Purdue University targets skills gap in manufacturing with new solution

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A team of scientists at Purdue University is developing Skill-XR to close the skills gap in manufacturing and enable anyone to create immersive experiences for training

Quick read

➨ Through a $5 million cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation (NSF), the scientists will develop Skill-XR, which will enable anyone to generate an immersive experience for a range of XR and other devices
➨ The Skill-XR team at Indiana-based Purdue University boasts a range of experience and expertise
➨ The building blocks for Skill-XR began in 2018, when the team received a $2.5 million NSF grant to explore technology in the workplace

The story

A team of scientists at Purdue University in the US is creating an immersive technology solution to the skills gap problem in the manufacturing sector.

Through a $5 million cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation (NSF), the scientists will develop Skill-XR, which will enable anyone to generate an immersive experience for a range of XR and other devices.

Manufacturing is in particular need of a solution such as Skill-XR because “the skills gap in hands-on trades and emerging technology is real”, according to Karthik Ramani, the Donald W. Feddersen Distinguished Professor in Mechanical Engineering and principal investigator for the project.

Ramani continued: “Today, one of the best ways to transfer hands-on skills is through the traditional one-on-one apprenticeship model. However, it is costly and not scalable. You lose both the trainer and trainee. Also, older workers are retiring, and it’s difficult to recruit younger workers to replace them. And when they are hired, it is challenging to transfer those skills and knowledge to the next generation.”

“The skills themselves are also changing, complicating the landscape. Skill-XR is all about boosting that skill transfer in a timely manner and enabling it to happen anywhere at any scale.”

The Skill-XR team at Indiana-based Purdue University boasts a range of experience and expertise. It includes co-principal investigators Alex Quinn, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, Thomas Reddick, associate professor of cognitive psychology, Niklas Elmqvist, professor of computer science at the University of Maryland, and Kylie Peppler, associate professor of informatics at University of California, Irvine.

Several Indiana manufacturing-focused companies, such as Wabash National, Kirby Risk and Gaylor Electric, are also involved in the development of Skills-XR. They are testing prototypes and determining how they can be best used on a real-world factory floor.

Ramani said: “Indiana is the perfect test bed for this platform. The economy of rural areas depends heavily on manufacturing, so when manufacturing succeeds, so does Indiana.”

The building blocks for Skill-XR began in 2018, when Ramani’s team received a $2.5 million NSF grant to explore technology in the workplace.

One of the ideas that emerged was Skill-LeARn, a concept for using augmented reality to educate workers. This received Phase I funding from the NSF.

Ramani’s team conducted several research projects, such as developing an augmented reality ‘ghost’ that imitates the actions of humans, and integrating content into student classrooms. The Purdue Research Foundation’s Office of Technology Commercialization applied for several patents for technologies emerging from the project.

The newly awarded Phase II funding of $5 million over two years will allow Ramani’s team to implement the project in the real world.

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Images: Purdue University

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