Charles River Analytics was awarded an additional Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) to create virtual reality (VR) modules that enhance training for hazardous waste operations and emergency response (HAZWOPER). Following a successful Phase I and supplemental COVID-19 grant, Charles River continues to build VR content to bridge the gap between classroom learning and field exercises.

To enhance HAZWOPER training and make it as engaging and effective as possible, Charles River is creating an Immersive Modular Preparedness Intelligent Tutor (IMPRINT). The training system includes VR modules in which students can practice the steps to take in hazardous scenarios. Charles River software engineers are collaborating with the New England Consortium Health and Safety Training Center via the University of Massachusetts Lowell and the Boston Fire Department to design three-dimensional scenes that match existing course content.

“We’re giving trainers the tools they need to teach people how to safely do jobs that keep our society going during emergencies,” said Dan Duggan, software engineer, extended reality (XR) development lead at Charles River Analytics, and Co-Principal Investigator on the IMPRINT effort.

The team proved the concept in previous phases and built relationships with key partners. In Phase II, the XR team is building immersive tabletop simulations using the Meta Quest 2 VR headset. They are creating narratives, sketching maps, selecting 3D assets, and developing game mechanics to complement existing course material and to match HAZWOPER training objectives. For example, they are designing a 3D scene in which trainees determine what to do when they encounter a puddle with a live wire.

Trainees can use IMPRINT to apply complex, dangerous procedures in a safe, controlled virtual environment. A library of VR case studies will replace standard paper and PowerPoint scenario-based activities. IMPRINT’s immersive tabletop simulations will better prepare trainees for both their assessments and responses to real-world safety hazards.