VSimulators: Human factors simulation for motion and serviceability in the built environment

Vibration Engineering staff led by Professor James Brownjohn have been awarded a £3.25m grant by EPSRC to create a new simulator facility for study of interactions between humans and the moving built environment. The simulator will use a mechanical hexapod to drive a 4 metre square platform in all 6 axes with accelerations and displacements representing typical movements of a range of civil structures (floors, footbridges, grandstands) where comfort of human users and occupants is critical.

The simulator will be fully instrumented with an array of force plates, inertial and optical motion capture and head mounted virtual reality for nine occupants.

This grant is part of a large investment by EPSRC and both Universities of Exeter and Bath; a University of Bath team let by Anthony Darby have simultaneously been awarded a £1.65m grant for a complementary simulator for study of large amplitude building sway at low frequencies typical of tall and super-tall buildings.

Co-funding from Universities of Bath and Exeter for infrastructure, additional equipment and staffing beyond the three year initial EPSRC funding amounts to £2.42m, and the total project cost will be £7.25m.

VSimulators will provide cross-disciplinary capability to address deficiency of information on human factors, environment and structure motion on engagement with the built environment:

  • For slender sustainable structures, e.g. tall buildings, vibration serviceability is a critical design constraint poorly (if at all) addressed by design codes, hence a need for bespoke customised acceptance criteria.
  • Effects of low level vibrations coupled with sound/noise, light, pollution, smell, temperature, humidity, and other environmental factors which contribute to the mysterious sick building syndrome.
  • Mobility and rehabilitation in an aging population cost the National Health Service £bns per year. Rehabilitation of motion-impaired patients is a major problem.

The Exeter investigator team comprises:

James Brownjohn                   Principal Investigator, Structural Dynamics

Alex Pavic                               Co-Investigator, Vibration Serviceability

Paul Reynolds                         Co-investigator, Vibration Control

Vicki Goodwin                        Co-investigator, Healthcare, Rehabilitation

Mateusz Bocian                      Co-investigator, Virtual Reality

The Bath team comprises:

Antony Darby                         Principal Investigator, Structural Engineering

Sukumar Natarajan                Co-investigator, Environmental Design

David Coley                            Co-investigator, Building Occupant Behaviour

Ian Walker                              Co-investigator, Environmental Psychology

A facility manager is being recruited to work with research and commercial users to maximise facility use. Experimental officers will manage operations at the Exeter and Bath sites, James Bassitt at Exeter will supervise the Bath EO.

The international advisory team are:

Kenny Kwok                           University of Western Australia

Tracy Kijewski-Correa        University of Notre Dame

Yukio Tamura                        Tokyo Polytechnic University

Robert Brown                        Memorial University, Newfoundland

Industrial support for VSimulators is provided by AKT II, Arup, Atkins, Buro Happold, Emirates DNEC Engineering Consultants, Flint&Neill (now COWI), Foster and Partners, Swallow Acoustics Consultants (now part of Thornton Tomasetti), Waterman Structures and WSP|PB.

VSimulators is affiliated to UKCRIC and will be a national research facility available to RCUK-funded researchers for research projects as well as to private industry at commercial rates.

Links to publicity in national and local media can be found here.

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