Transport Planners of the future will delve into interactive virtual worlds

A University Partnership Program (UPP) collaboration between Transport Systems Catapult (TSC) and Sheffield University is using advanced hardware to create large scale pedestrian simulations in an immersive virtual reality setting.

In its initial phase, the collaboration has seen the creation of a demonstrator installed in the TSC’s Visualisation Laboratory – a facility used for developing virtual reality technology for use in transport applications. Within the demonstration a user is able to navigate Canary Wharf station in London and interact with a crowd of thousands of people using the UK’s only Omnifinity Omnidirectional Treadmill and Virtual Reality headset.

The project uses Sheffield University’s powerful “Flame GPU” system, which uses high end graphics processors to introduce huge crowds with realistic human behaviour into virtual environments.  The objective for the TSC is to allow transport planners to experience the results of their decisions from the traveller’s point of view without the need for costly real world trials. 

Dr Paul Richmond from Sheffield University explained the scope of the demonstrator:

“People within the environment interact as they would within the real world steering and avoiding each other (and the user) with personalised goals which dictate there patterns of movement. The combination of this novel “agent based” simulation and VR technology gives a completely new perspective on the environment. A digital model of a train station becomes living, bustling world, giving real insight into how people experience and effect an urban environment.”

Plans are also afoot to adapt the Flame GPU technology to model driving behaviour on roads. It is expected that such simulations will scale to the entire UK trunk road system giving important insight into how the UK can meet increasing transport infrastructure demands. Dr Richmond continued:

“Perhaps the most exciting opportunity is to consider large scale city sized virtual worlds populated by both traffic and people to provide a virtual test bed for coordinating future transport infrastructure. Such a technological vision might not be far away from becoming a reality, or at least a virtual reality.” Concluded Dr Richmond.

TSC Technologist Martin Pett believes the work being conducted with Sheffield University offers a glimpse of the future for transport planners.

“Transport planners of the future will delve into interactive virtual worlds rather than interpreting data from spreadsheets or looking at images on a 2D monitor. The work we are doing with Sheffield University will allow these environments to be as dynamic and interactive as the real world, essentially turning transport planning from numbers game into a customer centric experience. The visualisation of raw data in this way will allow planners to truly understand how the changes they make will affect the end user.”

If you are developing pedestrian simulators or are interested in using them, the TSC is inviting experts to visit their facilities to discuss collaborations and the use of VR. The TSC and Sheffield University will look to advance the project further through student placements at the Visualisation Laboratory next year.

This and other innovative collaborative projects are funded under the University Partnership Program (UPP) led by the TSC. The UPP facilitates movement of talent between academia and industry. Further details can be found at

Discuss the use of Virtual Reality for transport applications on our new social platform at

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