How USW researchers are aiming to keep children safer

AN app which will use similar technology to Pokemon GO is being developed to help teach road safety to primary school children.

University of South Wales academics Dr Catherine Purcell, who is a specialist in psychology and course leader for the Psychology with Developmental Disorders degree, and computer games design expert Dr Mike Reddy are working on the project after being awarded £67,500 from the Road Safety Trust (RST).

The funding will be used to develop a virtual reality (VR) 'proof of concept' game-based road safety education app, which will be tested in Welsh primary schools.

Many UK schools which implement a road safety education programmes use books and knowledge-based games to teach road safety rules to children.

Roadside behavioural training is much more effective than these methods, but many schools do not have the financial resources to take children to the roadside to learn the very practical skill of road crossing.

The aim of the research is to develop technology that will allow children to learn road-crossing skills in a ‘virtual’ environment, where there is no danger of injury, providing a cost-effective way to gain road-crossing practise. 

 “Road traffic accidents represent the second largest cause of death and disability worldwide for children aged between five and 14, so the need to teach children how to safely cross the road is vital,” Dr Purcell explained.

“Through previous research I have demonstrated that 'egocentric' software, such as first-person games that directly simulate immersion in an artificial world, have a greater likelihood of teaching children vital information that will help to ensure that they are safe on roads.”

Dr Reddy said: “Virtual Reality has been around for a few decades, but has only recently become good enough, and accessible at a reasonable price, for it to enter the mainstream.

“Like any new medium, there are no simple answers as to how to use it effectively. This project will be genuinely breaking new ground in taking the technology beyond 3D video and games for entertainment, by looking at how and whether VR can be used to educate children about a very real problem.

“In the UK, more than 13,500 children and young people (aged up to 17), were involved, as pedestrians, in reported road traffic accidents in 2015. The Games for Change and Serious Games movements give us a chance to use engaging simulations that could enhance learning of important skills, such as road safety, and the RST is already looking forwards to methodologies that will revolutionise education.”

Dr Purcell added: “The proposed approach has considerable potential for widespread use and, if successful, additional funding will be sought to develop it further, with a view to sharing it free of charge with schools across the UK.”