updated: 12/4/2006 3:47:24 PM

Valparaiso University Tests Vehicle Operated Through a Virtual System

InsideIndianaBusiness.com Report

Valparaiso University's College of Engineering is field testing a farm vehicle in Japan that can be operated through a virtual reality control system on campus. The university says the system could help transform the agricultural, construction and mining industries by allowing equipment to be operated thousands of miles away.

Source: Inside INdiana Business

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VALPARAISO, Ind. - A professor and student in Valparaiso University's College of Engineering have begun field testing a farm vehicle in Japan operated via a virtual reality control system on campus.

A successful demonstration of the virtual reality control system could help transform the agricultural, construction and mining industries by allowing fleets of equipment to be operated by a handful of operators thousands of miles away.

"There are many types of vehicles that could benefit from remote operation where you wouldn't want someone exposed to a harsh or hazardous environment," said Dr. Jeff Will, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering.

Dr. Will and Mike Steffen, a senior mechanical and electrical engineering major from Springfield, Ill., have started testing operation of the manure spreader over the past two weeks. Testing has progressed from observing the movements of the vehicle via virtual reality to operating auxiliary systems such as blinkers and now to controlling the vehicle's movement from Valparaiso.

During the tests, Dr. Will and Steffen are collecting data regarding the accuracy of the control system by conducting trials such as a surface coverage test.

"In that test we want to have the vehicle cover every inch of a particular area, which simulates tasks such as mowing a lawn or seeding a field," Dr. Will said. "We're also looking at the impact of training on operations.

We're looking at what happens to the accuracy as someone gains more experience operating the vehicle remotely."

Dr. Will and Steffen are working with scientists at Japan's National Agricultural Research Center - its version of the U.S. Department of Agriculture - on the project.

Last summer, Steffen traveled to Japan to work on the virtual reality interface that allows the manure spreader to be operated from Valparaiso's Scientific Visualization Laboratory in real time.

"Each time we test the vehicle it gets more exciting as we demonstrate the capabilities of the virtual reality control system," Steffen said. "It's amazing to know that this piece of equipment is actually responding to our commands thousands of miles away in Japan."

Steffen's interest in virtual reality technology goes back to his days as a student at Glenwood High School (Chatham, Ill.), and he has worked on virtual reality applications as a research assistant in Valparaiso's College of Engineering since the fall of 2005.

"During the spring semester I hope to work on improving the visualization of the vehicle's control system even further," Steffen said.

That work is crucial to making the virtual reality technology feasible for wide-spread use.

"The reason we want to develop this ability to teleoperate a vehicle using virtual reality technology is that it allows an operator to be more immersed in the environment than if that person is just looking at a computer screen," Dr. Will said. "Virtual reality makes teleoperating more precise and more effective."

Source: Valparaiso University

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