New research centre to immerse University of Leeds

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A new centre set up at the University of Leeds will harness the power of immersive technologies, upskill the next generation and push the boundaries of possibilities in research and education.

The Centre for Immersive Technologies will call on the expertise of more than 80 researchers from across the University of Leeds and will focus on health, transport, education, productivity and culture.

The new centre is being coordinated through six academic leads and has a poet and two artists in residence.

Coleman Fung, a virtual reality (VR) entrepreneur and founder of the Fung Institute for Engineering Leadership at the University of California, gave a keynote speech during the centre’s launch event yesterday.

Fung said: “Immersive technologies have enormous potential beyond gaming. They will revolutionise the ways we engage with one another and the world around us.”

“How we learn and work, how we experience arts and sports events, how we take care of each other, how we inspire and motivate kids and, most important of all, how we improve lives.”

“To realise all these possibilities, we need co-investments and collaborations from academia, governments, and industry. Therefore, it’s tremendous that the University of Leeds is taking the lead on this pioneering effort with the research centre.”

Professor Mark Mon-Williams, from the School of Psychology at the University of Leeds, has been appointed as director of the Centre for Immersive Technologies.

He said: “Immersive technologies are a game-changer that will impact on every area of our lives, transforming how we live, work and play.”

“This new centre will help ensure that the next technological revolution is harnessed for the benefit of society.”

“By working with a wide range of partners, from technology companies and hospitals to museums, we are ensuring that the work carried out by researchers in Leeds is making a real difference to the world.”

The Centre for Immersive Technologies boasts impressive facilities, including Virtuocity, which uses VR to conduct research that can improve the design of urban transport and city systems.

Virtuocity includes a new Highly Immersive Kinematic Experimental Research (HIKER) lab—which is, according to the University of Leeds, the largest 4K resolution pedestrian simulator in the world.

The HIKER lab allows participants to interact with virtual urban environments and vehicles without the need to wear any VR equipment.

Virtuocity’s three simulation laboratories—driving, truck and pedestrian—will also be connected to create a single multiplayer environment to understand how driverless vehicles will interact with their passengers and pedestrians.

Professor Richard Romano, chair in driving simulation and academic lead for Virtuocity at the University of Leeds, explained: “As part of the new centre, Virtuocity provides the technology and expertise to explore and test real-world scenarios using human-centred design methods to inform the future of urban mobility, transport and city planning.”

Outside of transport, the Centre for Immersive Technologies will work to improve healthcare through autonomous robots, train surgeons in developing countries using VR, and use robotics to help speed up rehabilitation following accidents and stroke.

Its work in education will extend to developing VR learning experiences for school children, and training the next generation of healthcare professionals.

In culture, the centre will collaborate with schools, museums and artists to provide access to resources beyond public reach, including the Virtual Holocaust Memoryscapes project.

Finally, the centre will encourage environmentally-friendly lifestyles through immersive technology, and help to connect world-leading researchers with partners from the public and private sectors to accelerate innovation.

The two artists in residence who have been appointed, Christophe DeBezenac and Dave Lynch, as well as poet Dr Kate Fox, will aim to spark conversations between different practices, and create new pieces of work.

Below is a clip of an immersive experience created by de Bezenac and Lynch, which allows users to virtually explore data drawn from the Born in Bradford study of more than 30,000 people:

Image credit: Lorne Campbell, Guzelian