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New £3.9m virtual reality lab announced at Aston

Z Space

12 January 2015

A virtual reality ‘CAVE’ that will allow students to navigate, examine and interact with fully realised 3D digitised environments is to be built at Aston University.  

The £3.9m 3D-Lab project will provide students with an immersive full-scale experience for studying topics as varied as the physical world, the body, turbulence, prototype design, complex mathematical constructions, data visualisation and programming in computer science. 

The 3D environments will be created in a darkened ‘blank canvas’ Cave Automatic Virtual Environment (CAVE) room in which the bare walls act as a screen for the 3D projection. Students will be able to manipulate 3D images in hands-on learning experiences, including computer-generated animal and human dissection and analysing products in detail for design flaws. 

A separate 150 seat ‘Z-space’ lab will also be built, complete with virtual holographic displays on each student’s desktop capable of projecting 3D images and objects. In lectures and project work, students will be able to individually manipulate the virtual images as if they were floating in front of them. Students’ 3D project work can be transferred to the nearby CAVE space to be shared and explored in full size. 

The state of the art facilities will further equip Aston students with the skills that industry and graduate employers increasingly require. Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), the single largest employer of Aston graduates, has its own version of CAVE installed and the use of virtual reality for product development is now widespread in the automotive industry. 

Indeed, at the JLR CAVE installation in Birmingham, the Range Rover Evoque was developed from concept through to production entirely in the virtual reality room. 

Professor Helen Griffiths, who is leading the 3D-Lab initiative, said: “We are very excited about the possibilities and potential of our new CAVE virtual reality room, which is just the second to be built at a UK university. Not only will the technology enhance our students’ critical thinking it will improve their competency and experience in the uses and applications of advanced 3D visualisation. 

“Recently introduced problem-based approaches to learning have led to a 12% improvement in student satisfaction in STEMM subjects and we hope to see a similarly positive response to CAVE. It will also prove particularly beneficial to improving diversity on our courses by providing new ways of teaching in an exploratory 3D environment. In our new Biomedical Engineering course we are using innovative teaching methods to enhance learning and we have enrolled 40% women onto this newly launched course to date.” 

The 3D-Lab, which will be mostly used by Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine (STEMM) students, will open in 2017. The facilities will help accommodate the planned increase of STEMM students at Aston over the next ten years. Since 2011, student numbers in STEMM subjects have increased by 41%.” 

The project is part-funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England. 

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For further media information, please contact Jonathan Garbett, Aston University Communications on 0121 204 4552 or j.garbett@aston.ac.uk.