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Public Roads - Summer 2023

Summer 2023
Issue No:
Vol. 87 No. 2
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Innovation Corner

Innovation Corner

A man sitting on a chair using virtual goggles with controls in his hands and a person next to him talking him through the process. Image Source: NHI.
NHI staff assisting an FHWA employee while participating in the rivers and floodplains virtual experience.

Virtual Reality Simulation Training at the 102nd Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting

Virtual reality (VR) is simulation technology that allows the user to become involved in and interact with a three-dimensional, computer-generated environment in real time. Many organizations are using this technology to provide a more engaging, interactive, and innovative experience for learners in a training environment.

The Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) National Highway Institute (NHI) provides transportation training that cultivates innovation to enhance the learning experience. NHI demonstrated such innovation in January 2023 at the 102nd Transportation Research Board (TRB) Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, by offering participants VR simulation experiences at its TRB exhibit hall booth:

  • Virtual Reality bridge inspection (VR VBI): Participants learned how to inspect a bridge using various tools.
  • Rivers and floodplains: Participants discovered river interactions and processes.

A video highlighting both VR simulations was displayed for TRB participants as they waited in line to take part in this experience.


NHI has developed a VR version of the award-winning VBI course known as the VR VBI.

The original computer-based training Safety Inspection of In-Service Bridges (FHWA-NHI-130055) and Safety Inspection of In-Service Bridges for Professional Engineers (FHWA-NHI-130056), both courses updated in 2016 respectively, are based on FHWA’s 2015 Bridge Inspector’s Reference Manual for training on the safety inspection of in-service highway bridges for professional engineers. As technology evolves, software continues to provide learners with an increasingly realistic inspection experience. If a physical bridge is unavailable for inspection training due to inclement weather, traffic, or unsafe conditions, the VBI option is a viable alternative.

A woman sitting using the virtual goggles with a control handle in both hands. Image Source: NHI.
FHWA Office of Transportation Workforce Development and Technology Deployment Associate Administrator Amy Lucero participates in the VBI virtual experience.

The VR VBI, a proof-of-concept technology currently in development, provides training participants with an interactive, immersive experience for learning techniques and procedures.

Rivers and Floodplains at Elwha River

By using advanced technology, FHWA effectively promotes knowledge and understanding of river functions and processes critical to highway planning and design. FHWA worked with consultants to develop a VR site visit of the Elwha River in Washington State. A diorama of the site leads participants through a series of locations along the river, including the former location of Glines Canyon Dam, the U.S. 101 bridge crossing, and the river’s confluence with the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The VR simulation provides opportunities for participants to learn about river methods and interactions with dams, bridges, and other infrastructure. Embedded media, including stationary and drone videos, movie clips, and 360-degree photos, complemented the site visit content to enhance learning outcomes for participants. Also, an aqua grid allows users to move throughout the space to various points around, under, and on the U.S. 101 bridge to view erosion details, sediment accumulation, large wood material deposits, and other natural processes.

As a proof of concept, FHWA’s hydraulics team and NHI are currently exploring and planning how to cultivate these and other innovative technologies to enhance participant engagement and learning throughout all its program areas for future development.

For more information on NHI training, please see the Training Update in this issue of Public Roads.

Eric R. Brown is a civic hydraulics engineer for FHWA.

Mignon Whitted is a training program manager for NHI.

Sabrina Sylvester is a senior marketing analyst contractor for NHI.