'Thinking Inside the Box': A Mixed Reality Development Platform for co-creating energy efficient retail spaces

Lead Research Organisation: Loughborough University
Department Name: Architecture, Building and Civil Eng


In the UK retail outlets are the biggest emitters of CO2 within the commercial property sector. Many retail business are striving to reduce their carbon footprints, with many having ambitious targets for carbon neutrality over the next few years. This feasibility study aims to identify new ways to dramtically reduce end use energy demand within the retail sector. The novelty of the proposed work lies both in its scope and the technologies that it will develop. Rather than attributing energy use and human comfort directly to spatial design, building services, energy controls, company energy policy or human behaviour, this research will explore the intersection of all of these influences within a 'mixed reality' retail environment. This would take the form of an interactive 'gaming' model as a portable 'box' with a tangible user interface deployed in store. It would allow users to 'visualise' energy use and its consequences as part of a broader energy engagement strategy. The box would comprise a scale model of a physical store layout and a set of coded intervention cards that would allow participants to interact with the physical model on the table as well as in the virtual model - the blend between physical and virtual interactions establishes a mixed reality design platform (MRDP). Real time data from existing store sensors can feed directly into the virtual model to inform and respond to scenario testing as users interact with the model. Store staff and customers would be able to engage with the model proactively or passively via a mix of physical, virtual and display modules. This serious gaming environment will provide a stimulating and interactive way of sharing ideas and co-creating new solutions. Most importantly, the MRDP transforms what is normally an intangible numerical database (numbers collected by performance sensors) into an interactive and immersive experience to allow for continual testing and refinement with the opportunity of users co-creating novel approaches to reducing energy use while maintaining a positive shopping experience. The learning that accrues through this serious gaming activity would inform future strategies for reducing energy demand whilst simultaneously attending to other performance criteria (e.g. internal air quality, thermal comfort and the customer experience). The mobility and placement of the MRDP allows the retail floor or back of house area to become a platform for learning and drives a more open relationship with stakeholders. Our principal research partner is Tesco PLC, the UK's largest retailer with revenue of over £55 Billion. Tesco have an ambitious commitment to become a zero carbon business by 2050, and as part of this they aim to reduce carbon emissions in store by 50% over the next 4 years. This research would support their objectives by developing an exciting method of accelerating their progress towards their corporate goal and will help position the organisation at the vanguard of current technology and thinking in the energy demand reduction space.

Planned Impact

As research which is both highly topical and engaging to both commercial end users (i.e. store managers and employees) and the general public, the project affords excellent opportunities to identify the ways of impact multiple user and interest communities. The main impact will be for the retail sector as a whole who will use the findings of this study to develop more energy efficient retail spaces. The feasibility of the concept will be demonstrated through our principal research partner, Tesco PLC, the UK's largest retailer. They will use the findings of this study to inform their decision making in relation to the efficiency of their 3,243 stores and in influencing their c.500,000 employees, interventions that even on their own could have a profound effect on reducing the total UK retail energy bill. Three leading architectural practices also help to maximise the impact of this work (AHR Architects, Child Graddon Lewis, and Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios). Each of these practices is committed to energy and carbon efficient design, and all specialise in the design of energy efficient retail spaces. They will implement the insights gained through this work by feeding them directly into their designs and advice given to customers across the sector. The work programme will also examine the applicability of the approach developed to other non-domestic environments (e.g. public buildings, educational buildings, offices and other commercial spaces).

A range of indirect users will also benefit from the research such as other designers, retailers and the various users of retail outlets. In order to engage those involved with the design and operation of retail space the findings will be shared with the Retail Energy Efficiency Taskforce (a Government-Industry body with a remit to overcome the barriers to energy efficiency and to share good practice across the sector) and the British Retail Consortium (the leading trade association for the retail sector) in the form of briefing notes and best practice guidance. Design insights will also be translated into guidance notes and shared with the RIBA's national and regional networks and in particular their Client Services group. Interaction with the general public will be at the forefront of this project, both in the conduct of the research itself (i.e. through the sandpit events) and in terms of more widely publicising the approach and the insights that it generates.


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Description Through our interaction with Tesco and our expertise in building design and energy performance analysis from both social and technical perspectives, we have:

1. Explicated the socio-technical challenges of decarbonisation in the retail environment. This has been done through visualising how energy use is affected by both human and non-human entities; this allows us to challenge established understandings of the systems and identify disconnects between technology and behaviour that are affected (positively and negatively) by other factors (governance, environment, etc.) in the retail sector.

2. Building on this understanding, developed the MRDP, a novel platform that harnesses state-of-the-art (digital) technologies to help stakeholders co-create strategies for reducing energy consumption. It includes aspects of virtual and augmented reality, real-time data representation and gaming technology.

3. Developed a database of energy consumption figures by using dynamic thermal simulation to predict energy consumption for a wide range of store operating scenarios.

4. Through the MRDP begun to explore the interventions that could assist in achieving energy reduction in ways that don't detrimentally impact upon other performance concerns.

5. By testing the feasibility of MRDP within a real-world context we are identifying improved opportunities for stakeholders to co-design future retail spaces that satisfy multiple performance criteria. This may have application to other non-retail contexts.
Exploitation Route This feasibility study has contextualised the challenges of energy demand reduction in the retail sector where significant energy consumption rates are observed. The outcomes that have arisen from this feasibility study could also be applied to any other (domestic or non-domestic) environments to allow for the collective exploration of design scenarios. The MRDP enables the physical and virtual interaction of stakeholders with these scenarios, thus assisting design experts but also non-experts to have a clear understanding of how the final design will look and perform.
Sectors Construction,Environment,Retail

Description Our principal research partner is Tesco Plc, the UK's largest retailer with revenue of over £55 billion. Tesco have the ambitious commitment to become a zero-carbon company by 2050. This transition will require multiple interventions to the ways in which Tesco design and operate their store portfolio, the behaviour of employees and to managing this in ways that enhance the customer experience. The MRDP is assisting Tesco in bringing together multiple stakeholders to co-create designs and interventions that will shape this outcome (at a feasibility study level). If scaled up, it should also help in enhancing the awareness of the carbon reduction agenda moving forward.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Construction,Environment,Retail
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic

Description Dissemination of the newly developed Active Building Code
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Citation in systematic reviews
Impact In the context of the Active Building Centre Research Programme, a novel Active Building Code (ABCode) was developed, with the aim of providing the stakeholders of the building sector with a commonly agreed definition and performance evaluation framework for Active Buildings, and ultimately accelerating the transition to the decarbonisation of (existing and new) buildings. The definition of such a performance evaluation framework was informed by the monitored performance data of existing commercial buildings including retails spaces, with the outcomes of this project having therefore contributed to this initiative. The development of the ABCode was described in the white paper produced at the University of Bath and published on behalf of the Active Building Centre Research Programme. This was disseminated among the academic consortium and cited in their systematic reviews. It was also disseminated among built environment experts (e.g. architects, engineers, sustainability consultants), shaping a new way of thinking around the interaction of the built environment with the country's energy infrastructure and the strategies for achieving the decarbonisation of both.
URL https://abc-rp.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Active-Building-Centre-Research-Programme-White-Paper-...
Title Multiple perspective views supported virtual retail space generation method with mixed reality physical models and stamp 
Description We created a novel MRDP based collaborative design approach for retail space. With this new technique each stakeholder could generate, move and interact with retail assets into virtual reality through the physical interaction between corresponding physical asset models and stamp widgets. And different from previous research and existing tabletop tangible interface the new development of the MRDP provides each user with individual following up perspective view window on the tangible tabletop projection. By this means the collaborative design could be carried in independent threads from different angles. New widgets could also allow users to draw paths on the top view perspective view. A Universal Robotic arm is also prepared for remote access to the tangible table interactions. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact With the new update of MRDP it allows us to explore how it could be used for design social distancing and spatial solutions for the laboratory and teaching facilities in our university for mitigating the Covid-19 effect. Facilities and operation managers could use this technology to plan one way system and new layout of the labs and invite stakeholders to experience and evaluate the proposed solution. Different from data simulation of the covid-19 spreading scenarios this technique could include end-users experience into the evaluation which could provide a balance between proposed solution and user experiences. The new developed features of the MRDP also underpins the stakeholders engaged planning for disaster risk reduction (DRR) at urban scale. Urban block models and sandbox could be introduced as interactive widgets to allow stakeholders to co-creating and experience multiple resilient urban environment to evaluate the DRR decisions. 
Description Partnership with Tesco Plc 
Organisation Tesco Plc
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Tesco has a vision to become a zero-carbon retailer by 2050. We are working with them to develop potential interventions to minimise their energy consumption and hence, their carbon footprint. Building on our expertise in building performance analysis from both social and technical perspectives, we have identified a set of potential technical and behavioural interventions that could assist Tesco in accomplishing their vision. We subsequently developed a Mixed Reality Development Platform (MRDP), a novel tool for discussing and testing these plausible interventions between Tesco stakeholders, along with their impact on building energy consumption based on dynamic thermal simulation models. By harnessing the power of the-state-of-the-art technological developments (mixed reality and gamification), MRDP enables the engagement of different stakeholders in the co-design of energy efficient retail spaces while considering the optimisation of the shopping experience.
Collaborator Contribution Our engagement with Tesco's different teams (Design, Energy, Engineering etc.) throughout this project assisted us in achieving a holistic understanding of the objectives and priorities of the company as well as insights into their in-store practices. Through a review of reports and policy rules, and detailed energy consumption data and building information models, we have revealed areas of improvement with respect to Tesco's energy efficiency practice. Workshops with employees were vital for crystallising the socio-technical context of our feasibility study. Our partnership with Tesco has also enabled us to test the feasibility of MRDP within a real-world context, using one of their stores as a case study building. After getting access to the real-life data of the store (drawings, 3D models, monitored data etc.), we were able to populate MRDP with customised intervention strategies and associated energy predictions. These can later be tested in order to validate the potential of MRDP to co-create energy efficient retail spaces, and ultimately to induce engagement and behaviour change around energy efficiency in the built environment.
Impact A range of outcomes arose from this partnership, which are listed in the following sections: - Engagement Activities - Software & Technical Products - Awards & Recognition
Start Year 2017
Title Inside the Box 
Description We have developed two independent approaches to realising reductions in energy use. The first, building on a "learning through play" rationale, comprises a novel digital cooperative role-playing game which aims to improve the attitude of staff towards energy-conscious behaviour. To win the game, players must work together effectively to complete energy-saving actions and other operational tasks whilst completing shopping tasks in a virtual retail space. 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact The tasks in the game have been mapped to the responsibilities of each stakeholder in real life. In this way, by playing the game, each stakeholder can have an explicit understanding of their responsibilities, but also of their in-store interactions with other stakeholders. Given that training is critical to guaranteeing the satisfactory performance of staff, the game can be used as a training tool to raise energy awareness among employees through an engaging and playful experience. Even though the game is currently designed to be played online, our future aspiration is to connect it with additional components we have been developing (such as the tangible table that is also listed in "Software & Technical Products") to bring MRDP to its final development stage. 
Title Tangible Table 
Description The tangible table is an indispensable component of MRDP, which provides stakeholders with a novel user interface to interact with when exploring design interventions and behaviours in store. This tangible interface enables the interactive exploration of plausible scenarios thanks to the built-in camera that detects the location and orientation of physical artifacts tagged with tracking markers. By placing an artifact on the table (where the floor plan of the store is digitally projected), stakeholders get real-time feedback on the performance of this particular scenario, hence being able to directly link their action to its real-world consequence. 
Type Of Technology Physical Model/Kit 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact After interacting with the tangible table, Tesco employees provided us with valuable feedback on its usability, thus informing its later stages of development and also securing its real-world applicability. By harnessing the power of digital representation and the sense of proximity that arises from the physical interaction with it, the tangible table can be used as an innovative method for visualising energy use and co-creating energy efficient stores. 
Description ASHRAE event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Practitioners, academics, researchers and (undergraduate and postgraduate) students attended this event on Sustainable and Low Energy Building Design organised by ASHRAE. Our team presented the concept and implementation of MRDP, winning the Industry Award (presented by EkkoSense).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Workshop with Tesco employees (Loughborough University) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact This workshop was the first out of a series of workshops organised by our team with the aim of setting the socio-technical context of our study. The event was a valuable opportunity for us to gain a better understanding of Tesco's energy agenda and of the key lessons learned from relevant previous interventions. Tesco employees also interacted with MRDP (at its early development stage) and provided us with feedback on its features, which informed its later stages of development. It helped us to finesse the visualisation of quantitative parameters (such as energy consumption) and qualitative ones (such as behaviour) at the same time to fit the needs of different stakeholders.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Workshop with Tesco employees (Tesco store) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact This workshop with Tesco employees (general assistants; customer service assistants; hot and cold food counters' assistants; store senior managers; food and non-food managers; and check-out managers) assisted us in gaining a better understanding of the day-to-day store operation and the responsibilities of a wide range of employees and their awareness of the role they play in positively or negatively affecting energy consumption of Tesco stores. Whilst some of the largest energy consumption segments (e.g. temperature, lighting) are controlled remotely, there is a need to enhance the awareness of the 'smaller' daily actions onto the amount of energy used. The workshop demonstrated an important link between the everyday actions (such as stocking shelves or leaving the warehouse doors open) and energy consumption. In addition to that, it assisted us in comprehending the status quo with regards to staff training in energy efficiency practice. Organisational culture and organisational policies and commitments that target energy consumption does not always translate into the commitments of the employees as there is a lack of personal motivation. It is thus critical to find a way to make the employees more aware of the role they play. This has informed the design of the gaming elements of the MRDP.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Workshop with Tesco employees (Tesco's head office) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact This workshop with Tesco employees at Tesco's head office in London further improved our understanding of stakeholder engagement in energy demand reduction. It allowed us to gain an insight into trade-offs between energy strategy and the business case, enhancing out the understanding of how the shops (from the energy point of view) are run. It also informed the development of MRDP, securing its real-world potential to engage different stakeholders in co-creating energy efficient retail spaces.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Workshops with practitioners (London & Manchester) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Our interaction with multiple design practitioners (CGL Architects, AHR Architects, HOK, FCB studios, AHMM Architects, Elementa and Arup) both in London and Manchester ensured the real-world applicability of MRDP as a socio-technical system of co-creating energy efficient retail spaces. The benefits of this interaction were twofold; firstly, it uncovered the rationale behind the design of real-world stores and deeper insights into the behaviour of different stakeholders within these complex, multi-stakeholder environments; and secondly, it revealed the opportunities and limitations of the potential of current technologies through the eyes of design practitioners, informing the development of MRDP to cover the technological needs of design practice.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018