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How an Award-Winning VR Project is Innovating Law Enforcement Training

February 29, 2024
Man wearing VR headset

Master of Digital Media alumni, together with the Centre for Teaching, Learning, and Innovation at Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC), were awarded the 2022 Horizon Interactive Gold Award for their work on a virtual reality (VR) simulation project designed to help train new police recruits to respond to an active shooter scenario. This collaboration project addresses key challenges in law enforcement by providing realistic, immersive, and data-driven experiences that better prepare recruits for real-world situations.

The project began when JIBC approached the students with a difficult problem: how can VR be used to supplement the development of knowledge and skills for police recruits in responding to high-risk and intense active shooter environments.

To address this, the students built a VR simulation of an office undergoing an active shooter scenario, with the goal of engaging new recruits to use their situational awareness, decision-making, and stress-management skills. It offered an accessible onboarding experience, dynamic simulations of real-life scenarios, and immersive audio like integration of instructor communication and realistic environmental sounds. They even implemented voice recognition, which allowed users to interact naturally with non-player characters. However, the innovative use of VR came with its own set of challenges.

Man wearing VR headset

“Going into this project, we recognized that we had to address a suite of common VR issues like motion sickness and challenging UX design principles. However, we felt well equipped to address this based on what we learned in our UX for VR Production elective as part of the Master of Digital Media. We applied what we learned in the classroom directly to this project, like gaze input, voice input, and more,” says Renying Chen, MDM alumnus. “Our team’s ability to use an agile development approach also helped us quickly iterate and streamline the research and development process.”

Another significant design challenge centred on the sensitivity of using a first-person perspective without drawing similarities to first-person shooting games. The project needed to be designed in an ethical way that highlights the seriousness of this training. The team addressed this by using clever UI elements like avoiding game-like controls and movement to avoid comparisons to games.

Screenshot inside VR rendering of woman running away

“Part of the reason this project was so successful was JIBC’s guidance and connecting us with instructors and experts in the field. JIBC encouraged us to be innovative and provided us with a wealth of resources, including visits to police training facilities to observe existing products, and arranging for user testing and interviews. This allowed us significant autonomy to explore and design our product,” says Renying.

VR user interface

“JIBC has worked with Centre for Digital Media on multiple Innovation Projects in the past, so we knew the MDM students have the technical, teamwork, and collaboration skills, plus the agile development approach needed to make this project successful,” says Robert Walker, Director at Center for Teaching, Learning, and Innovation, JIBC.

“We were impressed not just by the MDM students’ technical ability and sophisticated understanding of VR design principles, but also their intense focus on understanding and meeting our needs to create a realistic and effective training scenario,” says Tim Came, Program Manager at Police Academy. “They were able to use advanced VR UX techniques to deal with challenges like reducing motion sickness and to incorporate interactive character elements and a movement mechanic that would enhance realism, user immersion, and reinforce recruits’ training in this critical area.”

Meet the Team

Headshots of students that worked on this project

Work with our students

Access a multidisciplinary team of students take on an applied technology-focused project to develop prototypes or applications from concept to deliverable.

About JIBC

Justice Institute of British Columbia is Canada’s leading public safety educator, a public post-secondary institution that has earned a worldwide reputation for exceptional applied education, training, and research.