Road Safety Trust Project – Virtual Road World

The goal of the Road Safety Trust (RST) Project was to develop a VR-like game that would enable children to safely learn how to behave in various traffic situations as well as to allow further analysis of their ‘in game’ behavior. This would involve both the development of a socially-accessible VR-style interface, and back end analytics, to track user movement in real-time. It was constrained by the target age range, 7-11 year old, primary school children, who would be an integral part in the development of the game, and by the available hardware; generally, iPads of varying ages, and installed OSes, but also targetted at reasonable performing Android tablets. Tracking of user behaviour in game, required both high levels of security, and a way to identify student testers in a friendly, safe, but anonymous manner, so the server and user management systems had to conform to EU an dUK legislation, and ethical approval, of a high standard.

Historical Note

The Welcome message below, and linked blog posts were originally hosted on their own WordPress Blog, but it was little used, and now defunct. So, those elements, and additional post-mortems by some of those involved, will be archived here – the site appears to not be tracked by – and, sadly, subsequent press releases failed to mention the USW staff and students who were involved, when the PI moved to Cardiff University. Content has been rendered as close to the original as possible, including stock images for the hosted blogs; these images are used here under fair use, and no ownership, etc, is claimed.

The original site was created by Bojan Stankovic, initial lead programmer on the project – there were several changes of personnel during the development, but that is another story – with additional text by Amy Romijin, the psychology research assistant for most of the project, prior to her leaving. I make no claim to the text here, or on linked pages below. The game is now available for FREE 🙂 on the Apple AppStore here, ported by Sugar Creative from the original research-enabled prototype. Please NOTE that, despite the above links claiming sole creation by the listed developers, this information is, in fact, both misleading and incorrect, as the game prototype was developed at USW, not Cardiff University, and the final game was ‘ported’ only, not developed by Sugar Creative, as is claimed. Nor is any of the server-side functionality (analytics, tracking, etc) available in the final released version. Press coverage of the release of the App has consistently failed to acknowledge the originators of the project, despite being informed of the correct authorship and provenance for the game. This misrepresentation will form one of the post-mortems on the project, as a warning to the curious; these views will be mine, and those of others who were not (and are still not) acknowledged, or recognised in the innovative research for this project. These failed to be credited participants were: Bojan Stankovic (VR Controls and Vehicle AI), Jack Hodge (3D Modelling and Level Design), Stuart Lewis (Security issues), Marius Miknis (PHP/SQL and Server-Side Comms), Callum Coles (Lead, Programmer, Game Play Programming, Environment AI), Elliot Naylor (Character Design and Avatar Behaviours)  and myself (Client-Side Comms, Scenario Design, and Any Other Bits That Needed Doing). Honourable mentions should go to Amy Romijin (previously mentioned), who helped bridge the gap between the Computer Scientists, and the Psychologists, and Lewis Docherty, 1st year psychology intern on the project.

Welcome! (by Amy Romijin)

Welcome to the Road Safety Trust project blog! This project was funded  to create an innovative and immersive road safety education app using virtual reality technology, in which children learn to cross roads, in a virtual city environment, without leaving the safety of their classroom. The project is being delivered by an innovative partnership between the Psychology and Computing departments at the University of South Wales (USW), allowing us to combine our varied skills and experience to produce an engaging platform for children to use.

The Road Safety Trust Team. Left to Right: Lewis Docherty, Bojan Stankovic, Dr Catherine Purcell, Jack Hodge, Dr Mike Reddy, Dr Amy Romijn, Stuart Lewis, Dr Marius Miknis.

The Road Safety Trust app is being designed using a participatory approach, which involves meeting with children to get their feedback on the game design which will then be taken on board by the team and used to shape the final design of the game. Hopefully this will help us to develop a game that is engaging to children and will provide them with an innovative way to learn about road safety. The children will be sharing their ideas next month about the app in small groups with a member of the project team, including any improvements we should make that would improve their experience.

Dr Amy Romijn from the RST project team speaking with children at one of the participating schools about Road Safety.

The RST project team met recently with staff members from the schools participating in the project. The event was held to launch the project and give Teachers, Head Teachers and Additional Learning Needs Coordinators an insight into the project, and to find out how we can make the project work best for them. At the meeting, the school staff had hands-on experience with the app (although it was in a very early stage of development). All of the teachers were impressed with the app and believed the app would be a useful addition to their current road safety education programme. Discussion during the meeting also covered how each school would implement the app within their current road safety programme, and the practicalities of the pupil log-in for the app. The project team put forward the concept of a “favourite three” log-in, which would involve children choosing three of their favourite things from three separate lists – favourite colour, favourite animal and favourite adjective. E.g. pink fluffy elephant. This would create not just a unique and memorable log-in for each child but also an engaging and child friendly method of logging in. The unique log-in for each child would also make the process of data collection and data analysis simpler. The school staff members at the meeting all agreed that this would be a good way for children to log in, and particularly because it would minimise the need for teacher involvement.

Some of the RST project team with head teachers, teachers and ALNCOs from participating schools at the school briefing event.

At the meeting, the Digital Competency Framework was discussed, in relation to how the app could fit within the framework. Digital competence is one of the 3 cross-curricular responsibilities, alongside literacy and numeracy, and it focuses on developing digital skills which can be applied across a broad spectrum of subjects. It was agreed that the app could be used as a good platform for exploring elements of digital competence. The IT team offered each school a focused session which could be used to explore aspects of digital competency (such as safety online), or could focus on the career possibilities in game design, or other topics if the school requested something specific. The psychology team also offered sessions to the schools, which would focus on attention and visual perception, and how these can affect road safety.

We’re currently still developing the app and getting ready for the focus groups within schools in the coming months! The next blog post will focus on some aspects of the game development that have been completed so far.

Posts from the original site:

Programming the Game: Part 1

Introduction Initially, we needed to decide which game engine to use for development. The decision had to be made between Unreal Engine 4 and Unity 3D. Unreal Engine 4 was chosen for the project mainly due to its ability to develop very specific parts of the game. For example custom camera control using mobile device … Continue reading Programming the Game: Part 1

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Programming the game: Part 2

Showing the Map of the Level To avoid a player feeling lost and not knowing where to go, the game will feature a level map. The map is displayed once the player points the device towards the floor. The exact details of the map’s interactivity abilities are not available at this point, however, while at … Continue reading Programming the game: Part 2

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School sessions!

We’ve just started the first participatory part of our project, which is really exciting. Once the first iteration of the game was ready, we booked in sessions at five local schools to go along and get the input of our “end users” (children aged 7-9) on the game so far. We’ve run sessions at three … Continue reading School sessions!

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We visited a school in Newport Take a look

Dr. Mike Reddy