Transport catapult to launch 'virtual reality Milton Keynes'

A virtual reality suite could help engineers improve the UK's transport infrastructure by creating a digital version of Milton Keynes.

A government-backed innovation centre in the city, the Transport Systems Catapult (TSC), has built the visualisation laboratory', which includes an omnidirectional treadmill built by Swedish manufacturers Omnifinity.

Used in conjunction with VR headsets, this allows users to walk around a virtual version of Milton Keynes constructed by Virtual Viewing, a local design firm.

The system is designed to allow companies to test the effects and consequences of implementing new transport technologies without costly pilot programmes.

According to Graham Fletcher, modelling and visualisation director at TSC, a major use case is the ability to test how pedestrians react to sharing thoroughfares with driverless cars.

"It is envisaged that we can conduct user trials that will allow subjects in a virtual environment to walk along pathways and interact with autonomous vehicles being controlled by their experimental control algorithms," Fletcher said.

"We have already had interest from major manufacturers in testing their vehicles in this way before implementation on UK roads.

"We see huge potential for virtual reality technology to help solve the UK's transport problems at a lower cost and without the associated risks of testing new technology in a live environment."

It comes after Google recorded the first self-driving car-related injuries, claiming a human-driven vehicle crashed into the back of a prototype, sending three employees to hospital with minor whiplash.

Fletcher added: "The Omnideck Treadmill and virtual reality equipment we have installed here at the TSC is totally unique in the UK and will allow businesses to experiment, develop and demonstrate new technologies in a new and inspirational way."

This news follows the announcement that the UK government is funding a research and development project for driverless car innovation.

Adam Shepherd

Adam Shepherd has been a technology journalist since 2015, covering everything from cloud storage and security, to smartphones and servers. Over the course of his career, he’s seen the spread of 5G, the growing ubiquity of wireless devices, and the start of the connected revolution. He’s also been to more trade shows and technology conferences than he cares to count.

Adam is an avid follower of the latest hardware innovations, and he is never happier than when tinkering with complex network configurations, or exploring a new Linux distro. He was also previously a co-host on the ITPro Podcast, where he was often found ranting about his love of strange gadgets, his disdain for Windows Mobile, and everything in between.

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