europe. They also offer quite a few tutorial videos for their product on their website. The product appears to support both Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headsets.

You can sign up for their newsletter on their website. You can also follow the company on Facebook and LinkedIn. (They also have a YouTube channel, but many of their videos are in Norwegian! The tutorial videos have English subtitles, however.)

InsiteVR: A Brief Introduction to a Social VR App for Architecture, Engineering, and Construction Meetings

InsiteVR is a social VR platform that is intended to work with designs created in software such as BIM 360, Navisworks, Revit, Sketchup, and other programs that create three-dimensional models. Planners and designers can meet up in a virtual space to explore and “walk through” their 3D models. According to their website, the benefits of InsiteVR are:

REDUCE COSTLY SURPRISES: Eliminate model error ambiguity: Validate designs and identify issues before construction begins and it’s too late.

UNDERSTAND THE SPACE: Experience designs from a human perspective to increase understanding and confidence across all project collaborators.

IMPROVE CONFIDENCE: Coordinating with VR meetings helps ensure everyone is on the same page about issues and resolutions.

DIRECT INTEGRATIONS WITH EXISTING AEC TOOLS: All you need to get started is a BIM 360, Navisworks, Revit, or Sketchup model. In the click of a button your model will be VR ready and synced to the InsiteVR cloud for your coordination meetings.

VR MEETINGS MADE EASY: Inviting collaborators to your VR meeting is as easy as sending them a link. Participants can see other as VR avatars, talk over VOIP, and review model issues together. Compatible across desktop and standalone VR like Oculus Quest and Oculus Go.

BUILT-IN ISSUE TRACKING: Keeping track of issues identified during a VR meeting is critical. With speech-to-text annotations you can easily flag issues identified without removing your headset or requiring a second person for note taking.

PDF MEETING REPORTS: InsiteVR will automatically generate a PDF report of your annotations and screenshots so you can review and address issues after your VR meeting.

InsiteVR supports The Oculus Rift, Oculus Quest, Oculus Go, HTC Vive, and Windows Mixed Reality headsets, as well as desktop users.

You can contact the company to request a demo using this form. You can also follow InsiteVR on social media via Facebook and Twitter.