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Board # 60 : Using WebGL in Developing Interactive Virtual Laboratories for Distance Engineering Education

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Engineering Technology Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Engineering Technology

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Paper Authors


Mert Bal Miami University

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Mert Bal received his PhD degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Eastern Mediterranean University, North Cyprus in 2008.
He was a Post-Doctoral Fellow in the University of Western Ontario, and a Visiting Researcher at the National Research Council Canada in London, Ontario, Canada between 2008 and 2010. He was involved in various research projects in the areas of collaborative intelligence, localization and collaborative information processing in wireless sensor networks, intelligent agents, agent-based manufacturing scheduling, systems control and automation, distributed control of holonic systems and integrated manufacturing, agile manufacturing, virtual reality and remote laboratory applications in education. He has authored or co-authored various journal and conference publications in these areas.
Mert Bal is currently an Associate Professor in the Miami University, Department of Engineering Technology, Ohio, United States of America.

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Reza Abrishambaf Miami University

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Reza Abrishambaf received his PhD degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering from Eastern Mediterranean University, Cyprus in 2012. His research interests include Distributed Control Systems, Intelligent Manufacturing, Wireless Sensor Networks, Industrial Automation and IEC61499 Function Blocks. In 2012, he joined the University of Minho in Portugal and worked as an invited assistant professor and senior researcher in the department of industrial electronics and Centro Algoritmi of the same university where involved in several industrial and research projects in the field of Wireless Sensor Networks and Industrial Embedded Applications. He is currently an Assistant Professor with Department of Engineering Technology at Miami University, USA. Dr. Abrishambaf is an IEEE associate Member with more than 10 publications in the international journals and conferences.

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Distance education is considered to be one of the most challenging areas in the field of engineering; students who have no or limited access to on-campus facilities, and little to no face-to-face contact with academic staff and fellow students face the risk of not being able to engage in course-work material and can feel isolated. Due to the size and the high cost of the laboratory equipment, it is often impractical and unaffordable for universities to provide hands-on laboratory experiences to their distance learners using the actual laboratory equipment. In order to deliver effective laboratory sessions, many institutions have adopted the use of computer software which can simulate the laboratory equipment including all of the required parameters so that their distance students could work with a complete and realistic environment. Virtual laboratories have several advantages over real labs, such as flexibility, explanation of theoretical concept, and repetition. The simulation environment is much improved by implementing interactive VR technology. However, most of the interactive VR simulations used in distance education were based on desktop software platforms and traditional head-mounted displays that required professional technical operations, advanced programming skills and expensive VR equipment in university settings. Considering the issues with the desktop software and the relative expense of head-mounted displays, these factors together make VR inaccessible for distance students’ interactions for laboratory exercises.

In this paper, we investigate the use of web-based graphics technologies in order to realize immersive and interactive virtual laboratories with the objective of making them more feasible and affordable choice for distance education. Realizing the fact that the Web and 3D graphics are currently ubiquitous in desktop and mobile devices we present a proof-of-concept that integrates the web and 3D graphics for an inexpensive alternative for distance education. The proposed approach uses interactive web-based virtual laboratory platform utilizing VR graphics and can be developed at low cost and it can be used in distance engineering education. The proposed system uses a platform-independent, web-based 3D graphics visualization technique by means of the WebGL (Web-based Graphics Library) standard. WebGL is designed for creation of interactive Web-based and broadcast-based 3D content, suitable to integrate with multimedia. The content generated through WebGL can work on any platform including desktop and mobile devices on in any compatible web browser without installing additional software, app or plug-in. Web-based graphical programming also provides a significant advantage in inclusion of user interaction at an affordable cost. The WebGL technology allows graphical simulation content to be deployed on any mobile platform. Hence, in order to interact with the virtual laboratory, the students can use a significantly less expensive interactive viewer such as Oculus Rift or Google’s Cardboard VR, which is cut out of pieces of cardboard and folded into a 3D viewer for smartphones. In this paper, we describe the design and implementation details of the WebGL-based virtual laboratory platform and make specific conclusions, the advantages and disadvantages of using WebGL-based visualization technology, as well as predictions regarding further development of existing platforms and environments. In order to demonstrate its effectiveness in distance education, we also present a prototype implementation of the proposed virtual laboratory platform in senior level engineering technology course on industrial automation at the ____________ University, Department of Engineering Technology. The proposed platform has been used in this department for various distance learning courses which are delivered to remote students via IVDL and Webex. This paper also discusses the current remote laboratory practices implemented in _____________ University, and discuss the role of these practices in engineering distance education.

Bal, M., & Abrishambaf, R. (2017, June), Board # 60 : Using WebGL in Developing Interactive Virtual Laboratories for Distance Engineering Education Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--27888

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