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5 Evaluation

The results of first evaluations within the test mode of our virtual remote laboratory demonstrator have shown that the immersive character of the virtual reality simulation has got a major impact on the learning behavior and especially on the motivation of the users. Within our test design, students were first encouraged to implemented specific movements of an ABB IRB 120 robot using the Python programming language. After this practical phase the students were divided into two groups.

The first group had the chance to watch a demonstration of the six axis robots carrying out a task using LEGO bricks. After seeing the actual movements of the robots within our laboratories, the students were fairly motivated to understand the way of automating the intelligent behavior of the two collaborating robots.

The second group of students had the possibility to take part in a remote laboratory experiment within the Virtual Theatre. After experiencing the robot movements in the simulated virtual environment performing the same task as the real world demonstrator, the students could observe the laboratory experiment they were just experiencing in the Virtual Theatre recorded on video. Their reaction on the video has shown that the immersion was more impressive than the observation of the actual robots movements performed by the other group. Accordingly, the students of the second comparison group were even more motivated after their walk through the virtual laboratory. The students of the second group were actually aiming at staying in the laboratory until they finished automating the same robot tasks they just saw in virtual reality.

6 Conclusion and Outlook

In this paper, we have described the development of a virtual reality demonstrator for the visualization of remote laboratories. Through the demonstrated visualization techniques in the Virtual Theatre, we have shown that it is possible to impart experienced knowledge to any student independent of his current location. This enables new possibilities of experience-based and problem-based learning. As one major goal of our research project ELLI Exzellentes Lehren und Lernen in den Ingenieurwissenschaften (Excellent Teaching and Learning within engineering science), which addresses this type of problem-based learning [13], the implemented demonstrator contributes to our aim of establishing advanced teaching methodologies. The visualization of real-world systems in virtual reality enables the training of problem-solving strategies within a virtual environment as well as on real objects at the same time.

The next steps of our research consist in advancing the existing demonstrator in terms of a bidirectional communication between the Virtual Theatre demonstrator and the remote laboratory. Through this bidirectional communication we want to enable a direct control of the real laboratory from the remote virtual reality demonstrator. First results in the testing phase of this bidirectional communication show that such a remote control will be realized in the near future. In order to enable a secure remote control of the remote laboratory, collision avoidance and other security systems for cooperating robots will be carried out and tested in the laboratory environment.

As the overall goal of our project consists in the development of virtual factories in order to enable the visit of an atomic plant or other elusive places, our research efforts will finally focus on the development of a detailed demonstrator for the realistic representation of an industrial environment.

Acknowledgment. This work was supported by the project ELLI (Excellent Teaching and Learning within engineering science) as part of the excellence initiative at RWTH Aachen University.

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