Inmates explore virtual reality garage

Animation Research chief executive Cheryl Adams shows an Otago Corrections Facility inmate the new virtual reality simulation, designed to teach automotive engineering skills. Photos: Gregor Richardson
Animation Research chief executive Cheryl Adams shows an Otago Corrections Facility inmate the new virtual reality simulation, designed to teach automotive engineering skills. Photos: Gregor Richardson
A screenshot of the virtual garage program.
A screenshot of the virtual garage program.

Inmates at the Otago Corrections Facility got under the bonnet of a Ford Mustang yesterday, as part of a trial run of a new virtual reality teaching system developed in Dunedin.

Donning a set of goggles and grabbing a pair of controllers, the prisoners were immersed in a virtual garage, developed by local company Animation Research.

They were able to make their way around the garage, grab virtual tools and get under the bonnet of a virtual Toyota Corolla, in addition to the Mustang.

Methodist Mission southern business development manager Jimmy McLauchlan said the programme was a joint effort between Animation Research and the mission, which delivers learning programmes in prison.

About three years ago they had identified the potential for using virtual reality to make learning more interesting for inmates, while allowing them to undertake training that would otherwise be impossible behind prison walls, he said.

''We thought we'd love to get a vehicle out here, because a lot of the guys are into cars, but that's pretty difficult to do.

''So what if we built a virtual mechanics workshop?

''And we can also subtly introduce some literacy and numeracy learning in there.''

Yesterday was the first day of user testing ahead of a pilot programme to begin later this year at the Milburn prison.

Several inmates displayed a high level of knowledge about engines and automotive engineering generally and seemed to engage well with the program, while suggesting tasks and lessons they would like to see embedded in the platform.

One said he would like to see it extended to allow training on diggers and forestry vehicles.

Patrick (not his real name), an inmate imprisoned for violent offending and with a release date still several years away, said he thought the program would help give prisoners practical skills.

''You're getting the hands-on experience without having to provide a full workshop.

''I think it's mean as.''

Department of Corrections education programmes manager Graeme Couper, of Wellington, said the program has ''got some really good education science behind it''.

''We need to do stuff differently because the way we've always done it ... hasn't worked for these people.''

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