A look inside NAIT’s new augmented reality simulation theatre

360-degree experience looks, sounds and feels like the real deal

As coloured lights flash in the darkness and music thumps loudly, four young emergency medical technicians respond to their first-ever rave. They’ve been called to an overdose and a stabbing that’s occurred somewhere in the massive crowd.

The floor is sticky, littered with red plastic cups and vomit. Friends and bystanders struggle to be heard over the din. The scene is chaotic; the paramedics are in the thick of it.

It’s only a simulation, but it looks, sounds and feels real thanks to NAIT’s new, augmented reality theatre. The facility is used to teach students in the polytechnic’s health programs, including Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and Paramedic.

“It’s the only one of its kind that we’re aware of, anywhere,” says Torri Johnson (Emergency Medical Responder '12), the simulation technologist supervisor in NAIT’s simulation centre.

Theatre transforms into anything – forest, cityscape, rave 

In all, nine projectors beam a 360-degree image around the room to create an environment that can mimic a rave, forest, busy intersection – even centre ice at Roger’s Place. Actors are brought in as patients and bystanders. Instructors oversee and guide all aspects of the simulation in the adjacent control room, from the lights and noise to choreographing the actors’ next moves via headsets.

“We try to make it as realistic as possible so they can truly immerse in the simulation,” says Johnson.  

“Having this simulation just removes that shock factor and lets the students focus on the things they need to focus on.”

Raves make up a large number of the calls paramedics respond to, says Johnson, a former paramedic who now teaches EMT students. Her first exposure to a rave was in response to an overdose.

“Not only was I trying to deal with my patient and do all the medical things, I was distracted by the rave, I was distracted by all the noise and the smells because it was a first-time experience. So having this simulation just removes that shock factor and lets the students focus on the things they need to focus on.”

Before and during the rave simulation

Students set up for success

Students are often nervous coming into their first simulation, she says, worried about making mistakes and being criticized by instructors. But staff assure them the simulation theatre is the ideal place to make those mistakes before they get out into the real world.

“Once they do their first simulation it just turns around,” adds Johnson. “They’re so excited – they love it and they ask for more in their courses. It’s an awesome learning experience for them.”

Janelle Small, an EMT student who has gone through several simulations in the theatre, says the experiences have boosted her confidence.

“It helps to know that I’ve done something that was very close to reality, and I did it quite well. This is the best way you can learn while you’re still in a safe environment.”

In the real world, students don’t have their instructors on hand to guide them, adds Devon Hobbs, another EMT student. “You have to deal with things as they are. If you go into a rave, they aren’t going to turn down the music and get people to move out of your way.”

Home, military and police applications

A mobile home bathroom can also be set up inside the simulation room, complete with fixtures (designed and produced by NAIT students in the Bachelor of Technology program). The scenario allows students to practice emergency medical procedures in the home. Patients often fall between the toilet and tub, making treatment particularly difficult, says Johnson.

The theatre can also be used by practitioners from the community looking to keep up their skills on high-acuity, low-frequency or HALO events, says Johnson. These are life-saving skills that aren’t often encountered, such as inserting a breathing tube in the airway of a child.

Emergency responders such as the military and police have also used the simulation room. Military staff simulated the aftermath of an IED explosion and treatment of casualties. Edmonton police used the room to train recruits, simulating scenes they might encounter on patrol.

“Our goal is to fit the needs of the programs and the practitioners and professionals so they’re as prepared as possible,” Johnson says.

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