Visualisation Laboratory

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You can now find out more about the Visualisation Laboratory in our dedicated area.

The TSC has announced the opening of a “Visualisation Laboratory” where virtual reality technology will be used to help generate innovation and overcome problems in the UK’s transport network.

The Transport Systems Catapult has been looking into virtual reality technologies and how these technologies might affect transportation systems. A number of systems have been identified that can help to make VR more immersive and interactive. The first of these and the one that our “Visualisation Laboratory” is built around, is the Omnifinity Omnideck6. The Onmideck6 is a 6 meter wide omnidirectional treadmill that is mated to an Oculus Rift DK2 VR headset that allows users to walk at freedom in any direction within Virtual Reality environments.

In fact, you can walk, jump and even crawl around your VR because the Omnideck6 was originally designed for use by the military for infantry training. Having recognised that training soldiers in front of PC monitors and using mice and keyboards is not the most realistic of training, Omnifinity were given the challenge of creating a piece of kit that would fully immerse a solider into a virtual environment and allow them to move through it using typical battle space tactics and movements.

We hope that by working together with Omnifinity we can use knowledge from gaming and military industries and apply them to solving issues in the transport sector. We also intend that by working collaboratively, we will develop new a novel solutions to challenges in VR and AR that will benefit the field of VR and therefore UK PLC.

Current usage

The Visualisation Laboratory currently features a joint project between the Catapult, Omnifinity and Virtual Viewing. Our combined efforts have created a Virtual Milton Keynes that visitors can walk around freely which is populated with pedestrians and Autonomous Pods from the Lutz Pathfinder project.

The purpose of this demonstrator is primarily to show the power of a first person perspective in an accurately simulated environment.  It also demonstrates the challenges we face from the human perspective if we are to share our public walkways with autonomous vehicles.  It is believed that the tools created and combined in this demonstrator will help to test and deliver answers to the development of the TSC’s autonomous driving projects.

It is envisaged that we can conduct user trials that will allow subjects to walk along pathways and interact with pods that are moving around the virtual world.  These virtual pods would be programmed with the latest experimental control algorithms being designed for the real world pods. By collecting physical and subjective responses when subjects come into close proximity with the pods in VR, it may be possible to identify how to improve the Pod’s control algorithms. For example, we hope to be able to provide feedback and suggestions about how the Pod should respond when it detects a pedestrian and whether or not some sort of external indication is required.

Other expected applications for the Omnideck6 include the investigation and sign off for civil engineering projects and Architectural designs (internal and external).  Providing the ability to walk around the outside and inside a new structure will help decision makers to better understand the scale and context of an engineered design and the issues that are not obvious on paper or on screen. VR technologies could also be used applied within traffic control centres rooms and will be a superb aid for training in high risk environments, for example training new engineers working on the railways.

Overcoming the barriers to virtual reality use

Clearly there are huge benefits of experiencing VR in a natural and untethered way, but the TSC wants to push the boundaries to identify what barriers there are preventing further adoption and application of VR. We have identified a number of areas of research that could help remove some of the barriers to greater adoption of VR:

  1. When wearing a VR headset, you cannot see your own arms, hands, torso or legs.
  2. When in VR you cannot interact with the objects/interfaces.
  3. When moving around an environment walking sometimes isn’t fast enough. You are not limited to the laws of physics when in VR, so what movements and gestures can be created/defined for useful accelerated movements within VR?
  4. A VR environment without people remains a sterile and uninvolving space when there is no one else in there with you.
  5. We have the ability to augment the VR so that it is more than just a virtual representation of reality. Bringing up new layers of data should be a simple and natural thing to do. What is the “mouse” of VR?

Use the Visualisation Laboratory for your business

This is the first time that an Omnideck6 has been bought by the commercial sector and the TSC wants to make this technology available to the transport sector for experimentation and development of new and innovate ideas. To that end we are opening up access to the floor to interested parties looking to develop new services or uses for virtual reality.

The Omnideck’s software is designed to work with Unity 5, so any environment you wish to work on or walk through needs to be converted into that format. If you need help converting your content, please contact Martin Pett via . We have a number of partners who are experts in file compatibility and conversion techniques.

If you wish to gain access or use the floor, we offer access from £500/day. This covers the costs for our technicians to configure and operate the floor. Our technicians will assist you to integrate your software and hardware and help with general trouble shooting.

We are also able hold free assessment days to encourage and engage with innovative start-ups and individuals with great new ideas.

The floor can also be booked for demos during an event held at the catapult and will cost £120/hour.

Find out more

You can find out more about the Visualisation Laboratory and learn about our ongoing projects in our new dedicated area.

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