Cranfield University Uses VR in Bid to Become Centre for Doctoral Training
Cranfield University researchers received NERC funding through the ‘Big Data Capital Call’ for GeoVisionary software plus a Virtalis ActiveMove portable Virtual Reality (VR) system.
With various research projects underway, Cranfield heard earlier this year that it was successful in its bid to lead a consortium of four British universities as a Centre for Doctoral Training in Data, Risk and Environmental Analytical Methods (DREAM).
“We used our 3D capability as part of our pitch to become a Centre for Doctoral Training under the DREAM programme”, explained Dr Stephen Hallett. “We hold ‘big data’ collections including the WOSSAC (World Soil Survey Archive and Catalogue) facility, which consists of tens of thousands of environmental resources and artefacts from 280 territories worldwide. The British Geological Survey (BGS) holds national geological data from about two metres down, with our national soils data complementing this, representing overlying surface ground conditions. The zone between soils and solid geology is an area of considerable scientific interest and the Virtalis solution allows us to visualise this interface. From speaking with BGS colleagues, we knew we wanted GeoVisionary, but we looked at all the alternatives before settling on an ActiveMove, which, being “luggable”, is ideal for stakeholder meetings in different locations”.
GeoVisionary was developed by Virtalis in collaboration with the BGS as specialist software for high-resolution visualisation of spatial earth sciences data. One of the major advantages GeoVisionary offers over other visualisation software (3 & 4D GIS) is its ability to integrate seamlessly very large volumes of data from multiple sources, allowing a greater understanding of diverse spatial datasets.
Cranfield University has broad experience in decision-making and perception research, particularly in relation to scenario-driven environmental impacts, through exploration of emergent risks. Spatio-temporal data visualisation can provide a critical link between natural and physical sciences and social sciences decision-makers. The researchers are finding that VR is acting as a communication tool for these stakeholders. The Cranfield team is now hoping to share 3D information with the other DREAM institutions (Newcastle, Cambridge & Birmingham) in real-time.
ActiveMove comprises an active, stereoscopic, High Definition resolution, high brightness, high frame rate, three-chip DLP projector with a rear-projection screen in a dedicated enclosure, coupled with a PC, eyewear, head and hand tracking, installation and support. ActiveMove is transported in two custom, wheeled cases specifically designed for local and international shipping, making it easy to share between locations.
Dr Hallett said “We are currently using our VR hardware and software on three big research projects, with more on land use, the impact of environmental change and infrastructure poised to start. We have trained technicians in both the Virtalis hardware and software, so this is a facilitated service and is used in both postgraduate teaching and research. GeoVisionary allows us to fuse data sets, for example, future climate, land use and soils then model and assess potential future impacts.”
The Cranfield team recently used its Virtalis technology in a study for Lincolnshire County Council as part of a soil-related geohazard assessment to adapt how to tackle road damage repairs in the most cost-effective way. Lincolnshire Highways Alliance used Cranfield’s geohazard research to allocate a £600,000 maintenance budget across 15 miles (25 Km) of Lincolnshire’s unclassified rural road network. Whereas pre-existing repair techniques would have cost £250 per square metre, a new repair process being trialled in selected, geohazard-prone areas, costs just £14 square metre. Although the new process needs to be more frequently applied than traditional techniques, the new repair method still offers significant cost savings.
Dr Hallett explained: “This cheaper-to-use technique has been trialled principally on areas that are prone to soil-related shrink or swell. With the premise that the road will likely fail in any case, the road can be replaced more often at an overall reduced cost to the authority.”