DDCF @ The Transport Systems Catapult (TSC)’s visualisation laboratory

The academia/industry divide is a much talked about issue and with the dawn of new age technology, along with the possibilities and opportunities they offer, it is important for the curriculum to embed and reinvent itself to serve the needs of our changing futures. The DDCF is seeking to revolutise the design curriculum by integrating and utilising Virtual Reality (VR) as a learning and teaching tool/enabler. Industry has been quick in realising the potential of VR and embraced the use of this immersive visualisation technology in stakeholder engagement. Immersive reality is growing in popularity and it has made its mark in the gaming sector, and with industries such as marketing, real estate, engineering and retail exploring its opportunities. With the aspirations to embed the potential of this technology in learning and teaching the DDCF project team reached out to the industry to get a glimpse of the innovations taking place. This is a blog piece on the project DDCF project team’s visit to the Transport Systems Catapult Innovation Centre in Milton Keynes (https://ts.catapult.org.uk/).
 
The Transport Systems Catapult (TSC)’s visualisation laboratory is the UK’s first facility dedicated to the research and development of virtual reality for transport systems, to meet the intelligent mobility needs of the future. As we were greeted by Ryan Johnston (Graduate Technologist and GIS engineer), he talked us through their interesting work on how their team is investigating the potential of  VR technology as a tool for strategic transport, planning and design. The simulations demonstrated to us how VR can facilitate transport designers and decision makers to make predictive simulations and make informed decisions. For DDCF, this further sparked ideas of potential collaborative student projects between our MA Urband Design & Planning and the MSc in Applied GIS students, and data mapping simulations in the urban design process. 
 
Bryony Olney our Learning technologist was first to interact with in the virtual reality environment. The technology enables the user to reach out and touch virtual objects (maybe, we shouldn’t mention the number of times she dropped that book on the floor! But those gestures with which she picked it up deserves a special mention!). The demos inspired ideas to engage students in learning activities set up in a virtual environment as it is a means by which the change they propose to built spaces can get experienced in an immersive way in real time. 
 
Bobby Nisha our Programme Director for the MA in Urban Design and Planning course experienced a demo of a walk around the simulated Milton Keynes environment with an HTC Vive. The omni-deck user’s movements are tracked with the Opi track system within the VR environment. This meant walking on the omni-deck and moving around (for real) in a virtual(ly) real Milton Keynes. Though cognition knows that bumping into someone or a car running into you is not possible in a virtual environment, it was quite a sight to see Nisha react on instinct to move away from the virtual person. Here is a short video of Nisha tialing the floor. There is immense potential to tap in to the domains of experiential learning especially when it comes to design. VR enables non-designers to understand and grasp the concept of shape/form/volume intuitively and for this reason immersive visualisation can be a powerful learning and teaching medium in design education. DDCF is working towards making this a reality by embedding immersive visualisation in urban design teaching. 
We take the opportunity to thank the Transport Systems Catapult for meeting us and helping inspire us to develop our ideas further in regards to collaborative opportunities for our students. DDCF would like to especially thank Ryan Johnston ( Graduate technologist, GIS Engineer), Martin Pett ( Visualisation Team lead) and Michael Calver ( senior technologist) for taking time to talk to us about their projects and applications of VR within industry.
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