Background and justification of the project
Sound is everywhere, outside in our dense cities, inside houses and offices, and inside vehicles. Noise is the unwanted sound, and WHO has quantified the adverse health effects of noise . Sources of sound are changing continuously, e.g. in the near future drones will enter our cities and residential buildings will be equipped with heat pumps. It is a task of engineers to reduce noise exposure. At the same time, the effect of the built environment has to support sound for functions as speech and music, i.e. the acoustics of spaces has to be engineered such that it is optimal for these purposes.
As sound is present in many engineering applications, and relevant if humans are involved, it is a component of many multidisciplinary challenge based problems. This proposal is about the transfer of sound from its source to the human ears, i.e. the acoustics of indoor/outdoor spaces. Naturally, acoustics is related to many challenges related to the built environment, but also manry other challenges as in the automotive sector are relevant.
Typically, challenges in the built environment are tackled with visual tools, in order to inspect the consequence of engineering and design choices in the process of solving the problem. If acoustics is involved and needs to be addressed, bachelor students are mostly coached to take acoustics into account in a conceptual way. Furthermore, they are thaught to carry out basic calculations of for example sound levels of the reverberation time of spaces (related to the duration of the ‘echo’ in rooms). The problems with this approach are:
- Bachelor students do not yet have the knowledge to use high-end calculation tools in their challenge based learning (CBL) projects and are therefore limited in solving problems they are faced with;
- The impact of a sound environment (i.e. the sources of sound and the influence of the acoustics on its propagation) can be quantified in terms of sound quantities, but without a perceptual comprehension/impression of the meaning of differences in these quantities, students cannot grasp the importance of addressing acoustics in CBL projects;
- In student teams working on a CBL project, it is typical that some students do not have sufficient knowledge to handle or even understand the acoustic parts of the project. For these students, access to a combined visual and acoustic virtual reality tool helps to get convinced about the relevance of acoustics. This is very similar to many real-life projects in the building industry, where acoustic VR tools can serve as excellent communication tool to non-experts.
Acoustic Virtual Reality (AVR) is an emerging tool in the research community of building acoustics. AVR provides both visual and acoustic VR in 3D. At the moment, multiple groups worldwide are developing AVR tools, and the Building Acoustics group led by prof. Hornikx is one of the leading groups. Recently, the Building Acoustics group presented a demo at the Dutch Design Week  where visitors could experience AVR of two real spaces, in which there own voice was played back in real-time.
AVR is still under development, and as far as the author knows the use of AVR in academic education has not been introduced.
Objectives and expected outcomes of the project
The objective of this project is to develop Acoustic Virtual Realty (AVR) as a tool for evaluating noise and sound in indoor and outdoor spaces for educational purposes, such that indoor/outdoor spaces can be evaluated perceptually in CBL projects where acoustics is involved. The tool also serves as a learning tool for the meaning of sound in spaces, the consequences of material choice, room geometries etc.
The added educational value of this project:
- The project is a clear innovation in teaching methods, as it provides a digital tool that renders a visual and acoustic virtual reality experience to users, and thereby is a tool that students can use thereselves to learn about acoustics. It reduces the effort of teachers as they do not have to spend time explaining acoustics;
- The project is designed for use in CBL projects, where expertise from multiple disciplines is needed in order to solve the envisaged challenge. Naturally, the AVR tool is designed for all built environment related challenges, but also for other challenges where sound in spaces is involved.
The outcomes of this project are as follows:
- A mobile AVR kit (laptop, VR headset, headphones) to be used in CBL education;
- A tutorial for the use of the AVR kit for students and teachers: an instruction video and manual (report);
- A procedure on rating the acoustic quality of spaces based on using the AVR tool;
- Course evaluations of using the AVR kit in CBL project work.
Project design and management
The Building Acoustics research group is carrying out research to develop the AVR as a mature tool in the building industry [2,3]. The AVR tool for educational purposes is a spin-off of this ongoing research: the current state-of-art of the AVR development in the Building Acoustics group will be adopted for development on an AVR for CBL eduction at TU/e. The work in the project will be undertaken by the following persons:
- Prof. Hornikx: responsible for overall project management;
- PhD students Wittebol and Pathre: guiding the teaching assistant in developing AVR for CBL education purposes;
- Teaching assistant Milo.
- Student assistant. In the 2nd and 3rd year of the project, updates of the project are needed for which a student assistant is most suitable: all developments are already done by that time and the SA can support in finalizing the tool.
Dissemination and sustainability of the project
The AVR developed in this project is applicable to all CBL projects involving acoustics in the built environment, and thereby can be used in other project courses in the 2nd and 3rd year as well, and moreover in masterprojects in acoustics. The usage of the tool is therefore generic.
Moreover, as this is also internationally a unique project, we foresee that it will get very good attention from foreign universities.
The dissemination actions are as follows:
- Public distribution of the instruction video of the AVR kit;
- Public report on the AVR kit in CBL education;
- For TU/e use, the AVR kit can be borrowed from the department of the Built Environment;
- A conference paper will be written and presented on the AVR as innovative education method.
Results and learnings
This project is currently still ongoing