Columbus, Ohio, and Merrillville, Ind.
“See and test exciting technologies that deliver safe and reliable service to our customers and protect the public!” Thus did the digital marquee welcome attendees to the first official NiSource Innovation Expo, held at Columbia Gas of Ohio headquarters in Columbus, Ohio on June 4, 2019—and re-iterated again on June 6 at the NIPSCO corporate headquarters in Merrillville, Indiana.
Combined attendance from the two-location event totaled more than 800 people, and more than a dozen technology vendor and/or demonstration stations were situated throughout each Expo location. Highly featured among these stations–and highly ranked by a survey of event attendees–was the Virtual Safety Training series of projects produced collaboratively by NiSource and PNW’s Center for Innovation through Visualization and Simulation (CIVS); other names recognizable for their forays into advanced technologies included Microsoft, IBM, AT&T, and Verizon.
Of the nearly 20 total “table” stations, CIVS’s Virtual Safety Training demonstration station ranked 4th, behind only exhibits focusing on Underground Asset Location, Inspection Drones, and an Augmented Reality Field Worker Solution technologies.
CIVS research staff Kyle Toth and John Moreland, joined by graduate research student Justin Heffron in Merrillville, shepherded and demonstrated for several hundred visitors the three virtual reality (VR) – based safety training programs under development in partnership with NiSource: First Responder VR Training, Work Zone Hazard Identification, and Gas Leak Tracing and Simulation.
“The First Responder Training simulator takes users through a scenario in which they investigate a reported gas smell in an urban residential/commercial area,” Toth explained. “There’s a sequence of events that need appropriate responses, for instance, to evacuate buildings as necessary, identify and disconnect ignition sources, track down the source of the leak, and so on. Certain distractors and time-sensitivities are built into the simulator for heightened, real-world impact. We envision the final product as a software that could be deployed on a variety of VR devices.”
“Similarly,” said Moreland, “the Work Zone Hazard Identification program allows users to navigate a virtual work zone, identify different potential risks or hazards, and select hazard prevention or mitigation actions to deal with those risks.”
“The Gas Leak Tracing and Simulation project may be the most complex of the three collaborations,” Heffron said. “Here, we’re starting with an assumed gas leak buildup within a residence, and developing simulations of gas dissipation scenarios for the various actions that could be taken—for instance, opening all windows and doors, or only opening certain windows/doors, and so on. By using computer simulations based on actual house geometries and air-flow dynamics, we can gain insight into the most effective ways to safely help dissipate built-up gas and minimize the time that gas concentrations would be in the explosive range.”
While our overall efforts are directed towards helping utility first responders and other employees elevate their safety preparedness and decision-making skills, we’re also interested specifically in the impact that visualization and virtual reality technologies can have in advancing such learning.”
The CIVS team also captured the following videos related to the events at, respectively, Merrillville, Indiana, and Columbus, Ohio.