Virtual reality projects


ISSN: 0368-492X

Article publication date: 1 April 2000




Rudall, B.H. (2000), "Virtual reality projects", Kybernetes, Vol. 29 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

Virtual reality projects

Virtual reality projects

Keywords: Automation, Cybernetics, Research, Technological developments

The research file of the UKs Engineering Technology and Computer Science (EPSRC) publication Impact (Issue 24, 1999) provides information about some on-going virtual reality (VR) projects.

The research is concerned with producing innovative ways of linking together many software products by seeing them through virtual reality "worlds". The developments are now being actively pursued at the VR Centre for the Built Environment. This centre was set up in 1997 at the UK's University College, London (UCL) and Imperial College.

The research report describes the work of UCL and Imperial College teams in their efforts to expand VR to help understand and design better environments. The report says that:

Researchers in geomatic engineering, geography, transport, computer science, operations research, architecture, and planning are involved with this latest, multi-disciplinary project which is organised under the umbrella of UCL's Interdisciplinary Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) and directed by Professor Michael Batty. VR in a range of applications, from regional and metropolitan planning to architectural design and construction, is acting as an interface to mathematical models which underpin applications visualised in two-dimensional "map" form or three-dimensional "built" form. A core research focus involves blending geographic information system (G IS) technology at the urban scale with headset-to-desktop VR technology at the building level.

An example of the virtual London project is described and some fascinating images presented of population density in the city areas using VR/CAD. The project, the developers say, has wide implications for design, policy and planning in the capital city. It describes it as being developed as a:

conventional photo-realistic CAD (computer-aided design) rendering of large areas of central London, users can "fly" through the project's VR model and query a massive information base of activities in 3-D, as well as through a more aggregate, map-based interface to the same data which they can interrogate through 2-D map layers. This is complemented by an Internet-based, environmental information system which focuses on the relationship between built and natural urban environments - LEO or London environment online - and through which users can visualise the effects air and brown field pollution will have on the environment.

Another project cited in the report says that the UCL-Imperial team is simulating local accessibility and pedestrian movement in one of London's well known streets - Regent Street. This aims at measuring the impact pedestrianisation of the street will have on retail businesses, as well as potential conflicts such an initiative may cause to vehicular and pedestrian traffic. The centre is also working with Fulcrum on lighting simulations, while a third project with Sainsbury's uses agent-based software to link electronic point-of-sale data (EPOS) with the detailed behaviour of shoppers.

The VR project, we are told, is supported by the EPSRC's contributions from two dozen industry partners. Readers will be interested to note that the key contributors include: ESRI (the GIS software vendor with its Arc-Info line of products), and Division (VR product developer with its dVise products); Ordnance Survey (which has donated map data), and Silicon Graphics (which has provided much of the hardware that powers a small VR Theatre). A range of companies from W.S. Atkins to VR software houses, such as Visual Technologies, and research arms of large retailing firms (such as Sainsbury's and Boots) are also contributing to a number of other live projects.

Further information may be requested from: Professor Michael Batty (Director of CASA and Principal Investigator on 0171 391 1782;; Alan Penn (Director of the VR Centre Project and Co-Investigator;

More information about this work in general is on the CASA Web site: in particular at the VR site and the LEO site:

Related articles