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Enviroquest Ltd.

New Video Game to Save Lives

New Video Game to Save Lives

Imagine knowing how to put out a fire and evacuate your workplace because you have already played it in a video game.

If a collaborative project between researchers at  UOIT and a small Cambridge-based company is commercialized, employees could find themselves learning emergency procedures via a Xbox instead of a manual.

In an emergency situation, thinking clearly is crucial. Without effective training on emergency procedures, it becomes difficult to remember how to use a fire extinguisher, what emergency number to call, or where the nearest exit is located. If an individual was never trained in the first place, it becomes nearly impossible.

Sherrene Kevan, owner of Enviroquest Ltd., noticed that an overwhelming number of businesses train their employees using only a manual or they rely on those in leadership roles to disseminate the emergency-related information to their individual teams.

Enviroquest specializes in e-learning course instruction in a variety of fields. Based on her observations, Kevan decided that creating a hands-on, interactive approach to emergency training would be beneficial for businesses, institutions and post-secondary institutions.

While she had the content expertise and the vision for the project, Kevan didn’t have the technical background to develop an accessible, interactive training module.

At that point, Kevan teamed up with Dr. Bill Kapralos, an associate professor in UOIT’s Faculty of Business and Information Technology. Dr. Kapralos’ research interests include using games to for education and training with an emphasis on creating cognitive awareness. He is particularly interested in using serious games to motivate users to care about the information the game supplies.

Seeing as emergency procedure manuals have a reputation for being dry in content, Kevan and Dr. Kapralos decided to create a serious game where users could navigate through emergency situations while making critical choices in a safe and cost-effective manner.

“We thought having a hands-on approach to learning safety protocol would teach people more effectively than expecting them to read a sign on a wall,” says Dr. Kapralos. 

They sought out funding to cover the costs of the project. They received a grant from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) through its Applied Research and Commercialization (ARC) Initiative. ARC aims to accelerate innovation and improve productivity for globally competitive southwestern Ontario companies with fewer than 1,000 employees. FedDev Ontario accomplishes this by providing funding to universities so faculty and students can work directly with industry businesses on innovative projects.

Dr. Kapralos recruited five UOIT students to work on the project. Mina Tawadrous, Master of Science in Computer Science candidate, was directly involved in the design and development for the technical framework of the serious game. Tawadrous and Dr. Kapralos also supervised four undergraduate students for the duration of the project. Aaron DeChamplain, Ian McCabe, Matthew Stephan and Farinaz Hadadi were responsible for creating models to use within the game such as avatars and fire extinguishers.

Dr. Kapralos says the FedDev Ontario project with Enviroquest proved itself to be a valuable project for a growing program at UOIT.

“UOIT’s Bachelor of Information Technology in Game Development and Entrepreneurship program focuses on teaching students about the business of gaming and provides them with the skills to lead and succeed in the evolving 21st-century workplace. Working with an industrial partner such as Enviroquest provided the students a good opportunity to see how industry works. They visited on site, and had to complete a real-world task based on a client’s timelines and expectations,” he says.

At the completion of the FedDev Ontario collaboration in Spring 2012, Enviroquest was given a module to work with that allows the player to take on the role of a instructor in a laboratory. The scenario within the module scores the user based on response time and other actions taken as they decide whether to evacuate or extinguish the fire.

Once further usability studies have been completed, Enviroquest could move forward with the technology toward commercialization if there is enough market interest.

In the meantime, the next steps for the serious game are further development of the interface to resemble specific institutions or workplaces.

“There could also be changes to the way users interact with the game. For example, an Xbox Kinect type of model whereby the user interacts with the game using simple hand gestures might be better than interacting with the mouse and keyboard  as traditionally done if the exercise is teaching the user how to spray a fire extinguisher,” says Dr. Kapralos.

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