World-first VR trainer to take the bite out of snake season

Media release
24 January 2018

World-first technology developed by Deakin University is helping Melbourne Water tackle this year's snake season.

A Virtual Reality (VR) training tool will be used to train Melbourne Water staff in snake bite first aid as they prepare to come into close contact with dangerous snakes over the warmer months.

Dr Ben Horan, Director of the Virtual Reality Lab within Deakin's School of Engineering, is leading a team of Deakin researchers and students to develop the world-first VR training tool, which allows snake bite first-aid training to be taught easily and effectively in any location.

"Trainees simply slip on a portable VR headset and are immersed in an engaging and interactive scenario where they can learn the right skills to treat someone who has suffered a snake bite," Dr Horan said.

"The VR trainer provides access to different environments where snake bites are common, which would be difficult, if not impossible, to replicate without virtual reality.

"Participants receive training within the virtual scenario environment and are then asked to deliver first-aid on the virtual snake bite victim.

Dr Horan said one novel element of the training was the interactive bandage application, which helps trainees learn to apply the correct pressure for a snake bite, a critical step that can sometimes be tricky to master.

"This uses our expertise in haptic technology, where physical elements are combined with VR to provide an unparalleled hands-on experience," he said.

"Deakin has already had great success in developing training tools for activities as diverse as visualising the impact of floods and preparing for delivering babies, so we're excited to expand into first-aid, which has the scope to help so many people."

Melbourne Water's Safety Manager Michelle Riley said recent research estimated 3,000 snake bites occurred in Australia per year, resulting in a little over 500 hospital admissions and sometimes even fatalities.

"Over summer, our staff and contractors regularly work in pairs in very remote locations in catchments and around waterways where there is a real risk of being bitten by a snake," Ms Riley said.

"Snake sightings are very common, so each year we train our staff in first-aid including what to do in a snake bite situation.

"This project is a fantastic opportunity for Melbourne Water to be involved with such innovative technology through Deakin University and make sure we're giving our staff the best possible preparation for the risks they face over the summer months."

Ms Riley said that last year a contractor had been bitten by tiger snake in a remote location in the Watts River catchment.

"Luckily it was the correct action by the first-aid trained contractor that ensured he fully recovered from the bite, despite being so far from medical attention," she said.

"We're really looking forward to being involved in this project and believe it has the potential to be expanded for use by other public services and members of the community."

Ms Riley said Melbourne Water was eager to support the local technology sector develop resources that could benefit the wider community.

"As the technology develops we will look to share the outcomes with other organisations who could benefit from it, such as Parks Victoria and Ambulance Victoria," she said.

"We'll also be looking to educate and train community groups to better understand how to prevent snake bites, as well as the correct first aid techniques if a bite occurs.

"And we know that the skills our staff and contractors gain from this training will benefit them not only in the workplace, but could help them protect their loved ones too."

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