The inception of the project was back in 2016. I had watched my grandson playing with his Xbox and realised that this could be adapted to replicate the work of the Blacksmith. I contacted Lincoln University and was introduced to Dr John Murray, who devised a project to demonstrate the idea. John is now Professor in Robotics and Autonomous Systems at The University of Hull – Head of Computer Science and Technology.
HLF originally rejected our initial submission, but on resubmission approved it. I think much to their credit for the foresight. The initial attempt with Oculus and electronic sensors on the wrist to monitor hand movement didn’t give us enough control. A second system was then developed using VIVE and the hand paddles. This gave us a virtual environment of the inside of the Forge and allowed the candidate to walk around the space.
The hearth became hotter when the virtual coke was added, a representation of an iron bar was then heated when it was introduced to the fire. This the user realised by the virtual iron bar changing colour starting at black and then going to yellow as it heated. The elasticity of the metal changed as it was heated and this meant it could be shaped and formed. This was achieved when a pair of tongs, represented by the paddle, picked up the metal. The other paddle represented the hammer, which was used to fashion the virtual metal bar. Tools on the anvil could be interchanged, which assisted with this process.
Once the piece of virtual metal had been fashioned, it was dropped into a box within the virtual Forge and this was the cue for it to be sent to the 3D printer for the item to be printed.
We also did a further piece of work where the virtual environment could be shared by more than one person. This meant you could introduce another person as a tutor and this person didn’t need to be in the same geographical location. Lots of possible applications in the global world.
What were the outcomes
- We demonstrated that a traditional craft can be modelled and delivered using Virtual Reality.
- Demonstrated that virtual manufacture was possible. This has very interesting possibilities with the current Coronavirus pandemic, where people could work from home.
- It’s possible to train people using this technique and the tutor doesn’t have to be in the same location.
- A portable set of equipment can be used to demonstrate this technique.
- The system created an immersive environment.
- Expensive and needs a dedicated space to demonstrate it.
- More investment would be needed to develop a workable solution.
- Headset isn’t a team activity, unless the virtual environment can be shared.
- We developed it without a partner who would take it to market.
- Just too early, ahead of the curve.
- Although we gave the experience to schools, job fairs, and company apprentice schemes, the participant didn’t have any experience of Blacksmithing, so they failed to engage with the process fully. The apprentices from a leading company which were on experience day could see the potential and manufacturing of the future. The Project is now closed.