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A turf-cutting ceremony took place at Exeter Science Park on Monday 4th March 2019 to mark the start of construction on the University of Exeter’s pioneering VSimulators experimental facility. Funded by a £4.8 million grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, VSimulators is a multi-disciplinary research platform which will be housed in a new, purpose-built engineering building. Guests at the event included representatives from Exeter Science Park, the University of Exeter, the University of Bath and contractors Morgan Sindall Construction & Infrastructure.

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 4x4 metre, custom designed 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.

Due to open at the end of 2019, VSimulators will be used by academics and industry to support multi-disciplinary human factors research and innovation. It offers research, commercial and training opportunities within a range of disciplines including civil and structural engineering, architecture, psychology, healthcare, human movement science, creative industries, data analytics, entertainment and sports science.

James Brownjohn, Principal Investigator for VSimulators at the University of 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.

Julie Lewis-Thompson, Commercial Manager for VSimulators, added :

The VSimulators facilities at the Universities of Exeter and Bath will provide unique simulation capabilities far beyond anything available worldwide. This will help address critical issues of human engagement with the surrounding environment. The range of applications is almost endless and we are excited about collaboration opportunities exploring sectors such as audiences of the future, commercial innovation using VR and advances in the management of conditions such as Parkinson’s and dementia.”

Dr Sally Basker, CEO of Exeter Science Park, said: “We’re excited that the University of Exeter is developing its new VSimulators Facility at Exeter Science Park. This world-class, multi-use technology facility will encourage collaboration, foster innovative products and services, strengthen STEMM in the south-west and stimulate further economic growth.

Nigel Whelan, area director for Morgan Sindall Construction, said: “We’re delighted to be breaking ground and marking the start of work on this important project, which will create a world-leading facility and position Exeter as a centre of excellence in VR technologies.

“We have a long-standing relationship with the University of Exeter and have delivered a number of key schemes for the University. We look forward to continuing to build on this positive partnership as we embark on the construction of this landmark development.”

A leading physiotherapist at the University of Exeter Medical School, Professor Vicki Goodwin MBE, has been a driving force in the design and accessibility features of the VSimulator facilities, ensuring ease of access for users with mobility issues. She said:

The VSimulators facility is an exciting new development that will help us better understand how people move and interact within the physical environment. For example, it will allow us to investigate how older people maintain balance when they are out and about, such as when using public transport, so we can look at ways to keep them steadier and help prevent falls and injuries.

The £4.8 million grant awarded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council will also fund a complementary VSimulators facility at the University of Bath. Due to open in Autumn 2019, and using an environmentally controlled room with projected virtual reality mounted on a motion platform, this will be mainly used to study human factors in the built environment - particularly tall buildings.

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