Inside the HIT Lab

When you hear the word ‘lab’ you probably think of white coats and Bunsen burners. Now add the words ‘Human Interface Technology’ in front of it - and I bet you don’t know what to think! Well neither did I when I boarded the train bound for Birmingham University to meet Prof. Stone and the team.

As I watched the students crossing the street to various campus buildings, I thought back to my time at Uni, and how disappointed I was not to graduate due to knee surgery. I would never have imagined that one day, in the future, I would be in a lift headed to the first floor of the School of Electronic, Electrical & Systems Engineering to create a virtual reality experience. It was a surreal moment! 

I was greeted by Bob whose cheery disposition and big smile instantly put me at ease. He took me up to his office which was like an organised Aladdin’s man-cave. A library of books, action figures, drones, model ships, reflective jackets, flags, all seemingly with their own purpose and meaning.   

We started discussing my project when Bob stood up to get a small jar containing a little block of paraffin in it. “Here… smell this” he said. It, in fact, smelled like cut grass. I wafted a few more jars under my nose whilst we discussed the use of smell (and sound) to heighten the VR experience.  It was in this moment I understood that Bob was a futurist, and like me, he was interested in pushing creative boundaries, exploring unchartered territory, and loved a challenge.

The rest of the day was spent in the HIT lab which looked like a cool loft apartment. Not a white coat in sight. The array of props, even bigger drones, mannequin heads and multiple large screens seemed to camouflage the team members work stations - which only became evident when they were sitting behind their desks.

Bob and the team demonstrated some of their finest achievements in VR, including a simulation of treating an injured soldier in the back of a Chinook helicopter! I was instantly hooked. However, the real magic (for me) happened behind a dividing shelving unit, at the end of the room.

It felt as if I had been let into a war room, to help crack a code, as if what I was seeing was something top-secret. It was like staring the future in the face and it was a rush. I watched Chris  Bibb put on a VR headset and pick up two controllers and stand in front of an elevated round table.

Three screens faced me giving me the view from Chris’s perspective. The table now was covered in a 3D landscape. At Chris’s eye-level were little models of trees and sheep. I watched Chris reach out and pick up a sheep and drop it into the landscape below him.

Chris was building VR content whilst in VR. Mind officially blown! It’s called immersive VR content creation. Your movement in the real world is mapped one-to-one in VR; you can reach out, grab, and manipulate objects just as you would in real life.

I can't wait to see how the team uses immersive VR content creation to build our first experience ‘BEYOND’.

Watch this space…