CREATING IMMERSIVE AND INTERACTIVE SURVEYING LABORATORIES IN VIRTUAL REALITY: A DIFFERENTIAL LEVELING EXAMPLE
Keywords: virtual reality, virtual environments, virtual laboratories, engineering education, point clouds
Abstract. Surveying engineering education includes several outdoor laboratories that complement and enhance theoretical concepts taught in class. In addition, outdoor laboratories develop student skills with instruments and surveying techniques. These laboratories are often affected by weather, leading to cancelled laboratories, which reduce the time students spend with instruments and disrupt/delay the academic plan. Furthermore, terrain characteristics are important in surveying, as each terrain and project introduce unique surveying challenges. However, training often takes places in one location, thus, limiting student comprehension and experience on how to use the same instrument and techniques in different terrain conditions. Virtual reality constantly gains ground in education, as it overcomes restrictions of physical laboratories and enhances student learning. This study discusses the development of a leveling laboratory in immersive and interactive virtual reality, as well as the challenges encountered. We have replicated a part of the Penn State Wilkes-Barre campus, where students conduct many of their physical laboratories, in virtual reality with geometric and photorealistic fidelity using remote sensing and photogrammetric methods. Dense point clouds derived from terrestrial laser scanning and small unmanned aerial surveys are used for terrain and man-made object modeling. In addition, we have developed software that simulates surveying instruments, their properties, and user/student interaction with the instrument (e.g., moving the tripod, leveling the level instrument and leveling rod, etc.). This paper demonstrates that by utilizing cutting-edge remote sensing and virtual reality technologies, we can create realistic laboratories that can supplement physical outdoor laboratories and improve/enhance undergraduate instruction of surveying students.