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#HS2 passengers use VR to test HS2’s new station design

Technology
16 June 2021

Virtual reality, eye-tracking and emotion-sensing technology is being developed to ensure HS2’s Old Oak Common station is easily navigable by passengers when it opens.

As part of its innovation programme, HS2 Ltd is working with CCD Design & Ergonomics and station designer WSP to develop efficient and stress-free “wayfinding” for the quarter of a million people who will use the new 14-platform super-hub in north west London each day.

Wearing VR headsets fitted with eye-tracking and emotion-sensing technology, three sample groups drawn from members of the travelling public will enter a virtual version of the giant new station.

Once in the VR, these passengers will be asked to navigate their way around Old Oak Common to reach meeting points, platforms and to change between HS2 and Crossrail services using the signage included in the current design.

In addition, the team will dedicate a further session to passengers whose mobility is impaired to explore what further assistance they might need to navigate the station.

Eye-tracking technology fitted to VR headsets will monitor in detail how the eye is drawn around the station’s interior, and whether there are any distractions that might contradict or confuse, all of which could hamper easy and stress-free movement.

This will be paired with emotion sensing software that observes the wearer’s facial expressions and monitors heart rate changes caused by the visual stimulus of experiencing the station in virtual reality.

The data collected by CCD will enable HS2 Ltd and station designers to assess and, if necessary, refine designs to help Old Oak Common passengers move smoothly and efficiently around the 100,000sq m station.

The technology may be used to design other HS2 stations, and could be deployed on other buildings that have to manage large numbers of people efficiently, including sports venues and concert halls.

HS2 innovation manager Heather Donald said: “The HS2 super-hub at Old Oak Common is the largest single-build station to be built in the UK. Up to quarter of a million passengers will use it to connect between HS2, Great Western and Elizabeth line trains each day, so it is vital that its design is fine-tuned to deliver a stress-free step change improvement in the passenger experience.

“Informative and clear signage is a prerequisite to ensuring that people using the station and changing between services can move with intuitive ease through [the station]. We’ve taken an innovative approach to use cutting edge technology to ensure we have it right years before the station opens.”

CCD Design & Ergonomics managing director David Watts said: “Wayfinding is an immersive, multi-sensory task. Up until now, we’ve not had the tools to fully test our designs with real people at the early stages of design. Developing this tool will give the project far greater scope to get the design right while it’s all still on the drawing board.

“We are also able to explore other ways in which immersive tech can help design from improving accessibility, testing ideas for how digital technologies can assist the experience, assessing the right location for commercial units or advertising or helping staff simulate how they will operate the station.”

Kevin White, technical director, Stations at WSP, said: “The process has brought immediate benefits to the wayfinding that will be fed back into the design, and it has become apparent how this technology can help in many ways throughout the design, construction and operational stages of the station.”