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Designing Safe Complex Environments - Professor Manohar Bance

This project will establish through systematic review the state-of-the-art in immersive environments used with those with difficulty processing complex environments. It will deliver a virtual environment, prototyping a complex space such as a super market of office space. In addition it aims to implement tools to produce an immersive experience for a user, and utilise validated motion capture tools to measure a user's kinematic response to moving through the environment. In parallel it will validate low-cost alternatives to measuring a user's response.

Complex environments affect the way we move within them. The mass of sensory inputs from sound, sight and texture are processed by different people with different levels of success. For some it can lead to anxiety and physically can manifest in trips and falls. Trips and falls are a significant problem accounting for at least 14% of non-fatal accidents within the workplace. However, in addition to this, the anxiety that can be created in a complex environment can prevent those with sensory processing disorders and neurological problems to comfortably access and use buildings and spaces. For example after stroke localising sound in a complex acoustic environment can be particularly isolating. Those with visual field neglect will struggle in rich environments. As a further example levels of executive function and walking performance is known to impacted in older people when processing complex sensory information. Designing spaces that minimise the cognitive loading on those people most at risk from either injury or isolation is valuable in designing a building or space inclusively.

It is however, difficult to know how people will respond to a given environment, and given the large and diverse populations that can be effected by the design, testing is not financially viable if it requires complex research facilities and prototyping. With high definition 30 visualisations of buildings it is possible to immerse a subject into a building and model the visual and acoustic sensory stimulus. Relatively simple games engines can provide immersive experiences at a low cost. In addition low cost motion analysis tools can be used to measure the motion response to an environment and stimulus. However, the feasibility of using these techniques to test the design of building in those with difficulty processing complex environments has not been evaluated. Using these digital tools it would be possible to develop low-cost, accessible, methods for evaluating how inclusive a building design is in a diverse, at risk, population.

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