Engineers at Babcock have designed, manufactured and installed an innovative moveable floor for University College London’s (UCL) People Environment Activity Research Laboratory (PEARL) that will help academics to simulate real-world outdoor environments and create the urban areas of the future.
UCL plans to use PEARL, a 44,000-cubic-metre net-zero facility in Dagenham, East London, to simulate public settings such as railway stations and high streets in order to analyse human behaviour as they use and move around infrastructure. It partnered with Babcock to install a configurable, 600-square-metre floor made up of 441 individually actuated modules in the centre.
The floor can be raised, lowered and tilted in three dimensions using a tablet or laptop, creating a real-world environment in which not everything is perfectly flat. UCL researchers can configure the flooring for a simulation in as little as two or three minutes – compared to the two or three days it could have previously taken. The actuators have a precision of within 0.1 millimetres, providing fine control over the heights and angles of the surface placed on top.
‘We were delighted to collaborate with UCL to help create an easily configurable, multi-sensory environment that will help urban planners design public infrastructure that can work for everyone,’ said Richard Drake, managing director of Babcock Mission Systems. ‘PEARL was a fascinating project to be involved with and a great example of how Babcock uses its expertise in mechanical handling, control systems and automation to create bespoke solutions for its customers.’
Sitting on four adjustable feet, each 1.2-square-metre module weighs 840 kilograms and can be stacked two high for storage. Combined with specialist lighting, dynamic acoustic systems, environmental confounds and olfaction units, the flooring allows researchers to create a highly configurable, multi-sensory environment.
Researchers from a range of faculties, including neurosciences, engineering and the arts, will be able to carry out interaction studies from the micro- (brain activity) to the macro-scale (crowd behaviour).
The project forms part of a £50million investment by UCL’s Centre for Transport Studies.
‘The creation of PEARL has enabled us to build life-size environments and put real people in them to understand how they interact,’ said Professor Nick Tyler, Chadwick professor of civil engineering at UCL. ‘It was conceived so that we could see the environment as it is in real life, but to do this we had to realise the world isn’t flat, so we needed a moveable floor where we can easily adjust the gradient and surface while also having holes in it. We needed a company with the engineering expertise to tackle such a difficult problem of how you raise an artificial floor while still making it feel like solid ground. It was a fiendishly difficult task and Babcock was highly creative with its solution.’