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Designing Safe Complex Environments - Dr Thomas Stone

This project investigated the principles of universal design applied to the built environment and specifically with reference to people with impairment. The validity of using VR as a test method was assessed by reviewing the neuroscientific justification and the new field of neuroarchitecture. Finally, examples of how VR is applied to the treatment and understanding of balance disorders were reviewed.

[Final Report]

The built environment can be sparse in what it affords people with functional limitations, it can disable them through design. Ensuring buildings and social spaces are designed to enable, not disable, people is complex, often with conflicting requirements. People with balance and sensory impairments are not well represented in the literature of building design. Given the well published models on the way in which the environment mediates the transition from health conditions to disability there is very little research on the application of inclusive design principles in architecture. Most notably, given the relatively recent development of the field of Neuroarchitecture, there has been very little work to determine the value of digital techniques to help design building in the presence of neurological impairment. Virtual reality (VR) may be important in evaluating designs digitally and optimising them before committing to expensive prototypes. 

This project investigated the principles of universal design applied to the built environment and specifically with reference to people with impairment. The validity of using VR as a test method was assessed by reviewing the neuroscientific justification and the new field of neuroarchitecture. Finally, examples of how VR is applied to the treatment and understanding of balance disorders were reviewed. 

User view of environment with avatarLiterature supports the concept that we need to design building for accessibility and to meet the needs of those with complex sensory conditions to ensure these built environments do not act as disablers. However, the techniques to design inclusively are lacking for architectural design, in particular the ability to prototype environments for different users and test concepts. Modern neuro-architectural approaches give an insight into the use of virtual reality to support the design of new buildings; that responses from the virtual experience may generalise to the real world. Evidence from literature also reflects that Virtual reality is able to affect a change in the motor response in those with complex sensory problems and that therefore virtual reality can be argued as a useful tool to evaluate different built environments in this population. 

In this project we also developed low-cost virtual reality hardware and software. Using off-the-shelf sensors and open source games engine it was possible to create a complex environment for a user to walk in. Importantly the project tested the feasibility of measuring a user’s movement response and enabled the collection of high fidelity movement data alongside low-cost motion capture sensors. This system framework will enable different scenarios to be tested on participants with and without sensory or balance impairment. Importantly the system allows for very accurate measures of movement to be made and the future addition of other physiological measurements.

Researchers:

Cambridge University Hospital, Clinical Movement Laboratory, University of East Anglia, School of Health Sciences

Adar Pelah, University of York,

Manohar Bance, University of Cambridge, Neurosciences

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