Thomson Reuters Foundation, trust.org (TRF)
By Yoshinobu Matsunaga
Gamagori, Aichi Prefecture--With the dark waters of a tsunami rapidly menacing, the “driver” punches the gas pedal to get away, but the rising deluge causes the engine to conk out. The hapless driver is trapped and can only listen to the sound of the onrushing water as it envelops the car. In just three minutes, the vehicle starts to sink into the cold inky depths.
The simulation ends.
It’s all part of a virtual reality program developed at the Aichi University of Technology that gives people a hands-on experience of the dangers of being caught in a tsunami while behind the wheel of a car.
"The 3-D images allow the user to experience and easily understand what occurs when one tries to flee by car,” said Tomoki Itamiya, an associate professor of image processing at the university. “That will help those users understand that they should abandon their cars immediately and flee."
Itamiya came up with the idea of developing the program after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. Students in Itamiya's laboratory used computers to analyze video footage taken during the 2011 tsunami by car-mounted cameras. They also interviewed disaster victims to more accurately depict a tsunami with video images.
The movements of the waves and car were programmed into a computer to create video images in combination with 3-D model data of four locations produced by Zenrin Co., a major mapping firm.
"The virtual reality program helps to properly recognize disaster conditions that may not be easy to imagine only by looking at hazard maps," Itamiya said.
Users of the program wear a head-mounted display while sitting in a makeshift driver's seat with a steering wheel.
The wearer has a 360-degree view out of the front window that is synchronized with head movements. The effect gives the wearer the feeling of being immersed in the scene.
Computer graphics simulate street scenes from four locations around Japan--Minami Ward in Nagoya; the area in front of Nagoya Station; Tokyo's Asakusa district; and Kokura-Kita Ward in Kita-Kyushu.
Since the technology was developed in January 2015, it has been demonstrated at disaster prevention drills and other events around Aichi Prefecture. About 1,000 people have experienced the simulation device.
"It was scary because it seemed so real," said an individual who took part in the 3-D simulation at an event held Feb. 6 at Inochi no Umi Kagakukan (Science museum of the life-giving ocean) in Gamagori.
Another said, "I want to prepare for such a possibility so that I do not panic."
The technology will also be displayed on March 13 at a disaster preparedness and traffic safety event at Morikoro Park in Nagakute, also in Aichi Prefecture.