Human Interface Technologies Team
The University of Birmingham’s Human Interface Technologies (HIT) Team has been pioneering the research and development into interactive media technologies in the UK since 2003, building on 30 years of experience in the domains of Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), Mixed Reality (MxR), Simulation and Telerobotics/Telepresence.
The Team’s award-winning research is helping to avoid the “technology push” failures evident in the Advanced Robotics and VR “eras” of the 1980s and 1990s, by developing and evaluating demonstrators that emphasise the importance of working closely with end users and stakeholders, exploiting Human Factors knowledge to specify issues such as fidelity (the need for realistic visuals, sounds, haptics, smell, etc.), learning content, human performance evaluation metrics and appropriate interactive technologies, from wearable devices to games controllers.
The Team adopts a multidisciplinary approach to interactive systems design and consists of researchers and students skilled in the areas of Human Factors, 3D design and modelling, real-time software, artificial intelligence and electronics.
In the healthcare sector, and although members of the Team have been involved in simulation, VR and robotics for healthcare since the early 1990s, more recent research has been directed to specific issues relating to surgery and post-trauma physical and psychological care, with parallel initiatives to “spin off” research results to the civilian sector.
Such research has included studies of VR technologies for training in trauma surgery, psychotherapeutic support for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the development of interactive technologies for the investigation of Virtual “Restorative Environments” – simulated scenes of nature – and their impact on patient wellbeing (including sleep quality and delirium reduction), especially in Intensive Care and the wellbeing of military and space personnel undergoing long-duration mission training in remote, inhospitable locations.
In collaboration with the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine, the HIT Team is developing a new Mixed Reality simulator to help train future military and air ambulance paramedics.
In the defence sector, the Team’s participation within the UK’s Human Factors Integration Defence Technology Centre (HFI DTC) and the Haldane-Spearman Consortium between 2003 and 2012 provided excellent opportunities to work closely with military personnel. Just some of the projects successfully delivered during this time include a desktop Minigun simulator, an Interactive Trauma Trainer for defence medics, EODSim – an urban planning tool for counter-IED activities and SubSafe, a submarine safety spatial awareness trainer. One of the Team’s publications, Human Factors Guidance for Designers of Interactive 3D and Games-Based Training Systems, has been distributed internationally, and contains a distillation of over a quarter of a century of Human Factors lessons learned from projects such as those described above.
In 2012, the Team was responsible for developing a unique high-fidelity remote driving and manipulation simulator for the British bomb disposal system CUTLASS, and for coordinating the delivery of 42 complete simulator units to squadrons in Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Gibraltar and mainland UK.
The Team also works closely with BAE Systems, investigating advanced Mixed Reality interfaces for future Command & Control and next-generation cockpit concepts.
One of the key application areas for VR and AR technologies is that of Virtual Heritage. In particular, the HIT Team’s interest centres on recreating sites and artefacts relating to industrial and maritime archaeology, as these fields are in keeping with the engineering focus of the School in which the Team resides and offer the opportunity to interact with real-world rural and sometimes remote communities (fostering strong public engagement and digital inclusion). The Team uses a variety of novel technologies to support its heritage site surveys, from small Unmanned Air Vehicles (“drones”) and mini submarines, to image processing software capable of converting images captured from aerial video into 3D, fully textured scenes. Just some of the projects conducted by the HIT Team include a VR recreation of the wrecksites of the Frigate Scylla and the US Liberty Ship James Eagan Layne, plus another based on the A7 submarine, lost in 1914 with all hands (the focus of an MoD-sponsored survey in 2014). Another innovative project in 2014/2015 delivered a real-time AR visualisation of the 17th Century ship Anne from a quadcopter whilst in flight over the site of her wreck near Hastings. The Team’s Virtual Plymouth Sound project aims to develop a range of interactive underwater 3D scenarios, initially of the area immediately around the Breakwater and, in 2015, included a reconstruction of the UK’s first underwater habitat, the GLAUCUS (1965). The Team is currently involved in both the Virtual Mayflower and the Mayflower Autonomous Ship projects, part of the Mayflower 400 initiative developing unique educational and innovative high-tech projects in time for the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower in 2020.