Situation Engines

The construction industry must do more to develop graduates with the practice-ready skills they need to play an immediate and effective role in the workplace. Situated learning offers a particular orientation to teaching and learning that privileges a process of direct personal engagement in and observation of practice. However, it is becoming increasingly impractical to offer direct student exposure to the broad practices of construction technology in a realistic setting. The Situation Engine is an application that provides for specific and managed virtual experiences to be made available to students using emerging digital technologies.

This program of research is developing and testing the capabilities of advanced virtual reality (VR) technologies to deliver authentic learning experiences to large student cohorts. The core VR technology is a leading first-person shooter video game engine (Unreal Engine 4©). The base engine uses high performance graphics to render moving photorealistic scenes in real time 3D, with associated surround sound audio and tactile feedback to the user. Applications are characterised by the use of an avatar which allows the user to see and be seen as a person would conventionally occupy a space (ie. bound to one's own body), and to do this in concert with multiple other users. Artificial intelligence and social dynamics are also incorporated to provide additional agency and group behaviour renditions as required.

The Situation Engine has been developed to provide a range of bespoke situation contexts and related functionality, including interactive site tools, performance analytics, and automated assessment of competency. Related resources have also been developed and provided as a comprehensive Situational eLearning package that includes SeLAR - an open and adaptive repository specific to the built environment.

We see a broad and compelling scope for the application of The Situation Engine to help develop and evaluate competencies for students and practitioners. Prototype applications have already been developed in areas such as safe work practices, material storage, building regulations, site security, environmental protection, wet-weather hazards, noise pollution, etc.

This project is a collaboration between UNSW Australia, University of Adelaide, University of South Australia, and Western Sydney University.



Support for this project has been provided by the Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching. The views in this project do not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching.



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Key Contacts

Project Directors

Sidney Newton and Russell Lowe
University of New South Wales

Phone +61 2 9385 6826
Fax     +61 2 9385 4507
Email or

Project Partners

University of Adelaide
George Zillante
Amit Srivastava

University of South Australia
Sean Pickersgill
Rameez Rameezdeen

Western Sydney University
Mary Hardie

Research Assistants

Stephen Davey
Josh Harle
Harry Kealy
Ros Kember
Matt O’Brien
Joshua Sleight
Andrew Wallace
Rui Wang
Jacky Yuen

Research Projects

Learning and Teaching Technical Competence in the Built Environment Using Serious Video Game Technology

2010-2012 ALTC

The current national initiative to define, implement and assure academic standards in the higher education sector will almost certainly bring a keen spotlight to bear on the identification and testing of competences. This will render effective calibration of the learning and assessment of competences absolutely critical. Whereas knowledge-based learning can quite readily be demonstrated and assessed through written and oral tests, technical skills must be demonstrated and assessed through actual activities.
Construction technology is a significant, core component of all undergraduate building and related degrees in Australia. This project will use the sophisticated interactive virtual reality simulation environments found in serious video game technologies to enable students to practice and demonstrate their technical skills in domestic construction technology, through a forensic analysis of the detailed house models represented in the game. Whilst the project is specific to domestic construction technology, the approach has application across all sectors of higher education where technical professional skills are taught and assessed.

Situational eLearning: A Crowdsourcing Approach to the Definition and Assessment of Key Practice-Ready Academic Outcomes

2013-2015 OLT

Situated learning lends itself to the development of key practice-ready skills, but it is contingent on the availability of authentic clinical experiences. Clinical experiences include such activities as practicums, industry placements, case studies, role play and site visits. Where the practice situation involves dangerous, expensive, temporal and/or sensitive environmental, social and/or technological contexts (which can be often), the direct engagement of students in such situations is becoming increasingly problematic. For example, invasive health procedures, high-technology manufacturing processes, special events, remote mining operations, large construction sites, etc., all represent particular and significant difficulties for a higher education sector facing increased class sizes, tightening occupational health and safety regulations, more specific learning outcome requirements, etc.

Against such a backdrop, the potential for replacing direct student engagement in practice with a simulated clinical experience is apparent. Whether it is by virtue of a flight simulator, a virtual cadaver, 3D interactive archaeological dig, scenario-based video game and/or a multitude of other highly immersive, virtual simulations, the clinical education landscape has been challenged and changed in a fundamental way

This project will address the particular definition and assessment issues of clinical experience using a crowdsourcing approach. Crowdsourcing involves the use of online technologies to garner the contribution of a larger group of otherwise independent stakeholders.



We are always keen to receive feedback on and collaborate in our projects, products and ideas.

If you are interested in The Situation Engine application or the SeLAR repository applied to your learning or training context, please contact us to discuss.


Major Reports

Newton, S. and Lowe, R. (2013). Learning and teaching technical competence in the Built Environment using serious video game technology, Sydney Australia: Office for Learning and Teaching, 60pp.

Scholarly Publications

Newton, S. and Lowe, R. (2015) Situational eLearning with immersive technologies, in S. Saha, Y. Zhang, S. Yazdani and A. Singh (Eds) Implementing Innovative Ideas in Structural Engineering and Project Management, ISEC Press, pp.3-12.

Wang, R., Newton, S. and Lowe, R. (2015) Experiential Learning Styles in the Age of the Virtual Surrogate, International Journal of Architectural Research, Vol.9, No.3, pp.93-110.

Newton, S., Hardie, M., Lowe, R., Pickersgill, S., Rameezdeen, R., Srivastava, A. and Zillante, G. (2015), Situational eLearning: the new potential for digital technology, Proceedings Cobra International Conference 2015, Sydney, pp.1-8.

Newton, S., Wang, R. and Lowe, R. (2015) Blended reality and presence, International Journal of Design Sciences and Technology, Vol.21, No.2, pp.113-131.

Wang, R., Newton, S. and Lowe, R. (2014) Being Where? Presence in a Blended World, in K. Zreik (ed), Architecture, City and Information Design, Paris: Europia Publications, pp.39-50.

Newton, S., Lowe, R., Kember, R., Wang, R. and Davey, S. (2013) The Situation Engine: A Hyper-Immersive Platform for Construction Workplace Simulation and Learning, in N. Dawood and M. Kassem (eds), Proceedings of 13th International Conference on Construction Applications of Virtual Reality, UK: Teesside University, pp.345-353.

Newton, S. and Lowe, R. (2012) A Role for Emerging Interactive Technologies in Work-Integrated Learning, in I. Kamardeen, S. Newton, B. Lim and M. Loosemore (eds), Proceedings of 37th AUBEA International Conference, Sydney: UNSW, pp.171-179.

Newton, S. (2012) The Situation Engine: A New Approach to Work Integrated Learning, in Proceedings of Management of Construction: Research to Practice, Volume 1, Montreal, Canada: CIB, pp.385-394.

Newton, S. (2012). A Situation Engine for Teaching and Learning Residential Construction Technology, in Sulbaran, T. (Ed), Proceedings of 48th ASC Annual International Conference, Online,

Newton, S. and Lowe, R. (2011). Using an Analytics Engine to Understand the Design and Construction of Domestic Buildings, in L. Ruddock and P. Chynoweth (eds), Proceedings of RICS Construction and Property Conference, COBRA 2011, Manchester: RICS, pp.410-419.

Newton, S., Lowe, R. and Zou, P.X.W. (2010). Learning and Teaching Domestic Construction Competence Using Serious Video Game Technology, in K. Makanae, N. Yabuki and K. Kashiyama (Eds), Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Construction Applications of Virtual Reality, November 4-5, 2010 Sendai, Japan, pp.189-198.


Resources and Downloads

Key Websites

The Situation Engine -



Demonstration of system feature videos for Version 5

















Demonstration of other key system feature videos

Interactive dialogues

Multiplayer tutorial demonstration

Extended agent activity

3D with sound

Multiplayer demo

Simulation (castellated beam)

Illustrating the section

De-constructing objects

Step-through construction (basement)


Demonstration of system feature videos for previous versions

Version 4: Exploration of urban setting

Version 3: User-guided site layout

Version 2: User-guided construction of the model house

Version 1: Step-through construction of the model house


Teaching Resources Kit

Subject course outline

Construction drawings for the model house

Tutorial support for use of CryEngine

Support notes on video tutorials

3ds Max 2012 to CryEngine3 tutorial

Specular and Bump maps tutorial

Jointed Breakable Objects + RayFire plugin for 3ds Max 2012


Support notes on video tutorials

Information on the CryENGINE©3 – and software download

Crytek´s official developers community

Ros Kember tutorials


Links to important online resources

Demonstration tutorial in Smart Sparrow

CryEngine 3 : an introduction and application. Vol. 1

CryEngine 3 : an introduction and application. Vol. 2

CryEngine 3 : an introduction and application. Vol. 3


Links to related and interesting work

Building Leadership Simulation Centre

Realtime Immersive Simulations

Russell Lowe