Truck Wise virtual reality experience premieres

A ground-breaking Virtual Reality (VR) experience has premiered to help build greater awareness of trucks among young drivers.

Aimed at 16 to 18 years old age group, the VR experience completes the final stage for the highly innovative Truck Wise pilot program, which was recently shortlisted in the Australian Freight Industry Awards in the ‘Application of Technology’ award category.

The Truck Wise program, funded by the Federal Government through the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR), is led by the City of Greater Bendigo in collaboration with Deakin University, Bendigo Tech School and the Transport Accident Commission.

The aim is to prepare new and young drivers for everyday encounters with trucks on the roads and to help build empathy.

This innovative project takes advantage of Deakin University’s expertise in VR to help immerse young people in virtual real-life scenarios and gain a better understanding of the experiences of heavy vehicle drivers.

Greater Bendigo City Council Deputy Mayor Andrea Metcalf said she was delighted Truck Wise had been nominated for its ground-breaking approach.

“Truck Wise allows young drivers to safely experience truck interactions and it’s hoped that it will act as a catalyst for behavioural change.” she said.

“The approach is not to shock or scare, but to build awareness and empathy of the risks associated with navigating a heavy vehicle, including blind spots, longer stopping distances and wider turning circles,” said Metcalf.

Several local truck operators, including Agri-Trans A & M Stone, Power’s Country Express and the Livestock & Rural Transporter’s Association of Victoria were also important project contributors.

Their input helped to identify several common hazardous scenarios faced by truck drivers on the roads when interacting with cars.

Marla Stone from Agri-Trans and Damien Power from Power’s Country Express were 3D scanned to produce digital project ambassador avatars that play a key role in the VR experiences.

Deakin University Associate Professor Ben Horan said the project was a great opportunity to work with different levels of government as well as industry stakeholders to undertake a project tackling such an important issue.

“In this project, Virtual Reality enables us to provide this young age group to experience the exact same situation from both a car and a truck to gain an improved understanding from both perspectives – something that clearly wouldn’t be possible in the real world,” Dr Horan said.

“The VR experiences are deployed in two different ways. One is an immersive and interactive VR experience using a headset and intended for in school groups, and then a 360-degree video version able to be accessed by any one from anywhere using just a web browser – especially important during COVID-19.”

Truck Wise is designed to complement existing school-based road safety programs.

The online HUB portal also features an interactive 360-degree video, downloadable educational fact sheets, safety videos, an online quiz and links to other road safety programs.

As part of the project, Bendigo Tech School developed a special VR and Augmented Reality program for local high school students and provided the opportunity to be a test bed for the Truck Wise VR during its development.

The City secured Federal funding for the pilot project in response to the City’s Bendigo Freight Study (2017), which identified road safety as an important issue that needed urgent attention. Over 60 per cent of fatalities occur on country roads and the focus was on young learner drivers because of the high risk of death and serious injuries within this age bracket.

Following the success of the City’s pilot, it is hoped that funding will be provided for stage two of the program led by Deakin University.

It is hoped that this innovative program could be rolled out nationally in the future.

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