It is commonly referred as “Industry 4.0”, to the fourth industrial revolution, consisting of rapid changes, and new high-quality manufacturing sectors. This revolution provides us with technological advances at an exponential increment rate. Nevertheless, behind industries, lies its foundations, in this case, “Education 4.0”, which sees a rapid increment of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality technologies.
To drive such transformation in the engineering industry, the engineers in charge of such task, must have prior preparation to adapt to these new technologies, in other words, they must have good educational foundations. Here is where people profit from Education 4.0. “It is often disregarded that innovation comes not only from investing in new technology but more so from investing in people and their education so that they can implement such a change in technology.”
Implementing this new educational model to universities can vastly benefit the students, and the university itself. Specifically, in the mechanical branch of engineering degrees. A conservative approach to mechanical lectures consists of a theory class, followed by a practical laboratory. This second section of the lecture is where Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality comes in handy. Traditionally to carry out a mechanical laboratory, the university must spend hundredths of thousandths of dollars to have a decent facility where students can make experiments. Such initial investment is accompanied by further bills, material, devaluation, and wear of the equipment.
With the above stated, universities have another option to approach mechanical lectures, without the requirement of a physical lab. As mention previously, education 4.0 has VR and AR technologies at its disposal, making an efficient use of these coupled with online lectures, like for example MOOC courses for the theory section of the lecture, students can have full online lectures, and hands on laboratories without leaving the comfort of their houses.
Furthermore, the benefits continue beyond the economic viability and comfort of these new labs for mechanical lectures. Laboratories are made for students to learn in a practical way, based on what the theory lecture taught them. Therefore, being their first time, they are prone to making mistakes, which inquire misused material. To mitigate this wastage, labs consists, normally, of an instructor doing the practice once for everyone to see or having volunteers to handle the experiment. Not all students in the laboratory get the same chance to carry out the tests. Some will only take notes, do the relevant mathematical procedure with the test results, and hand in the report.
With virtual reality labs, students have the chance to experience firsthand the procedure, and do it themselves, as many times as necessary to understand the results. Having the freedom to make mistakes without finding themselves in dangerous situations. And not misusing material, or expensive equipment.
Mechanical lectures normally test, normal stress, sheer stress, torque, elongation, to name a few. These types of experiments inquire a higher risk of accidents, in comparison to basic labs. By doing it in a virtual environment, the risk of injury is reduced by a 100%, as well as the material wastage. The electrical load required to operate is significantly lower and can positively impact the university´s short to long term expenditures. An ideal scenario for universities, is to reduce costs, by digitalizing their most expensive labs, while keeping the already existing facilities, to make a hybrid transition into the Virtual reality and Augmented reality era.
With all the above being stated, it can be concluded that future engineers are required to have a solid foundation in what it is called “education 4.0”. The industry is rapidly changing, and the educational sector must follow to keep the pace. Moreover, universities should start implementing these solutions for the higher cost lab areas, one being mechanical laboratories, where initial investment for equipment is high. Virtual and Augmented reality laboratories will reduce such investment significantly, reduction in bills, and accident risks, an increment in student and staff comfort, plus further preparation and training for what the industry 4.0 changes have to offer in the short to medium term future.
By Oscar Eduardo García González