Brownfield research institute boosts construction skills with immersive technology

The University of Wolverhampton’s National Brownfield Institute (NBI) based at its £120 million Springfield Campus in Wolverhampton has taken delivery of amazing technology which will offer researchers, students and businesses an immersive space for collaboration, simulation and visualisation. 

Picture by Shaun Fellows / Shine Pix Ltd

The Igloo Vision environment is a 9-metre-diameter cylinder, similar to a giant Virtual Reality headset, that can accommodate teams of people for a shared, immersive experience. The immersive visualisation suite is being used in education and research to review and assess land for remediation and regeneration. 

The £17.5 million NBI is a world-class institute that provides the facility to develop modern methods of building through innovation and partnership with the construction industry. 

Built on the University of Wolverhampton’s £120 million Springfield Campus, the NBI will focus on the practical application of future brownfield regeneration through the work of research teams, leading policy development and commercial services. 

Dr David Heesom, Reader in Building Information Modelling in the University’s School of Architecture and Built Environment, said: “Having the NBI as part of the Springfield Campus and connected to the School of Architecture and Built Environment is another example of how we are bringing industry closer to our student body to ensure they are continually engaged with the construction sector, gaining real world experience during their studies.  

“The cutting-edge facilities provide businesses with methods to test out new working practices and we are then able to mirror these, integrating them into our courses ensuring that our graduates are at the cutting edge ready to take up positions as the next generation of Built Environment professionals.” Dr David Heesom 

Paul Davies, Knowledge Transfer Manager in the University’s School of Architecture and Built Environment, said: The Igloo visualisation centre is a tremendous asset to the NBI and will be central to the support offered to business. 

“The NBI houses some of the latest facilities to support business engaged in brownfield regeneration. The physical laboratories provide the ability to undertake testing of soil samples, water and site conditions. NBI also houses some of the latest technologies in supporting brownfield land development ensuring that stakeholders make the right decisions by using a wide range of digital data. 

“The Igloo provides an immersive, collaborative space for visualising a range of data including site mapping data, geological information, concept designs, interactive VR walkthroughs and 3D laser scan data in one immersive workspace. This brings a new dimension to data visualisation and analysis. The ‘Remote Site Visit’ functionality of the Igloo also allows live 360° video streams from any site in the world to be beamed back to the igloo, allowing people in the facility to walk immersively through a brownfield site from the comfort of the NBI. 

Picture by Shaun Fellows / Shine Pix Ltd

“Businesses supported by the NBI will be able to showcase their products, designs and ideas on one of the largest shared immersive spaces in the UK. The Igloo’s state of the art gesture control, 360 degree wrap around screen and surround sound offers clients a unique experience to collaborate and be fully immersed in the content.” 

The space is powered by a high-spec Igloo Immersive Media Player and Igloo Elite software package. The installation also benefits from bright, sharp imagery provided by six 6000-lumen ultra-short-throw Epson projectors. It has video conferencing capabilities via Jabra PanaCast hardware, and is controlled from a main console on a lectern provided by TOP-TEC. 

The installation at the University represents several firsts for Igloo Vision’s immersive technology. The Igloo in the NBI is the first to have gesture-control enabled through Kinect motion sensors, allowing for intuitive interaction with the Igloo Home interface. It is also the first to use Igloo’s Remote Site Visit setup. This particular tool allows for 360° livestreaming into the cylinder, meaning that team members out in the field can provide a wraparound livestream to others inside the cylinder. 

Other functions include integrations with industry-standard tools such as Unity Reflect, Revit, Navisworks, Esri, plus tools for accessing platforms such as Matterport in full 360°. With inhouse Unity and Unreal content creation capabilities too, the University is well-placed to take full advantage of the Igloo’s features. 

Jessica Davey, Partner Relationship Manager at Igloo Vision, said: “We’ve worked with plenty of clients in the architecture, engineering and construction industry who are already using this kind of immersive technology to work smarter and faster. So, it’s brilliant to see the University of Wolverhampton applying this technology to the important work of brownfield regeneration. 

“The Igloo is integrated tightly into the NBI, with Igloo providing consultancy throughout the design and installation process to ensure it fits in with the new building and facilities. Indeed, the Unity game engine’s capability for visualisation was a key part of the process in helping teams to visualise the Igloo ahead of its installation.” 

Picture by Shaun Fellows / Shine Pix Ltd

Theo Penty, Head of Educational Business EMEA and North America, said; “It will mean that future graduates in the industry will be equipped with the skills they need to hit the ground running. Helping to get students ready for the world of work is a key element of the Igloo offering in education.” 

The NBI received £14.9million of funding from the Government’s Getting Building Fund for the West Midlands. City of Wolverhampton Council worked closely with the Black Country LEP and West Midlands Combined Authority to secure the funding with the remainder provided by the Government’s Towns Fund. 

The NBI will secure the City of Wolverhampton’s position as a leader internationally in sustainable construction, circular economy and brownfield development and will deliver new skills, jobs and opportunities for local people in the city, which has been hit hard by the pandemic. 

The 12-acre Springfield Campus is already home to the Thomas Telford University Technical College, Elite Centre for Manufacturing Skills and the recently opened £45million School of Architecture and Built Environment.   

These facilities, combined with the NBI, will lay the foundation for the delivery of a National Centre for Sustainable Construction and Circular Economy, which will focus on sustainability and the climate change emergency. 

Editor’s note: the article first appeared on the University of Wolverhampton’s website.