Lab practices are a necessity in the Engineering education model. Such labs range from basic physics all the way to advance biology lectures. However, these laboratories must have a designated place, and expensive equipment to operate. Adding to the cost of setting such labs, there is also a risk factor, which can be minimal or of considerable magnitude depending on the nature of the lecture.
The risks mentioned above are present in any electrical lecture laboratory. It is known that working or studying electricity always presents a risk of either, a mild shock, to a serious electrical hazard. These can be avoided using modern technology, such as 3D virtual environments. Modern virtual reality and augmented reality take advantage of all the assets technology has to offer.
Each year more universities are adapting to a combination of laboratories in the traditional format and virtual reality. This combination is essential to make a comfortable transition for students and professor, into these new educational formats. Moreover, electrical lectures, as stated above, are greatly benefited from VR laboratories in regard to lacking the hazards in the working area, as well as students experimenting freely with the equipment, and think like engineers to solve problems, without the direct supervision of a professor. Therefore, mistakes will be made, but the future engineers will be able to see firsthand what went wrong and what consequences derived from the mistake without jeopardizing their health.
Cost wise the laboratories are superior in lowers prices in comparison to a fully equipped lab, where on top of the running costs form lighting, water, gas, and other services required, universities must pay the initial investment of equipment, that can be obsolete in a couple of years, and these labs can only receive a certain quantity of students per session. Moreover, increasing market demand for augmented reality and virtual reality technology, has led the technology industry giants like HTC, Sony, Microsoft, Google, etc. to invest in the market, growing it and introducing more solutions for the increased demand, therefore making the elaboration of these labs a more viable solution.
Engineering laboratories are a necessary part of lectures, in order to practice the theoretical concepts in a practical environment, but as state above, the traditional models lack the modernization, cost benefits, and risk mitigation that the technologies in the 21st century have to offer. This new lab model has the advantage that it can be easily updated to be kept up to date with simulations of modern equipment without needing to invest in it. As said before, a combination of the traditional labs and virtual reality ones is the most efficient transition into this new education 4.0.
Regarding electrical engineering lectures, the main benefit is the risk mitigation factor couple with the lower investment and flexibility of these labs. Future electrical engineers can have a more complete experience when working with traditional and virtual reality electrical labs.
By Oscar Eduardo García González