Virtual reality welding at Mark Morris | Local

In a back corner of the computer-integrated machining lab at Mark Morris High School, there’s a new, hidden gem.

It might not look like much among all the other large, loud machines in the lab: On a table lies a helmet, a computer monitor and a plastic wand connected to a cable that leads to a shiny red cart in the corner. The whole setup looks like some sort of elaborate video-game device.

But this isn’t a game. This is a $35,000 virtual welding machine from Lincoln Electric, designed to help beginning welders learn the techniques and basics of welding. The Longview School District has recently purchased the device with money from the Computer and Technical Education budget in an effort to give Longview students a step up toward a potentially lucrative career.

“We just purchased it, so moving forward it’s probably an opportunity to let kids develop skills maybe before they start using the welder,” said Career and Technical Education director Jill Diehl. “It would be like an initial training.”

The system uses a welding mask integrated with virtual reality goggles. Through the goggles, a user can see a variety of virtual environments including a skyscraper, desert base, warehouse and more.

The scene is then lined up with the material to be welded: on a weekday morning in the lab, a faux plastic “tee joint” was prepared on a stand. The computer monitor next to the stand displayed a program menu, and industrial technology teacher Tim Lam pressed a few buttons on the monitor’s touchscreen to calibrate the machine.

While a student is welding, the monitor displays the virtual environment visible inside the helmet. An instructor can watch as the student uses the rod and “welds” along the seam of the joint.

When finished, the program spits out a report card on the student’s performance. Immediately available are…

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