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A future budding young technologist experiences Virtual Reality at using Virtual Reality headset
A future budding technologist experiences Virtual Reality at a STEM workshop for Brownies and Guides delivered by Professor Bob Stone

In September 2017, researchers from the Department of Electronics, Electrical & Systems Engineering (EESE) delivered a Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) workshop focusing on virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) to Saltash District Brownies and Guides at their Headquarters in Cornwall.

The workshop, organised by Professor Bob Stone, Director of the Human Interface Technologies (HIT) Team, Plymouth City Council, and the Saltash District Brownie and Guide Leaders, aimed to introduce the Brownies (7 – 10 years) and Guides (10 – 14 years), together with their Senior Section friends, to a world of future possibilities in science and engineering – delivered using virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).

The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts has recently been investigating new ways to encourage young women to develop skills to support early careers in science, engineering and technology, with particular emphasis on latest technology. This will, ultimately, help develop a wide-range of skills needed in the future.

Brownies and Guides experienced a wide-range of demonstrations – from exploring the decks of the 1620 Mayflower - to comparing a late 1800s map of the pre-flooded Meavy Valley on nearby Dartmoor. This was seen with a VR recreation of how it looks today, following a recent survey of Burrator Reservoir by an autonomous surface vessel. Another demonstration described how the HIT Team helped the Pengelly Cave Studies Trust in the Devonshire Village of Buckfastleigh to recreate a number of stolen fossil exhibits, not only by using VR to create a virtual cave for visitors to explore and discover the 3D recreations, but also to use the same VR data to 3D print full-sized replicas, including a 100,000-year-old elephant tooth.

Professor Bob Stone delivering STEM workshop to Salt Ash Brownies and Guides

The HIT Team also demonstrated how they have been utilising drones on Dartmoor to create 3D models of historic sites - automatically from aerial video records, as featured in the autumn 2017 edition of the Dartmoor Magazine.

Professor Bob Stone, said: 

Professor Bob Stone with a group of Guides using Virtual Reality technology

“This was an a excellent opportunity to engage with a future generation of female scientists and technologists, showing that there is so much more to virtual and augmented reality than the “games-only” stories. Demonstrating the links between VR, drones, 3D printing and underwater survey technologies, with an emphasis on real-world applications – engineering, healthcare, heritage and education to mention just a handful – helped to show the Brownies and Guides where they could get involved in the future.  The girls’ contributions to the evening’s demos and discussions were really inspiring!”

The HIT Team researchers plan to return to Saltash in the near future to look at the results of the evening, presented in the form of posters depicting ideas and concepts by the Brownies and Guides showing how they envisage VR and AR might influence their lives in the 21st century.  There are also plans to award the girls special University of Birmingham “VR Tech Awareness” badges, in recognition of their experience and hard work.