Virtual labs


Remote engineering, also referred to as online engineering, is a fairly recent development in engineering and science. Its aim is to facilitate the shared use of equipment, resources, and specialized software such as simulators.


The expansion of the internet as a tool for training and actual work has thrust remote engineering into a position of importance. The world of engineering is after all a connected world; every engineering component is connected to a computer and therefore the internet. PLCs, oscilloscopes and 3D printers are good examples.  


This connectivity has allowed engineering departments to reduce their requisite on site laboratory equipment which underpin the theory given to students.


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And this is just as well: the range of required engineering tools is growing exponentially, and then changing in pace with technology. Educational facilities are able to scope out what the latest in technology demands, but obtaining it all is often out of their reach or just impractical. Instead, the advance of the Internet of Things and engineering equipment simulation software are transforming the traditional engineering labs and making it all accessible from the cloud.


Online engineering is fast developing the infrastructure for the facilitation of remote access for engineering technologies. These virtual simulations mean that engineering trainees and graduated engineers all across the world have opportunities to access these technologies and up-skill. 


With the changing face of higher education, and continued professional development in engineering, the interest in and need of virtual laboratories and remote services is being realized.


Where does it fit into the future of education?

Annually, the International Conference on Remote Engineering and Virtual Instrumentation is held to discuss progress in the industry.

The conference was started in 2004, when virtual instrumentation was largely a foreign concept. However, 13 years later, cyber-physical systems are gradually being added to universities’ and companies’ training and design arsenals. The accessing of simulation software and virtual playgrounds for engineering students is no longer fiction.

Dr Russ Meier, a Milwaukee School of Engineering Distinguished Teaching Professor delivered a keynote in the 2016 edition of the conference. His keynote was entitled: Flipping the Classroom, the Laboratory and Social Media with First Year Engineering Students.


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He said that a passive lecture in a large lecture hall is a dying methodology. The complete opposite of passive lectures would be a flipped classroom where hybrid lectures and hybrid laboratories are available to students.


(‘The flipped classroom is a pedagogical model in which the typical lecture and homework elements of a course are reversed. Short video lectures are viewed by students at home before the class session, while in-class time is devoted to exercises, projects, or discussions.’)


Meier also said that, “Virtual laboratories are an integral part of the distance learning experience.”


He asserts that wider development, distribution and application of online engineering technologies are needed. Meier believes that remote interaction between members of the educational community (teacher and students) is essential in this model.


Not only does the development of these tools have an effect on how we train prospective engineers, but it also revolutionizes the way engineers do their jobs.

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Simulation + design = faster designs

The effectiveness of virtual labs is further strengthened once it involves a mix of virtual and augmented reality technologies.


Microsoft’s Hololens is the first working prototype evidence that engineers, in the very near future, will be able to collaborate on projects with Virtual Engineering Labs.


The implementation of this sort of technology could reupholster the methods universities and companies use to train their staff. Instead of cumbersome, physical labs which quickly date, an investment in on hardware and software packages could fit the needs of the business.


The company now has six virtual labs in Wolfsburg, Berlin, Munich, Barcelona, Shanghai and San Francisco.

The head mounted ‘goggles’ will be utilized to design future models of VWs, according to Frank Ostermann, a computer engineer at Volkswagen Group IT. Speaking to MSPowerUser. He said:


“At Volkswagen, we have been using augmented reality and virtual reality for some time, mainly to obtain a three-dimensional view. We are now taking a major step forward at the Virtual Engineering Lab. We are transforming technology into a tool for Technical Development.”


Ostermann says the technology leads to faster decision making by the engineers. He also says the software will, in future, be used for both testing out fully virtual components and for the testing of a component through virtual representation on top of a physical object.


Works Cited

"Conferencia REV2016 - 13th International Conference on Remote Engineering and Virtual Instrumentatio." Web. 18 Apr. 2017.

"Volkswagen's Virtual Engineering Lab Using Microsoft's HoloLens to Design Their Future Cars." MSPoweruser. 30 Mar. 2017. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.