Transport Planners of the future will delve into interactive virtual worlds

A collaboration between Transport Systems Catapult (TSC) and The Department of Computer Science are 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 an Omnideck treadmill and an Oculus rift.

The project uses Department of Computer Science’s powerful “Flame GPU” system, which uses high end graphics processors to introduce huge crowds with realistic human behaviour into virtual environments. The aim 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, Research Fellow in the Department of Computer Science 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.”

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 the The Department of Computer Science are looking to advance the project further through student placements at the Visualisation Laboratory this year.

The Department of Computer Science is part of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Sheffield. The Faculty is one of the biggest and best providers of engineering research and education in the UK, with over 5,000 students and an annual research income of over £65m. The Department of Computer Science has an international reputation for the quality of its research and teaching. In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF), 92% of our research was rated world leading (4*) or internationally excellent (3*) in terms of its originality, significance and rigour.