How Virtual Reality Will Save Children Lives in Eastern Ukraine

Thanks to IT Ukraine Association and UNICEF, we’re sharing the translation of the original article.

Unexploded ordnance and explosives are taking more and more lives due to the conflict in Eastern Ukraine that has been escalating during the past years. According to UNICEF, one of three injured children there have been victims of mines and explosive remnants of war. More than 430,000 children live on both sides of the line of conflict, but only 57% of children under the age of 12 surveyed in the area can identify explosives.

In 2020, the IT Ukraine Association and UNICEF signed a cooperation memorandum. Their first step was to develop an interactive VR product called Mine Awareness VR, aiming to bring up the mine risk awareness among children in Eastern Ukraine. WeAR Studio and MacPaw were technical partners of it — WeAR Studio was in charge of the VR part of the project, while MacPaw provided VR glasses.

The result of their work was a virtual learning platform for different groups of people — junior and middle school students, as well as their parents and teachers. To get into a specially designed virtual reality, people had to wear VR glasses. The gamified environment was captured with the help of 3D cameras and accurately represented real environments where contact with explosive objects may take place. During the imaginary ‘journey’, the participants would be accompanied by a virtual assistant. The project was developed in close cooperation with the WeAR Studio team and experts on both mines disarming and children psychology from UNICEF. 

Anna Manukhina, CSR Manager at MacPaw, says that the company has always taken an active social position. Several years ago, this philosophy was finally embodied in MacPawCares social initiatives, which inspired many to create new communities and social projects. Anna is confident that the Mine Awareness VR project will help children understand the dangers of mines and explain how to avoid them.

We are sure that we work with specialists with broad expertise, so we gladly joined the project when the opportunity arose. The VR product will help children learn the rules on how to behave near mines and ammunition that have not exploded in an edutainment format. Gradually, this unique tool will help change the situation in Ukraine, 

— says Anna.

Vivid and safe demonstrations are among the main advantages of the project. Children can recognize dangerous locations, so they will not risk their lives when they go to school or play in the yard. It is also crucial that parents study with their children to be reminded of the dangers as well. 

VR makes the memorization process faster. Mariia Tintul, Head of Business Development at WeAR Studio, says it’s an opportunity for parents and children to see risk areas in a safe virtual environment. For the company itself, it is a chance to draw the world’s attention to the situation in Eastern Ukraine and demonstrate how VR can teach and save lives.

Mine Awareness VR is definitely a challenge for our team. We strive to develop creative immersive solutions for the good, and we want to see more projects like this. At the same time, we hope that there will be fewer reasons for them,

— shares Mariia

The development process consisted of:

  • Define the goals of the project and comprehension patterns of its target audiences
  • Develop the concept of scenario and general UX design of the simulation
  • Collect and study data, enrich the scenario with details
  • Technical development of the project along with the deliverables
  • Testing with beta test groups and app polishing

The Mine Awareness VR project required careful elaboration and close cooperation of its participants because of how sensitive and impactful it may become. That includes developers, psychologists, explosives specialists, and UNICEF specialists, who have considerable experience working with children in the area of armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine. However, the WeAR Studio team is confident that Mine Awareness VR will soon become the standard practice. The project will be a model example of the introduction of immersive technologies in educational processes in our country and worldwide.

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