February 4, 2009

University Researchers Turn Video Game Into Virtual Fire Drill

Durham University researchers have created a fire drill simulator out of a popular videogame, BBC News reported.

A virtual model of one of the university's departments was created using The Source Engine, a 3D game engine used to drive Half-Life 2.

The researchers will use the newly developed simulator to examine people's behavior in a fire and to train people in good fire practice.

The simulator can be adapted to mimic the interior of most buildings, although modification will be needed.

"While similar 3D modeling software was already available, modifying a video game was faster, more cost effective, and had better special effects," said Durham University's Dr. Shamus Smith, who helped spearhead the project.

He said their video is an example of how to escape the Computer Science Department of Durham University.

The research team was interested in using game technology over a customized application and found that The Source Engine, from Half-Life was very versatile.

"We used the simulation to see how people behaved in an actual fire situation and to train people in 'good practice' in a fire," Smith said.

The virtual environment helped familiarize people with evacuation routines and could also help identify problems with a building's layout, the team said.

The researchers found that a finished representation of a building could be completed in just a few weeks by customizing a video game, without additional time needed to learn or develop programming skills.

However, they noted that while the simulation worked for most people, those who played a lot of video games did rather unusual things.

Smith said if a door was on fire, gamers would try and run through it, rather than look for a different exit, but non-gamers treated it as a more serious exercise.

Gaming technology has also been adapted in other studies to simulate lab accidents, teach people about cooking safety, and to help people overcome arachnophobia.


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