Students from the University of Bath who are working at amazing creative tech companies such as the BBC, Double Negative, Disney Research and the National Trust thanks to their involvement with the involved with the Centre for Digital Entertainment (CDE) have been showing off their creations in Bath this month.

“We wanted to show the way that two universities and 40 companies can come together and make a real difference to the digital entertainment industries in the UK”

 

This work, put on show at Bath’s Assembly rooms, includes student researchers who are creating fully immersive 3D environments in domes so people can experience chariot racing first hand, smart electronic wallpaper that lets you change the look and feel of your living room in an instant and recreating real-feeling 3D environments to allow every-day scenarios to be played out in to allow for the rehabilitation of people suffering from brain injuries.

We caught up with the organisers and some of the exhibitors to find out just how the CDE is helping Bath students to create cutting-edge digital technologies.

What does the CDE offer students?

The students are doing Engineering Doctorates (EngD) – funded by the ESPRC – with the CDE. The CDE has been funding students to do academic research in games, visual effects or animation companies since 2009.

willis_philWe spoke to Phil Willis, Director of the Centre for Digital Entertainment (pictured left) to find out more about what it offers students: “CDE aims to supply the next generation of technical leaders of the games, visual effects and computer animation industries.

“The creative entertainment industries are very large contributors to the UK economy,” explains Phil. “Bigger than the City of London and one of the biggest in the world, they rely on innovative people to grow. Especially in the digital sector, the supply of people who are both bright and industry-ready is limited. CDE addresses that with Research Engineers, students researching for a doctorate but spending three years embedded in a company doing practical research needed by the company.

“CDE has taken students for 6 years and we now have 50 embedded in companies”

 

cde_logo“In addition we support them with a generous package of professional training, pay their university fees and a generous stipend. By bringing together Bournemouth University’s highly-respected Media School, the Department of Computer Science at the University of Bath and 40 companies, we are able to offer a huge range of opportunities.”

The event was organised to show off what the students were doing. As Phil tells us: “CDE has taken students for 6 years and we now have 50 embedded in companies. We thought it was time we made public the truly excellent work these students are doing. We also wanted to show the way that two universities and 40 companies can come together and make a real difference to the digital entertainment industries in the UK.”

Without further ado, let’s look at the projects some of the students have been working on:

Bath CDE projects

zack-lyons-bus-simulationZack Lyons – Virtual therapy
Research: Virtual Therapy: An interactive environment for the assessment and rehabilitation of executive functions.
Working with: Brain Injury Rehabilitation Trust and Designability

zack-lyonsZack Lyons (pictured right) is a second year Engineering Doctorate student with the CDE at the University of Bath whose research is around creating a simulation to help brain injury patients re-learn social skills. He tells us: “I’m working with Designability and the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Trust to see how novel virtual reality technologies can be used to help people with severe brain injuries.

“We are looking at introducing virtual environments to help service users retrain social skills, by allowing them to practice complex interactions in a safe yet realistic environment. Ideally we would like to introduce such systems into clinics to improve the accuracy and efficacy of social skill rehabilitation.”

“What really struck me was there were people coming up to me whose lives had been affected by brain injury through friends and family. That alone was a very touching experience”

 

This works by using virtual reality technologies to simulate these scenarios by getting clients to feel as if they were in a real situation, interacting with virtual characters. The demo model Zack used immersed you in a 3D world, with the possibility to have a real-time conversation with a bus driver.

There were also additional extras which could be added into the scene (such as a restaurant tables and chairs, a bench and so on) to recreate scenarios as close as possible to what the subject remembers or that matches the surroundings of a traumatic event.

zack-lyons-cde-bath-uni

 Virtual Therapy: Zack Lyon’s demo lets you practice real-life,
and possibly traumatic, scenarios in a safe virtual world

So was the CDE event a rewarding experience for Zack? “Absolutely. It was the first time I’ve had the opportunity to present and demonstrate this work to such an audience, and I received a lot of insight and feedback that you just don’t get in an everyday environment. What really struck me was that so many can relate to the project; there were people coming up to me whose lives had been affected by brain injury through friends and family. That alone was a very touching experience.

“Everyone brought their experiences together, and the result was a fun and engaging environment”

 

“Also, one of the defining points about the CDE is that we all go out to our individual companies and work on our own projects, but that leaves us spread pretty far apart. The best thing about the event was that it got us all under one roof and let us exchange thoughts with the great variety of visitors present. For a few days it felt like this hub of ideas as everyone brought their experiences together, and the result was a fun and engaging environment that you really only get at an event like that. Plus the food was really good…”

So would Zack recommend doing a CDE degree to others? “If you have an interest in research and development, I’d wholeheartedly recommend doing an EngD,” Zack tells us. “My background is in aerospace, I started the EngD looking at game development, and now I’m working in rehabilitation. My time with the CDE has allowed me to discover what it is that I’m passionate about and allowed me to pursue it.”

 

interactive-wallpaper-charlotte-hoareCharlotte Hoare – Future interactive living rooms
Research: creating interactive wallpaper
Working with: BBC Research and Development

Working with the BBC, Charlotte Hoare is working on interactive wallpaper which allows you to change the look and feel of your living spaces in an instant. You can match your surroundings to your mood or to the television programmes you are watching. And although this may sound like science fiction, the increasing sophistication in low power, flexible displays already available means it is likely this technology isn’t that far away.

Charlotte pictures two modes, one an ambient background mode that fits in with your interior design, the second an active mode where you can engage and interact with the wallpaper content.

“Interactive wallpaper could let you play hide and seek with your favourite CBeebies characters”

 

Charlotte-HoareThe ambient mode could provide displays of photo albums, a clock, or the latest news and weather. The active mode could do pretty much anything, but Charlotte (pictured right) suggests a few examples: “It could display a recipe as you are cooking, you could play hide and seek with your favourite CBeebies characters, or your room might even transform into the Serengeti plains to augment natural history shows.”

 

national-trust-john-tredinnickJohn Tredinnick – Full dome virtual experiences in cultural heritage
Research: An immersive projection space for cultural heritage interpretation
Working with: National Trust

John Tredinnick, now a Bath CDE student, was originally a trained architect with a keen interest in computer modelling and VR, and also an interest in working with historic buildings and sites. He is looking into immersive 3D virtual realities contained within a dome allowing people to safely engage with historical re-enactments or experience photo-realistic experiences of times gone by. At the CDE event, John let people try out chariot racing!

“The dome tech is quite accessible in terms of cost and logistics”

 

John-TredinnickWe caught up with John (pictured right) to ask how long he thought it would be before we see the dome technology being used? “The dome tech is quite accessible in terms of cost and logistics and is used by several companies around the world to deliver planetarium exhibits and bespoke 360° films. However the complexity resides in generating the content for them. So in terms of visiting a dome becoming the norm at National Trust, English heritage or other sites, it’s more a question of them choosing to invest rather than when.”

He is now working with the National Trust to look at the potential in VR for the reconstruction and visitor interpretation of their heritage assets, mainly the built and natural environments, rather than collections.

John-Tredinnick-CDE

 Immersive experience: Over 80 visitors made it into John’s
inflatable dome to experience some totally immersive chariot racing 

So was the CDE event a rewarding experience for John? “The CDE conference is a great opportunity for testing our research in a semi-public domain and receiving the critical feedback we need. Over the two days I had some 80 visitors in the dome and more than enough positive feedback to help develop out the current flaws.

“Furthermore, the idea of bringing everyone together really helps put your own work in perspective and generate new ideas and processes for your own research”

“The skills and expertise that you gain with CDE really help to give you an edge”

 

So would he recommend the CDE course to others? “I would and I have, I think the benefits especially for someone like myself who isn’t going to remain an academic are great. Whether you are offered a job by your industrial partner or not, the skills and expertise that you gain really help to give you an edge.”

If taking part in the CDE is something you fancy doing you can see more about how to apply at the CDE website. You can keep up to date with what is going on with its latest projects on the CDE news page and on Twitter @centre_digi_ent 

The CDE will also be exhibiting at innovation and investment showcase Venturefest Bristol and Bath 2015. So register now so you don’t miss out!

Image credits: Nic Delves-Broughton, University of Bath.

Jamie Middleton