Project Spotlight: We talk to BrightTree Studios Designer, Cory Sarzotti, on the design of the ‘mock village’ within the NiSource Training Facility in Richmond, Virginia. From stereo rocks to high-tech wireless microphones, learn how technicians get top notch training with help from our designs.

NiSource is an electric and natural gas company spanning across seven states. As part of their training for natural gas leak investigation, NiSource constructs a ‘mock neighborhood’ in each training facility. Our job was to create a full sensory approach in constructing a realistic environment for its new training facility in Virginia.

“I wanted to make this a high tech, fully immersive, fully automated simulation system,” says BrightTree Studios designer, Cory Sarzotti.

Speakers made to look like rocks were placed alongside houses to mimic natural sounds of a neighborhood. “I wanted the mock village simulations to have a ‘Disney World’ grade immersive environment. I didn’t just want the sound of kids playing, I wanted the kids to run past the trainee – following the dog that just passed,” says Cory.

“We also upgraded the immersive sound FX system to make the trainees feel like they are really in a neighborhood. There is even a doghouse with its own ‘dog speaker’. I upgraded this system to be dynamic…basically, now the dog can run around the yard”.

To enable two-way communication between student technicians and teachers, state of the art wearable wireless microphones and ear pieces were used. To monitor the simulated learning, a series of 360 degree zoomable cameras were placed around the yard to monitor and record the simulation. “I wanted to give teachers full control over the simulation”.

The ‘mock village’ classroom had the same presentation setup as the other classrooms, allowing the teacher to control the cameras, recording, playback, whatever else needed all from the touch monitor at the front of the room while talking to the students. “This makes the system fully controllable while the teacher comfortably teaches.”

Cory improved the microphone system by upgrading the ‘lapel microphones’ with ‘surface boundary microphones on the sides of the mock buildings. This enabled a better recording of the training conversation between the trainee gas technician and the actor playing the resident. He also upgraded the wireless microphones the trainees wear. Instead of the previously used headset microphones for trainees which tangled easily and required additional clothing and equipment to be worn, one-piece Executive Elite’ wearable microphones the size of a lipstick tube and clip onto a shirt pocket was implemented.

“Overall, we refined NiSource’s existing design to create a more collaborative learning environment between trainees and teachers.”