GW4 Multi-Disciplinary Research to be Boosted by New VSimulators Facility

March 8, 2019

Construction has begun on the University of Exeter’s VSimulators facility, a national research facility at the universities of Bath and Exeter, which began life as a collaborative GW4 research community.

A turf cutting event to mark the start of the University of Exeter’s VSimulators project build took place at Exeter Science Park on Monday 4th March 2019.

VSimulators provides a unique capability to physically and virtually recreate different environments to measure the impact of vibrations of very tall buildings, wobbly bridges and floors on people’s health and well-being.

Due to open at the end of 2019, Exeter’s VSimulators facility is part of a world class national research facility located at both the GW4 members institutions of Bath and Exeter.

PROJECT BEGAN LIFE AS A GW4 RESEARCH COMMUNITY

The project, funded by £4.8 million from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, with significant co-creation funds from the Universities of Exeter and Bath started life as a GW4 funded collaborative research community. The GW4 community aimed to change the way that all structures are designed and operated within the built environment and included researchers from across the GW4 Alliance (Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter). The community received GW4 Initiator and Accelerator funding, along with support from GW4 to catalyse the project and scale up their research, which led to the EPSRC grant. To date the GW4 Alliance has invested over £2.8 million in 89 collaborative research communities which combine the complementary strengths of each GW4 institution.

IMPROVING DESIGN AND WELLBEING

VSimulators will allow researchers to measure not only the effect of vibrations of very tall buildings on people, but their impact in offices and stadiums, including the impact of vibrations caused by crowds. Researchers believe that improving an understanding as to how people move and interact within the physical environment, will influence design and material choices, helping to significantly reduce the embodied energy contained within structures and subsequently the carbon footprint of buildings. Such research will  also address occupants’ wellbeing, improving their work performance, and creating more supportive environments, for example for people with dementia.

VSimulators offers a state-of-the-art, world class facility, combining virtual reality (VR) technology capable of immersing up to nine occupants simultaneously in headset projected VR scenarios. A 4×4 metre, custom designed and worldwide unique motion platform, linked to the VR scenarios, enables users to perceive realistic motion as they move around in a virtual world while optical and inertial motion capture systems and an array of force plates will record their experiences.

James Brownjohn, Principal Investigator for VSimulators at Exeter, said: “VSimulators offers opportunities for collaborative international and multi-disciplinary research and innovation, linking academic and commercial communities. Our initial focus will be on factors including vibrations that compromise user experience in the built environment such as wobbly footbridges and bouncy office floors, but we will also study user-centred design of building environments, biomechanics of human balance on moving surfaces and rehabilitation physiotherapy.”

Collaborative transformative research

The EPSRC-funded project also includes a VSimulator with environmental control, currently under construction at the University of Bath. This facility will focus on sway motion of tall structures and associated human responses, combining a motion platform with projected virtual reality and full environmental control.

Dr Antony Darby, Principal Investigator for VSimulators at Bath, said: “It’s exciting to see construction of the Exeter facility underway. The Bath facility is also well advanced and will be coming on line in the next few months. Combined, these facilities will enable us to simulate a full range of structural vibrations and other building environmental factors, allowing us to study their impact on humans. We have a complementary and multidisciplinary research expertise across the two universities and I am looking forward to collaborating with Exeter and others on truly transformative research”

Dr Sarah Perkins, GW4 Director said: “This project started life as a collaborative GW4 research community so it’s fantastic to see it come to fruition with the construction of this new world class facility. Both facilities will provide all GW4 academics a unique opportunity for collaborative, inter-disciplinary research and innovation across academia and with our industry partners.”

The multi-disciplinary VSimulator research facility at Exeter will be located within a specially designed hall in a new purpose-built £7.2m engineering building in Exeter Science Park. Guests at the turf cutting event included representatives from Exeter Science Park, the University of Exeter, University of Bath, University of Leicester and contractors Morgan Sindall Construction & Infrastructure Ltd.