CoSci prof earns grant to develop virtual reality firefighter training

Jing “Eric” Du


Patrick Suermann


Current firefighter training methods fall short of preparing new recruits for dangerous missions, a problem Jing “Eric” Du, Texas A&M assistant professor of construction science, is targeting by creating a virtual reality emergency simulation system with the aid of a $465,000 National Institute of Standards and Technology grant.

“Rookies make a lot of dangerous mistakes because they lack real world experience,” Du said. “In the uniquely perilous world of firefighting, that familiarity is difficult to acquire without exposure to real hazards. We want to create a virtual reality simulation in which firefighters can safely train to become better equipped to do their jobs.”

Collaborating with Patrick Suermann, head of the Department of Construction Science at Texas A&M, and research partners at Northeastern University, Du is using virtual reality technology to create simulations including smoke, fire, water and other firefighting hazards.

Students and instructors from the Department of Defense Fire Academy in San Angelo, Texas and the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service will help develop and test the simulation.

Du’s system will track a firefighter’s vital statistics, gaze and body movements during firefighting simulations, providing data for post-training analysis.

The simulator could eventually be customized to help determine if a firefighter is ready for specialized responsibilities or performance-based promotions.

“If we can discover a framework for protocol, we can then rank and evaluate performance like a game,” said Du.

The three-year project is part of NIST’s Public Safety Innovation Accelerator Program, created to accelerate research, development, production and testing of user interface technologies through virtual and augmented reality. So far, NIST has funded $6.4 million in PSIAP awards.

Du is also employing virtual reality technology in an NSF project aimed at improving firefighters’ navigational abilities.


Sarah Wilson

posted June 13, 2018