Two important achievements from the Human Interface Technologies team:
- Trial demonstrates role for virtual and augmented reality in future of telepresence
A unique demonstration was recently staged by the University of Birmingham’s Department of Electronic, Electrical & Systems Engineering (EESE). Video and sensor data were transmitted from a remotely controlled vessel deployed at sea off Plymouth, back to a unique Virtual Reality “Science Station” located in the Gisbert Kapp Building on-campus.
Led by Professor Robert Stone and Professor Peter Gardner, a small group of academics, technicians and postgraduate students representing the Human Interface Technologies Team and the Wireless Communications Remote and Sensing Group, collaborated on this highly innovative project. The end result saw the completion of a successful six month “telepresence” research and development project that included part-funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s (EPSRC) Institutional Sponsorship Fund.
This research shows the potential for using Virtual and Augmented Reality technologies to help support remote surveillance for both autonomous and semi-autonomous systems in the future. The trial indicates that the situational awareness of the human supervisor of complex remote systems can be enhanced through the clear presentation of data in the form of an immersive and interactive “wrap-around” dataspace. This has been achieved through the use of commercially available components and by providing clear attention to the human factors of advanced workstation design.
As proof-of-concept demonstration, the trials vessel took form of a modified angler’s “bait boat”, a small catamaran with an integrated echo sounder and colour camera, which was controlled by a radio control system giving an operational range up to 4000 meters.
The EESE team modified the catamaran to include live footage from a gimbal-stabilised GoPro camera for recording at sea alongside a webcam which provided video footage via Wi-Fi link to the HIT Team’s Science Station located at the University. A sensor module was also included that captured data such as GPS, temperature, pressure, humidity and the output of a digital compass. The catamaran was launched into the waters surrounding the Cawsand Bay and Plymouth’s famous Breakwater and Fort, previously the focus of HIT Team research.
This research was inspired by the Mayflower Autonomous Ship, a crewless vessel designed to sail across the Atlantic in 2020 to celebrate the original sailing of vessel and it Pilgrim crew in 1620. Research into the concept of an advanced VR Science Station was initially carried out by the HIT Team under sponsorship from BAE Systems and the Ministry of Defence. This work is continuing to grow, and will allow members of the public and school children to experience the historic transatlantic crossing and to conduct future science experiments based on a myriad of sensors onboard the vessel.
Reflecting on the demonstration, Professor Stone said, “We were delighted with the outcome of this trial. So many things could have gone wrong, especially when placing a complex set of electronics into a small boat at sea, and relying on telephone communications and Wi-Fi links. Instead, the trial was a complete success and will now help both EESE groups to collaborate in a variety of future high-tech domains where, despite advancements in autonomous technologies, the role and involvement of the human in system supervision and safety will always be paramount”.
See also the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W7qGlFphmUI
2. Birmingham’s Human Interface Technologies team scoops top academic health science award
The award was presented by Brigadier Tim Hodgetts CBE, the UK’s Defence Medical Services Medical Director, and was given to the team in recognition of their innovative research and development into the use of Virtual and Mixed Reality technologies for civilian and military rehabilitation and for military defence medic training.
The HIT team saw off stiff competition from Birmingham NHS Genomic Centre and Keele University to win the Innovative Team of the Year award.
Professor Bob Stone, Director of the HIT team accepted the award along with Research Fellow Dr Cheng Qian and PhD student Vish Shingari. All three members of team have been closely involved in projects with Queen Elizabeth Hospital and Heartlands Hospital to determine how virtual technology can support healthcare rehabilitation.
Established in 2016 by the West Midlands Academic Health Science Network, the Celebration of Innovation awards are designed to recognise and celebrate the work of individuals and organisations in developing better healthcare and economic benefit for the region, and the ceremony provided an opportunity to celebrate achievements from across the West Midlands. The awards ceremony was the centrepiece of the WMAHSN’s annual stakeholder event, which brought to life the 2016/17 Annual Report and showcased programmes supported and introduced by the WMAHSN over the past 12 months.