‘Virtual Dublin’ R&D project gets €2.5m SFI grant

14 Feb 2007

A team of researchers from Trinity College Dublin (TCD) has received €2.5m in funding from Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) for a project to create a ‘virtual Dublin’.

The ambitious project will involve developing a computer model of the capital to a scale and level of realism that hasn’t been seen before. Appropriately dubbed ‘Metropolis’, the simulated city will be as lifelike as possible, including street scenes, crowds and noise from that staple of Dublin life – traffic.

The project combines several disciplines including computer graphics, engineering and cognitive neuroscience research. The project team includes TCD researchers from the Department of Computer Science Professor Carol O’Sullivan and Dr Steven Collins, as well as Dr Fiona Newell from the TCD Institute of Neuroscience and Professor Henry Rice from the Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering.

Industry collaborators on the project include Sony Computer Entertainment Europe’s Team Soho, IBM, Creative, Havok, Demonware, OC3 Entertainment and the Environmental Protection Agency.

It’s thought that the project will be of practical benefit to urban planning projects such as traffic management or pedestrianisation. It could also be put to use in developing assistive technology for people with disabilities. It has obvious applications for the computer games sector, which is an emerging industry in Ireland that has already spawned several companies such as Havok and Demonware.

In addition, the project will make several technological advances, notably the development of a scalable simulation server that’s capable of streaming the virtual environment to consumer devices such as a game console or mobile phone. The research will also use IBM’s CELL Broadband Engine – the same processor that’s used in Sony’s PlayStation 3 console.

According to Dr Stephen Flinter of SFI, this is the largest grant the agency has made to date for a project involving computer graphics and simulation.

“The aim of the research is to simulate large crowds consisting of millions of people and to introduce a high level of variety in animation, appearance and sound,” said Professor Carol O’Sullivan.

The simulations will have an extra dimension as the researchers will be able to apply individual crowd members with appropriate sentient behaviours that are based on cognitive and sociological models, she added.

Some of the outcomes of the Metropolis project will be comprehensive studies into human perception of computer-generated motion, as well as what Professor O’Sullivan claimed would be “groundbreaking” research into the perception of virtual environments with multi-sensory input.

By Gordon Smith

Pictured – overview of Trinity College Dublin