Development and implementation of emergent digital technologies in the design of the built environment.

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Department Name: Sch of Natural and Built Environment


This project will explore the use of rapidly emerging and converging digital technologies, such as virtual, augmented and mixed reality (VR, AR, MR), structured light scanning and airborne drones, in the design of the built environment.
The commercial release of VR headsets has brought this technology mainstream, however application in a useful manner to designers has not been matured. The implementation of Building Information Modelling (BIM) has enhanced the construction industry through tightly managed design, construction and whole life management. As a result of BIM most construction projects now have an accurate 3D digital design and construction model. These will be suitable for use within a digital environment, and used as a tool for improving efficiency and whole life asset management. The mandatory government requirement for BIM has resulted in it becoming a core discipline within the university. These are key components in progressing towards sustainable future cities; a priority area for the university in tackling global challenges.
The project will develop human-model interaction through appropriate software. The team will develop interaction methods, enabling manipulation of the model within a VR environment, through programming of functions to handheld controllers. Creation and modification of structural models will be conducted collaboratively with traditional human input devices, whilst a user is present in the VR environment. Critical evaluation of design whilst in this environment will be conducted to gather data on the design process to identify time and cost savings relative to conventional design process. Distance collaboration will be investigated whereby the design team will be able to conduct meetings within a VR environment; the designers avatar will be visible to the other users within the environment. This would enhance the design experience where teams are spread across different geographical locations.
A further objective is the automatic creation of 3D environments from scanned data (lidar and structured light). Conversion of point cloud data to a 3D model for use by designers is currently limited; automatic meshing of point clouds produces inaccurate models. Many engineering objects are composed of simplistic shapes and surfaces, which should result in them being easily identified and modelled. The project will enable edges, surfaces and voids to be automatically identified and converted into accurate geometric models. This would be particularly useful for adaption and maintenance of existing structures. Advantages in lightweight scanning offer the potential for these technologies to be mounted on aerial drones. This will allow rapid inexpensive scanning of the built environment, particularly in inaccessible areas (structures at heights, underside of bridges), and the data then imported and converted into a 3D model. Material properties and boundary conditions can then be applied to enable rapid and accurate structural behaviour to be determined.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/N509541/1 01/10/2016 30/09/2021
1924291 Studentship EP/N509541/1 01/09/2017 28/02/2021 Aimee McCabe