Using Virtual Reality to Enhance Electrical Safety and Design in the

Using Virtual Reality to Enhance Electrical Safety and Design in the
Using Virtual Reality to Enhance Electrical
Safety and Design in the Built
Martin Barrett, Jonathan Blackledge, Eugene Coyle
Abstract — Electricity and the inherent risks associated with its
use in the built environment have long since been a priority for
the electrical services industry and also the general public who
must live and work in this environment. By its nature virtual
reality has the advantage of being safe for both the user and
equipment. In addition, it offers the user an opportunity to be
exposed to a range of scenarios and conditions that either occur
infrequently or are hazardous to replicate. This paper presents a
prototype desktop virtual reality model, to enhance electrical
safety and design in the built environment. The model presented
has the potential to be used as an educational tool for third level
students, a design tool for industry, or as a virtual electrical safety
manual for the general public. A description of the development
of the virtual reality model is presented along with the
applications that were developed within the model. The potential
for virtual reality is highlighted with areas identified for future
development. Based on the development of this prototype model,
it appears that there is sufficient evidence to suggest that virtual
reality could enhance electrical safety and design in the built
environment and also advance training methods used to educate
electrical services engineers and electricians.
Keywords — virtual reality, touch voltage, electrical safety,
training and education
irtual reality (VR) can be described as a technology
that allows users to explore and manipulate computergenerated, three dimensional, interactive environments in real
time [1]. Since its origins which can be dated back to [2], VR
has developed significantly and has gained widespread use
across many disciplines e.g. [3,4,5,6]. Seen initially as an
expensive tool, that required vast investment, it is now
possible to illustrate complex, expensive or dangerous systems
economically on a computer screen [7].
Manuscript received Nov, 2010. This work was supported by Dublin
Institute of Technology.
M.Barrett is with Dublin Institute of Technology, he is a lecturer in the
Department of Electrical Services Engineering (e-mail:
VR systems are generally considered strong in both visual
and spatial representation of physical environments.
Consequently disciplines that require training in inspection
tasks and procedural training [8] should benefit from this type
of system. VR also offers the advantage of being safe for both
user and equipment, while at the same time offering the user an
opportunity to be exposed to a range of scenarios that are
hazardous to recreate or occur infrequently. The culmination
of these factors suggests that VR should not only be an ideal
system to enhance the training and understanding of electrical
services engineers and electricians but can also play a
significant role in creating awareness of electrical safety issues
and reducing accident rates within the general public.
This paper presents the design process of a desktop VR
prototype, “Virtual Electrical Services” (VES), which was
developed to demonstrate how VR technology can be applied
to the electrical services industry and used to enhance
electrical safety and design in the built environment. Three
interactive scenes using a domestic dwelling as the virtual
environment were developed to illustrate this point. The first
interactive scene, „Touch Voltage Simulator‟ allows the user to
carry out a touch voltage analysis of a domestic dwelling and
is based on previous studies into touch voltage [9]. The second
interactive scene „Electrical Safety and Accidents‟
demonstrates how electrical accidents occur in domestic
premises and provides safety guidance to the user based on the
findings of [10]. The third scene „Electrical Rules and
Standards‟ outlines the potential of VR for the dissemination
of Electrical Regulations and standards to the electrical
services industry to allow for greater understanding and rapid
transfer of knowledge.
Electricity is one of the most convenient forms of energy
that is used in every building today. The added comfort that it
brings to our daily lives in addition to the advances in
electrical safety have contributed significantly to our well
being in the built environment. However, the inherent risks
associated with its use will always exist and will continue to be
a priority for the electrical services industry. Previous
electrical safety studies have identified the home as one of the
leading locations for electrical injury and death to occur [10,
11] and in recent times greater attention has been drawn to
domestic electrical safety due to an ageing housing stock, lack
of maintenance and inspection and the increasing use of
electrical appliances [12]. Consequently, the importance of
safe design and the ability to recognise how accidents occur
are of the upmost importance. VR is a technology that
provides an opportunity to enhance our understanding of these
issues, train the user how to interact safely with equipment,
while also giving the user an opportunity to interactively
design an environment and investigate the consequences
safely. Desktop VR has the added advantage that it can be
utilised universally due to the widespread availability of
computers. In short, VR can add value to the electrical services
sector and has the potential to become an integral part of
training for third level students, electricians, design engineers
and a valuable electrical safety tool for educating the general
This paper presents an overview of VR development
systems and tools concentrating on the software used in this
prototype model. It reviews previous VR engineering
applications, outlines the development of this prototype model
and presents an in depth explanation of each scenario
developed. A discussion is then presented of the potential for
future development of this VR prototype and concludes by
presenting the findings of this paper and outlining the benefits
of using VR in this sector.
Previously, public expectations exceeded the ability of VR
to deliver realistic applications within meaningful timescales.
The root causes of this can be attributed to inadequate PC
hardware, costly investment requirements and over optimistic
coverage in the media. User disappointment resulted in the
practical benefits of VR being questioned and the consequent
drifting of funds to new and emerging fields of interest.
However, steady progress by small groups of scientists who
continued their VR research [13] lead to the rebirth of VR in
the late 1990‟s [14]. The main contributory factors for this reemergence can mainly be attributed to the rapid advancements
in PC hardware which occurred during this time. Central
processing units became much faster along with speeds of PC
base graphic accelerators. As such, this meant that VR was
much more accessible and the consequent growth inevitable.
To emphasise this point VR went from a$50 million dollar
industry in 1993 to $1.4 billion dollar industry in 2000 [13]
and this is estimated to reach $4.3 billion by 2012 [15].
VR systems are generally classified into four main
categories which are determined by their display technology;
immersive, semi immersive, projected and desktop. Immersive
VR systems aim to completely immerse the user inside a
virtual environment ensuring the user has no visual contact
with the physical world. This is generally achieved by using a
Head Mounted Display (HMD). With this device, the user
views the virtual environment through two small screens
placed in front of his eyes and motion trackers monitor the
user‟s movements and update the virtual scene via the attached
processor accordingly. Immersive VR systems generally offer
the greatest sense of immersion in a virtual environment, and
allow the user move around in an intuitive manner in
comparison to other systems. Nevertheless, there are
commonly acknowledged shortcomings related to immersive
VR and side effects such as eye strain, nausea and dizziness
associated with its use are well documented [16, 17]. Semi
immersive VR combines a virtual environment with a physical
model. A car driving simulator would be one such example,
whereby the drivers use a head mounted display to view the
virtual environment and a physical steering wheel, gearstick
and pedals etc to control the simulated driving experience. In
projected systems such as CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual
Environment) the user is surrounded by stereo images which
are projected onto screens. The user can walk freely within the
CAVE and view the virtual environment with stereo glasses. In
a similar fashion to immersive VR systems, motion tracking
devices adjust the projection of the images onto the screens to
account for a change in user position. Despite the truly
impressive nature of some of the applications developed using
the systems outlined above, cognisance must be taken of the
significant initial investment in specialist equipment required
to develop such applications and also in the ability to make
them accessible to a far reaching audience.
Desktop VR systems display their virtual environments on a
conventional pc monitor and interaction is generally achieved
by using the associated mouse and keypad. However, it can
support other visual and interaction devices such as „shutter
glasses‟ and „joysticks‟ to name a few. In contrast to the
systems outlined above, desktop VR offers a much more
simplistic, versatile and less expensive method to develop a
VR system, albeit at the expense of a more immersive
experience. As outlined by [18], desktop VR systems have
received criticism for not utilising the full potential of the three
dimensional and „presence‟ qualities of higher end VR
systems, as images are essentially still two dimensional. In
addition, desktop VR systems uses a screen of limited size in a
fixed location, it does not fill the user‟s complete field-ofview, and hence it is possible to get distracted by objects in the
peripheral view which ultimately impacts on the user‟s feeling
of presence. However, since desktop VR systems can be
utilised on standard computer systems and also projected onto
larger screens for group instructional training, its relatively
simple and inexpensive set up costs added to the accessibility
offered via the World Wide Web makes it a very appealing
system. Undoubtedly, the global accessibility by multiple users
to desktop VR is one of its major proponents and for many VR
applications, desktop VR will continue to be the way forward.
Selecting the most appropriate VR development tool is an
essential component in developing a VR application. The level
of flexibility and pre-programmed components can vary
substantially between packages. Many features require careful
consideration from a developers point of view such as file
formats supported for importing 3D models, number of
polygons, object scaling, animation, collision detection,
extensibility, support for input/output VR devices, 3D
libraries, widgets, developer support and methods of
publishing a completed application.
As outlined by [19] VR development tools can be
categorized into three main groups, Application Program
Interfaces (API‟s), Software Development Kits (SDK‟s), and
Authoring tools, the latter being the tool utilised in the
development of the „Virtual Electrical Services‟ application
outlined in this paper. Generally, an authoring tool is an iconbased application coupled with a graphical user interface
(GUI) that enables the author to develop a unique style of
programming. The tool is designed for users with nominal
programming knowledge. Instead of having to write lines of
code, developers make use of a set of building blocks. This
approach significantly widens the market for VR applications
development. Developers in various fields suitable for VR
applications can enhance understanding, transfer of knowledge
and learning potential for employees, clients, students or the
general public in their areas of interest. Typically, to develop
a fully operational inviting VR application, a user links
together objects such as 3D objects, lights and cameras etc. in
a graphical interface and defines their relationship in a
sequential and logical structure. Many authoring tools also
support some form of a scripting language that will allow for
more elaborate interactivity and icon development. Examples
of authoring tools currently available in the market are:
Virtools, Eon Studio and Wirefusion.
The VR application presented in this paper utilises the
authoring tool Quest3D developed by ACT-3D B.V. which
allows for a relatively short development time and low
development cost when using an educational license. This was
a significant factor in choosing this particular application for
the development of VES. In addition, Quest3D does not
generate pictures or 3D models; instead the developer creates a
repository of pictures, 3D meshes and sounds in a separate
program and imports them into Quest3D. The basic building
blocks in Quest3D are the so-called „channels‟. In brief, a
channel is a reusable component that contains a piece of
application logic. This component is able to interact with the
Quest3D interface engine and other channels.
Figure 1 Overview of the Quest3D user interface
By creating a hierarchical logical framework of linked
channels (see figure 1) an interactive application can be
developed. Quest3D contains many default channels, allowing
for the development of a wide range of applications. If more
functionality or interactivity is required, the C-based Lua
scripting language can be used to create new channels. In
general, by employing this graphical form of scripting,
experimentation with program flow is easier and there is also
no concern regarding syntax errors. Quest3D also affords
realtime feedback with no need to compile code. The ability to
create successive iterations of your application with instant
visual feedback is a beneficial feature and it shortens
debugging time. Quest3D use a DirectX 9 game engine and
hence is supported by all DirectX 9 compliant graphic cards
and operating systems. The hardware requirements to run the
VES application are Intel Pentium III or Higher or AMD
Athlon processor, 512MBytes RAM, Hardware accelerated
DirectX compatible graphics card and 1024x768 display
resolution [20].
Finally, accessibility and ability to communicate with the
published VR application is often a major concern for
developers. Quest3D supports a large number of delivery
formats including web, executable, installer and windows
screensaver but it requires the user to download and install a
plug-in in order to view the content. However, the size of the
plug-in is relatively small and its installation does not require
technical competence.
The application of VR technologies for engineering design,
training and education has generated much interest across
many sectors of the engineering community. This is not
surprising as using VR technology to build virtual training
systems has the advantages of being safe, economical,
controllable and repeatable [21]. Virtual Reality also offers the
ability to expeditiously attain proficiency and knowledge
which is a critical factor for the profitability and sustainability
of companies, governments and training organisations. In an
era where regulatory practices are amended on an ongoing
basis there is a requirement on the part of industry and higher
education institutes to provide training methods that will allow
trainees to quickly and cost effectively up-skill and attain
knowledge to adapt to the new and rapidly emerging practices
and associated technologies.
Both educational theory and cognitive science support the
role of VR as a training tool [8]. According to [22], the main
pedagogical driver that motivates the educational use of VR is
constructivism. Constructivists assert that individuals learn
through their experience of the world, through a process of
knowledge construction that takes place when learners invest
intellectually in meaningful tasks [23]. From this it can be
concluded that interaction with an environment or process is
key to the learning process and perhaps outside of actual
reality, VR offers one of the most appropriate methods to
create a contextualized trainee activity. It is also recognised by
[24] that using VR can enhance cognitive learning through
active participation in tasks, increased motivation and
flexibility in terms of time and location. Through active
participation, trainees in VR can make decisions without real
world consequences and they can effectively learn by doing
and hence become active in their own learning. This in many
respects is in contrast to traditional educational methods which
rely on the trainee attaining knowledge from teachers and
literature and then subsequently attempting to apply this
knowledge to the real world. Situated learning theory also
suggests that VR maybe an advantageous tool as it asserts that
knowledge should be learnt through contextualised activities in
authentic situations that reflect the way in which the
knowledge will be used [25]. In any case, research in human
learning processes to date outline that humans acquire more
information if more senses are involved in the acquisition
process and as such VR can be a beneficial tool.
VR has been employed with varied success across many
engineering disciplines, examples of such systems include; a
VR safety-training system for construction workers [26],
application of VR for the teaching of semiconductor device
physics [27], using virtual reality to enhance the manufacturing
process [28] and VR technology applied in Civil Engineering
education [29]. VR systems specifically related to the
electrical industry include; VR systems used to train electrical
sub-station operators [30, 31, 32, 33], a VR training tool
developed to allow electricians and builders better understand
each other‟s concerns in an attempt to prevent costly mistakes
[19]. [24] outlines the development of a prototype simulator to
support electrical safety awareness in construction, while a VR
system for training electricians in electrical inspection and
testing is currently in operation in the UK. [34]. No known VR
systems, considers the applications developed in this paper.
The fundamental objective of VES (Virtual Electrical
Services) is to develop a prototype VR simulator to
demonstrate the potential benefits of employing virtual reality
to enhance electrical services design and safety in the built
environment. The potential market for which the VR system
could add value includes undergraduate engineering students,
practicing electrical services engineers and the general public,
who perhaps could benefit from the electrical safety advice
and instruction contained in a potential virtual electrical safety
manual. From an educational viewpoint, VES is not seen as a
replacement for traditional teaching methods, but merely as a
complementary teaching resource that could significantly
enhance student understanding and motivation. VES has the
potential to engage students and present problems which they
can investigate and solve in their own time. This offers
encouragement to students to become more active in their own
learning in an environment which relates to the problem.
Practicing engineers could use the application to grasp
emerging technologies or recent changes in regulations that
could influence their designs. VES could also be utilised as a
continual professional development application for industry.
In order to provide the user with the highest degree of
realism the following were set as the benchmarks for the VES
application; 1) visual representation of an electrical installation
in the built environment, 2) simulation and representation of
the functionality of the installation, 3) strict adherence to the
appropriate electrical rules governing the installation under
investigation. In addition the VES application had to ensure
the provision of interactivity in an intuitive manner and
provide accessibility to the application across the widest range
of platforms and interested parties.
The following sections describe the creation of the virtual
environment and the applications developed within VES.
Figure2 Virtual environment created for VES application
The initial development stage required the construction of
3D models of the residential building, surrounds and the
different components of the electrical installation using a
conventional 3D modelling software, 3D Studio Max (See
Figure 2). Detail in the geometrical modelling was sacrificed
to ensure optimisation of the real time rendering capabilities of
the software which can be adversely affected by complex
geometry and excessive texture sizes [35]. Many real-time 3D
applications use the principles of Low Polygon Modelling.
This is the amalgamation of geometry optimisation and the use
of textures to create bumps [35]. Using 3D Studio Max, it is
possible to develop a model with polygons or with parametric
surfaces. If parametric geometry is used, all objects should be
converted to „editable mesh‟ before exporting because
Quest3D like many similar applications work with polygon
surfaces. Once complete, the 3D models are exported from the
animation software to .X format and imported into the
development environment.
The VES prototype application consists of three interactive
scenes. A user interface allows the user to enter and exit each
scene in an intuitive manner. Each of the applications
developed are now discussed.
A. Touch Voltage Simulator
Protection against electric shock by earthed equipotential
bonding and automatic disconnection of supply which gives
rise to touch voltages is a universally agreed protective
measure used by electrical designers for general applications
and implemented in approximately 95% of all electrical
installations. As protection against electric shock is one the
most important design criteria for electrical services engineers,
the ability to understand how touch voltages develop and how
they are calculated is imperative.
For the purpose of this paper, we shall define „touch
voltage‟ as a difference in voltage potential experienced by a
person who makes contact simultaneously with more than one
conductive part, which is not normally energised. The touch
voltage Ut can be calculated using a simple voltage divider
U t  U oc 
 ……………..(1)
 Z e  R1  R2 
Ut = touch voltage,
Uoc = Open circuit voltage of the mains supply
R2 = circuit-protective-conductor resistance
R1 = phase-conductor resistance
Ze = Earth-fault-loop impedance external to the faulty
From IEC 60479 part 1 [36] (Effects of current on human
beings and livestock), when the touch voltage is 50V a.c. or
less under normal dry conditions, the body impedance of a
person is high enough to prevent a touch current of high
enough magnitude to cause any injury.
One of the principle objectives of VES is to allow users enter
a virtual electrical installation and investigate the touch
voltage that could develop under different design parameters
for various earthing conditions. It has been developed
primarily as an educational training tool for third level students
in Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) who wish to enhance
their understanding of touch voltage design. However,
designers and installers of electrical installations may also find
this simulator beneficial. In any case, users who familiarise
themselves with the simulator can quickly immerse themselves
in touch voltage design, identify the potential touch voltage
under fault conditions and investigate the necessary design
criteria to achieve a safe touch voltage design.
The touch voltage simulator application itself is broken up
into three separate components. Initially the user is presented
with an introductory scene which informs the user what touch
voltages are and how they develop. This section and also gives
instructions how to maneuver in the virtual environment. The
second section is the touch voltage simulator itself. Here the
user is situated in the virtual environment. By moving through
the environment using a mouse/keyboard interface the user can
enter the virtual home and interact with the electrical
installation. The third component presents the user with a
multiple choice assessment exercise to examine some of the
fundamental design questions related to touch voltage design.
To make the touch voltage simulator as intuitive as possible
the user is presented with two check boxes which can be
activated and de-activated on the graphical user interface
(GUI). One of the check boxes allows the user to view a single
line diagram of the electrical installation on screen via a head
up display (HUD). The second check box allows all interactive
appliances to flash on screen. Previous usability studies of
virtual environments have demonstrated that users have a
tendency not to recognise or be oblivious to what is or is nor
interactive [37]. Making the interactive appliances clearly
visible can potentially improve usability and help prevent user
frustration which could ultimately reduce its effectiveness as a
training tool.
Within the simulator the user can walk around the virtual
electrical installation and interact with or simulate an earth
fault on any of the interactive appliances, such as the main
distribution board, cooker circuit, shower circuit, socket circuit
etc. For example in the case of a socket circuit when the user
points and clicks at one of the interactive sockets in the virtual
installation s/he is presented with the circuit details and a menu
of options via the GUI. Assuming that the chosen option is to
simulate an earth fault then the potential touch voltage under
these circuit conditions is presented. If the user wishes, it is
possible to vary the four major design parameters Uoc, Ze, R1
and R2 that govern the value of the touch voltage. By varying
any of these parameters the touch voltage automatically
updates and the user can immediately view the impact of any
design decisions. It is also possible to view the transfer touch
voltage that could develop on the other socket outlets related
to that circuit under fault conditions and any variance in the
design parameters will also update the transfer touch voltages
in realtime. A visual example of the GUI and the interactive
cooker appliance can be seen in Figure 3.
Figure 3 View of kitchen and GUI in VES
Familiarity with the virtual environment can allow users to
quickly become absorbed in touch voltage design. In this way
the user can easily identify if a potentially dangerous touch
voltage will develop and the possibility of designing a circuit
to have a transfer touch voltage not exceeding 12V to provide
protection against electric shock for a person with very low
body resistance in a special location (e.g. bathroom) and 50V
for all other dry locations. Adopting the use of the „touch
voltage simulator‟ as an educational tool is a more student
centered approach and shifts away from conventional learning
techniques to one where students can self learn by
investigating the touch voltage outcomes for their own
inputted data in their own time.
B. Electrical Safety and Accidents
Electricity is one of the most clean, convenient, easily
distributed and reliable sources of energy that is used in every
building today and the comfort that it brings to our daily lives
has greatly improved our standard of living. In addition to this,
advances in protective devices and wiring practices in
conformance with modern standards have all contributed to
higher levels of electrical safety since the introduction of
electricity into buildings more than a century ago. Nonetheless,
the implicit risks associated with the use of electricity will
always exist and will therefore continue to be of major concern
to the electrical services industry.
Statistically it has been shown that domestic properties are
one of the leading locations for electrical injury and death
[10]. A further investigation into electrical accidents by the
author [11] also singled out domestic properties as one of the
prime locations for electrical accidents to occur. This
investigation highlighted over the years investigated that
approximately 46% of all fatalities due to electric current in
England and Wales occur in domestic premises and identified
25–34 year olds as the main at risk group to electrical injury.
Worryingly 0–4 year olds were also highlighted to be a
vulnerable group. The investigation concluded that accident
rates can be reduced if electrical installations are designed
correctly, adhere to current wiring standards, maintenance is
performed correctly and periodically and occupants are aware
of the dangers of electricity and how accidents occur. In
addition, a report produced by five international organisations
details the growing concerns for electrical safety across
Europe [12] and it suggests that more can be done to make
premises safer. Therefore the ability to raise awareness,
recognise how accidents occur and enhance electrical safety
knowledge among residents, landlords, building managers and
owners is vital.
VR provides an opportunity to deepen society‟s
understanding of these issues, raise awareness of potential
dangers, train the user how to interact safely with equipment
and instruct owners how to carry out maintenance safely. The
prototype VES application addresses these concerns and
emphasizes the potential benefits of using VR for this purpose.
When the user enters the virtual environment s/he is
presented, via the GUI, with an array of general electrical
safety statistics derived from [11]. The purpose of this
information is to give the user a general overview of how
electrical accidents occur in residential dwellings and to
outline statistically who are the most likely victims.
Subsequently, if the user chooses to navigate through the
virtual home, electrical safety guidance associated with the
user location can be obtained via the GUI. The unique
information provided for the user in each location is broken
into three sections. The first presents a database of accident
scenarios associated with that location based on information
obtained from a HASS/LASS report that was compiled by
interviewing patients who attended Accident and Emergency
units in hospitals across the UK. [38]. The ability to select
from a range of electrical accidents in the database enables the
user to see how accidents occur and the measures required to
prevent such accidents. The second section provides general
safety advice related to the users‟ location and the third section
provides safety guidance and maintenance advice for the
electrical appliances installed in that location
Ultimately, enhanced communication via VR can highlight
the main risk activities associated with the use of electricity in
the built environment. It can also provide education on good
maintenance practices and enhance the prevention of injury.
Owners and occupiers who can identify key safety issues,
which allow them to monitor the condition of their installation
and carry out minor repair work safely, can significantly
improve safety levels [11]. Also, heightened levels of
awareness among the public of the potential dangers may
improve the renovation rate of electrical installations and
hence electrical safety in the built environment
C. Electrical Rules and Standards
Electrical rules and standards are the fundamental guidelines
for all electrical installations to ensure a safe environment in
which to live and work. The use of a virtual reality training
tool to educate students, contractors and engineers on these
regulations is an exciting and novel prospect. In Ireland, ET
101 [39] is the national rules for electrical installations. On
occasion these rules are updated to enhance electrical safety
and to ensure harmonisation with CENELEC and IEC
standards. Dissemination of the rules via VR can perhaps
assist the electrical services industry in the transition between
standards and also provide for a clearer interpretation and
deeper understanding of the rules amongst practising engineers
and students.
Electrical rules and standards such as ET 101[39], BS
7671[40] and IEC 60364 [41] in their current format are well
documented and each section is clearly defined. However, the
language used in these documents is technical and often
complex and the precise interpretation of the rules on the part
of the reader requires experience and a strong technical
knowledge. The use of visual aids to assist in understanding
and interpretation must be viewed in a positive light. It is this
author‟s opinion that a virtual representation of the rules and
standards will enhance the method by which knowledge is
currently transferred and help students and practising
engineers develop a greater appreciation of the rules and
Furthermore, as standards evolve from one version to the
next it is incumbent on governing authorities to disseminate
information pertaining to the updates often in the form of
multi-location seminars. The time and cost involved in this
process could perhaps be reduced if Web based VR
applications such as „VES‟ are utilised as a companion training
tool by the relevant governing bodies. . The fact that desktop
VR applications are reusable, convenient to update, can
potentially reduce training budgets and can be distributed via
the web presents a very attractive option for the industry.
To demonstrate the potential of this novel approach a
number of the current rules in ET 101 are demonstrated in the
VES prototype. Examples of these include: protection against
impact required for wiring systems installed in solid and
hollow walls; in the area of switchgear and accessories, the
mounting heights of light switches, control devices, socket
outlets and distribution boards are demonstrated; in relation to
bathrooms in residential dwellings, the zones and the
equipment permissible in each zone for these special
installations are clearly identified (see Figure 4).
Figure 4 View of Zones in bathroom in VES
Currently there are no known electrical governing bodies or
training colleges utilising VR in this fashion. One of the
objectives of this paper is to highlight the potential VR offers
the industry with regard to enhanced understanding of the
regulations. If the view is taken that VR can enhance the
learning effect, one could perceivably argue that through
enhanced understanding, VR could lead to increased
adherence to standards and hence an overall improvement in
„VES‟ constitutes a first attempt at attaching a new
dimension to the training of electricians and electrical services
engineers. Although in its infancy, the successful development
and early implementation of this prototype desktop VR
application suggests that „VES‟ could be a valuable tool for
the industry and could also enhance electrical safety awareness
and knowledge of the general public. Based on the initial
developments outlined in this paper, it is worth highlighting
the potential for future growth to progress VR in this sector.
It must be acknowledged that desktop VR does not utilise
the full 3D potential recognised in other more immersive
virtual environments. However, it does offer a very useful tool
for training that can be widely distributed and easily accessed
via a personal computer. Desktop VR also offers a proficient
substitute for situations that are either impossible or too
expensive to set up in a commercial company or training
facility. Modern computers have added impetus as VR
scenarios that previously required large and expensive
equipment are now possible and graphical programming
environments provide for an efficient method to develop an
application. Hence the ingredients required, to make desktop
VR commercially viable such as swift scene creation, platform
reliability and flexibility are arguably here.
„VES‟ demonstrates the potential for a virtual electrical
services design training application. An enhanced application
could be used to educate students over a wider variety of
design areas. Currently one of the most significant drawbacks
for engineering students who attend university immediately
after second level is a lack of experience of real world
engineering situations. VR offers an opportunity to bridge this
gap and provide a safe environment that is less critical should
an incorrect decision be made. A virtual design environment
such as this allows the user to investigate different scenarios
and become more active in a learning environment. The
facility also exists to set tasks for the user and let the training
simulator carry out an evaluation of the user‟s performance in
real time.
A comprehensive virtual guide to electrical rules and
standards could be developed. This could prove to be a very
useful tool for governing bodies and electrical contractors
associations as a way of communicating with installers and
designers of electrical installation. The clear instruction that
can be obtained from a virtual demonstration could lead to
greater understanding and adherence to the regulations.
Although every dwelling contains an electrical installation
none are equipped with a safety manual. A virtual electrical
safety manual for the general public could be developed based
on existing manuals such as an operating manual for an
intruder alarm. This virtual manual could outline how to
operate, maintain, test and isolate electrical systems and
appliances and could easily be adapted to give feedback on
electricity consumption within the home. It could also be used
to demonstrate where cable runs are in walls and hold a
general safety record of the installation. Bearing in mind the
fact there is no requirement for periodic inspection of domestic
properties unless perhaps they are tenanted or communal
properties, a virtual electrical safety manual could reduce
accident rates, increase renovation rates and improve overall
electrical safety. A similar virtual safety manual could also be
brought to a commercial level whereby facility managers could
have a virtual operating manual for the building under their
An application designed to enhance electrical services
design and safety in the built environment using a desktop VR
system has been set out in this paper. The system allows full
navigation of a virtual environment and interaction with many
of the electrical elements. „VES‟ can be used as a training tool
to improve electrical services design, enhance electrical safety
and provide a unique method to disseminate electrical rules
and standards. The „VES‟ prototype is in its early stages and
an in depth evaluation of the system is currently underway
with a large cohort of students from Dublin Institute of
The establishment of VR training systems similar to the
prototype discussed in this paper can add value to the
electrical services industry. Some of the key advantages are:
 VR offers the user an opportunity to be exposed to a
range of scenarios and conditions that either occur
infrequently or are hazardous to replicate.
 VR offers a low-cost alternative to creating full-scale real
life training mock ups.
 VR is reusable, convenient to update, readily customised
and can potentially reduce training budgets.
 Using VR as an educational tool shifts away from
conventional learning techniques to one where users can
self learn.
 VR can motivate and encourage students to become more
active in their own learning
 Use of VR as an educational electrical design tool can
enhance designers understanding and improve electrical
 VR can play a significant role in creating awareness of
electrical safety issues and reducing accident rates within
the general public
 VR can increase awareness and understanding of
electrical rules and standards among practicing engineers
and students.
Undoubtedly the capacity to replicate electrical installations
in a virtual environment which affords the same functionality
is a very interesting option and it is hoped that the prototype
outlined in this paper can provide impetus to the electrical
industry to use VR technology to further enhance electrical
safety and design in the built environment.
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Martin BARRETT received a
BSc (Eng) degree with first class
honours in Electrical/Electronic
College Dublin in 2002. He
worked as an electrical design
engineer with ESB international
from 2002-2005. He joined
Dublin Institute of Technology
in 2005 and is a lecturer in the
Services Engineering. He is a
chartered member of Engineers Ireland.
Jonathan Blackledge graduated
in physics from Imperial College
in 1980. He gained a PhD in
theoretical physics from London
University in 1984 and was then
appointed a Research Fellow of
Physics at Kings College,
London, from 1984 to 1988,
specializing in inverse problems
acoustics. During this period, he
worked on a number of
industrial research contracts undertaking theoretical and
computational research into the applications of inverse scattering
theory for the analysis of signals and images. In 1988, he joined
the Applied Mathematics and Computing Group at Cranfield
University as Lecturer and later, as Senior Lecturer and Head of
Group where he promoted postgraduate teaching and research in
applied and engineering mathematics in areas which included
computer aided engineering, digital signal processing and
computer graphics. While at Cranfield, he co-founded
Management and Personnel Services Limited through the
Cranfield Business School which was originally established for
the promotion of management consultancy working in
partnership with the Chamber of Commerce. He managed the
growth of the company from 1993 to 2007 to include the
delivery of a range of National Vocational Qualifications,
primarily through the City and Guilds London Institute,
including engineering, ICT, business administration and
management. In 1994, Jonathan Blackledge was appointed
Professor of Applied Mathematics and Head of the Department
of Mathematical Sciences at De Montfort University where he
expanded the post-graduate and research portfolio of the
Department and established the Institute of Simulation Sciences.
From 2002-2008 he was appointed Visiting Professor of
Information and Communications Technology in the Advanced
Signal Processing Research Group, Department of Electronics
and Electrical Engineering at Loughborough University, England
(a group which he co-founded in 2003 as part of his
appointment). In 2004 he was appointed Professor
Extraordinaire of Computer Science in the Department of
Computer Science at the University of the Western Cape, South
Africa. His principal roles at these institutes include the
supervision of MSc and MPhil/PhD students and the delivery of
specialist short courses for their Continuous Professional
Development programmes.He currently holds the prestigious
Stokes Professorship in Digital Signal Processing for ICT under
the Science Foundation Ireland Programme based in the School
of Electrical Engineering Systems, Faculty of Engineering,
Dublin Institute of Technology.
“Professor Eugene Coyle is the
Head of School of Electrical
Engineering Systems at Dublin
Institute of Technology. He has
been a principal investigator and
research supervisor to a range of
projects and research students
over a twenty year period. In
addition to his support of the
various research groups in the
School, Eugene is the DIT‟s lead
partner to a three-stage EU
Leonardo da Vinci funded project with focus on education in
fuel cell technologies and on enhancing awareness of the
necessity for reduced carbon emission production techniques.
Eugene is a fellow of the Institution of Engineering and
Technology (IET), Engineers Ireland (IEI), the Energy Institute
(EI)and the Chartered Management Institute (CMI). He is also a
member of the Chartered Institution of Building Services
Engineers (CIBSE). He is outgoing chair of the IET Ireland
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