SIReN Lab Brings Immersive Technologies to Supply Chain and Logistics Research

Participants prepare to fight a fire in an immersive training experience using the IOMEGA virtual reality platform in the SIReN Lab.

The Georgia Tech Supply Chain and Logistics Institute (SCL) is the largest such group in the world, and it provides researchers with many opportunities to help solve global supply chain and logistics problems. The latest addition is the SIReN (Sentient Immersive Response Networks) Lab, dedicated to research leveraging immersive technologies to enhance human capabilities for engineering and managing supply chains and logistic systems.

The SIReN Lab is an associate international laboratory, the result of a partnership between SCL’s Physical Internet Center and IMT Mines Albi, part of the Mines-Telecom Institute in France. The two organizations have historically collaborated on research surrounding artificial intelligence and its interface with these immersive technologies. The SIReN Lab is an extension and formalization of that relationship.

The U.S. arm of the lab is housed in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE) and is directed by Benoit Montreuil, Coca-Cola Material Handling & Distribution Chair and professor in ISyE. Montreuil is also co-director
of SCL and director of the Physical Internet Center. The French lab is led by Frederick Benaben, head of the Interoperability of Organizations research team at IMT Mines Albi. Because of the virtual nature of the work, it is possible to have researchers from both labs working on the same experiment, in the same environment, at the same time.

SIReN Lab research is centered around four main types of response networks — demand, health, humanitarian, and crisis — and the human response to them. A demand response network focuses on how the supply network responds to demand and how to prepare for this response, rather than the other way around. The health and humanitarian response networks, which have become increasingly visible due to the Covid-19 pandemic, relate to issues like disaster recovery and various healthcare supply chains.

The French lab has a significant emphasis on crisis response networks, in which a group of people work together to respond to a crisis in a smart, fair, and efficient manner.
“We currently have a crisis management project where 10 people in France and a few in the U.S. are working together at the same time in a digital twin environment,” said Benaben. “For example, we can have everyone in a building where they can fight a fire, but we can also have some of them in a virtual control room exchanging ideas and making decisions. The options are limitless.”

Researchers are using tools such as dashboards, simulations, games, and in some cases virtual or augmented reality to allow participants to see — and in some cases experience — a vivid picture of a situation with other players in the network.

“In augmented reality, we reinforce what participants see with facts, maps, graphs, and other information that enhance what they are experiencing,” explained Montreuil. “In virtual reality, we project the user into a virtual world, which can be a very vivid representa-tion of the current world, or it can be an abstract world. It can be a very powerful tool.”
“When we put someone in an environ-ment where they can touch, learn, train, experiment, and ultimately decide, it changes the way they approach the problem,” added Benaben. 
The French lab launched on Nov. 15, 2019. While the spring 2020 launch of the U.S. lab was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the team already has several projects underway and is fully operational. Eventually, they would like to see additional SIReN labs join the network to further scale the work being conducted.

“We want to become a global leader in making response networks become more sentient and immersive,” said Montreuil. “This is an exciting new approach that we are bringing to ISyE and to the domain.”

During an exercise at the SIReN Lab, participants walked through a virtual building during a crisis simulation. Participant views included a virtual fire, building occupants to be evacuated in offices and in common areas, and the arrival of firetrucks.

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Laurie Haigh
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