Using virtual reality to improve station design
Designed by a team led by WSP and architects WilkinsonEyre, Old Oak Common will be a super-hub of connectivity. The interchange will enable passengers to connect between the Elizabeth Line (Crossrail) into central London and Heathrow Airport, and HS2 and mainline rail services to the Midlands, Scotland and the North. It could also change the way stations are designed forever.
Traditionally, it has been difficult for designers to predict how people will feel and react inside busy, complicated spaces like stations – how they will behave and how the design influences that behaviour. All too often the result of this has been awkward station designs and confusing signage. Now, thanks to HS2’s focus on innovation, the design team has been able to trial a new way of assessing passengers’ experiences of a station design that provides hard data and leaves no space for doubt.
Virtual reality – and more
Working with virtual reality and augmented reality specialist Mima, we used design files and CAD drawings to create a realistic immersive environment that replicates the station design. Dozens of members of the public and designers were then invited to navigate through areas of this digital twin wearing special headsets and surrounded by 5,000 other, virtual, people.
As people moved through the virtual station and its crowds, technology from Swedish company Tobii allowed the project team to study exactly what they were looking at and what distracted them. In addition, technology from Emteq enabled the team to measure people’s emotions through sensors built into the headsets.
This emotion data supports the post-test interviews with users, because although people might recognise and report obvious emotions – such as panic or irritation – sometimes their stress levels are much higher than they realise. Comparing sensor data to the users’ location and information about what they were looking at is incredibly valuable for designers, who can adjust elements such as wayfinding to help people find their way more easily.