Research Profile at The University of Newcastle.

My main research interests are in the fields of virtual reality and human-computer interaction. My research is interdisciplinary and involves exploring the application of advanced interactive technologies to real-world problems. My current research interests include touch-based technologies (e.g. multi-touch tables and haptic interaction) and the reuse of gaming technology (e.g. for interaction, visualization and hazardous environment simulation). Current application areas include training simulations, eHealth and technology enhanced learning.

At UON, I co-foundered the i3 Lab and DICE (Digital Identity, Curation and Education) network. I am also co-leader of the Global e-Health Research and Innovation Cluster. I supervise PhD students in Computer Science and would be interested in taking on postgraduate students with research interests in virtual environments, mobile technology and human-computer interaction.

Below are summaries of a selection of research projects I have been significantly involved in:

[2014/2015] Serious Games and Apps for M-learning

Serious Game image
[CI with Dr. Erica Southgate and others (Education, UON] Smartphone apps can increase accessibility to learning resource and provide opportunities to present learning material and knowledge in innovative ways. This project is exploring apps and serious games to improve literacy in undergraduate students. We are developing mobile learning (m-learning) tools, with a focus on their ability to assist students to develop their own literacy skills, both independently and in student learning support and teaching contexts. This work is a DICE: Digital Identity, Curation and Education project.

[2013/2014] Exploring Building Information Modeling (BIM) to game engine conversion

Unity3D BIM
[CI with Prof. Graham Brewer and others (Architecture, Newcastle] Building information modeling (BIM) is a process involving the generation and management of digital representations of physical and functional characteristics of a building. However, building bespoke interactive virtual environments for use with BIM is time consuming. This project is exploring the use of graphics engines from game technology, in specifically Unity3D, to provide robust and usable virtual environments with high levels of visual realism.

[2008-2012] SynergyNet: Supporting collaborative learning in an immersive environment

multi-touch classroom
[CI with Prof. Liz Burd (Newcastle) and others (Durham)] This project developed a new learning space called "SynergyNet". This learning space was technology rich, where ICT was seamlessly integrated into the fabric of a classroom. The SynergyNet immersive classroom consists of the multi-touch desks and communication software to allow transitions between large screen displays and desks. Multi-touch desks are similar to PDAs or tabletPCs in that they alleviate the need for a mouse or keyboard by allowing the user to interact with a finger or stylus. The project explored the development, use and evaluation of multi-touch technology. Funded by a £1.4m grant from the TLRP and EPSRC. Project page is here.

[2011] Tackling age-related decline in perception of emotion cues

virtual emotion
[CI with Dr. Rachel Mitchell (Psychology, Durham) and others] This project looked at the reuse of gaming technology, and specifically virtual humans, to develop training software, as an iPad app, targeted at improving social communication skills in older adults at risk from social isolation, loneliness and declining social participation.
Student: Aidan Chalk.

[2009-2010] Game technology approaches for improving working memory

brain training
[PI with Dr. Markus Hausmann (Psychology, Durham)] This project will compare approaches to using game technology to train working memory and measure fluid intelligence. Fluid intelligence, which allows people to adapt their thinking to a new cognitive problems or situations, is critical for a wide variety of cognitive tasks and is considered one of the most important factors in learning. We will provide proof-of-concept empirical data comparing a number of game technology-based approaches. Funded by the Wolfson Research Institute.
Student: David Smithson.

[2008] Integrating haptic interaction into 3D virtual environments

haptic bar skittles
[PI] This project investigated the integration of haptic, or touch-based, interaction into virtual environment applications. We explored the feasibility of using a haptic-based device, which supports force feedback, to augment sensory experiences in an existing virtual environment toolkit. A haptic-based version of a "bar skittles" style game was be constructed and evaluated to demonstrate the integration of haptics and realistic physics in a 3D virtual environment. Funded by the Nuffield Foundation.
Student: Peter Scopes.

[2007] Rapid prototyping of virtual environments using computer game development tools

virtual fire evacuation
[PI] This project investigated the reuse of computer game development tools to rapidly prototype virtual environments (VE). We explored how reusing game development technology can simplify the 3D modelling of virtual buildings and the generation of effects that are difficult to program, such as fire and smoke. A training-based VE was constructed and evaluated to test fire evacuation procedures of a simulated real world building. Funded by the Nuffield Foundation.
Student: David Trenholme. Project page is here.

[2006] Usability evaluation of Virtual Veins - a haptic-based clinical skills training system

virtual veins evaluation
[PI] This project aimed to investigate usability evaluation of an example haptic-based medical training system called Virtual Veins, developed by UK Haptics Ltd. An evaluation was performed with 3rd year medical students at King's College London using cooperative evaluation, a modified think aloud verbal protocol to evaluate Virtual Veins in a target deployment environment. Funded by an Initiating Business Collaboration Grant (Durham University) and UK Haptics Ltd

[2001-2004] DIRC: Interdisciplinary research collaboration in dependability

Argument tree reuse
[PostDoc. Research Associate (University of York)] This project aimed to address the dependability of computer-based systems. DIRC involved researchers with interests in dependable socio-technical systems from the Universities of Newcastle, York, Lancaster and Edinburgh and City University London. My work on this project focused on the identification of argument reuse in hazard analysis and safety cases for safety critical systems. Specifically, I looked at verbatim reuse and how this can be identified and visualised, as argument tree similarity, as this type of reuse can be problematic for safety critical system certification. Funded by the EPSRC. Project page is here.

[1998-2000] INQUISITIVE: Increasing quality of user interfaces for strategic interaction tasks in virtual environments

example flownet
[PostDoc. Research Associate, University of York] This project investigated how to design and implement better user interfaces for virtual reality (VR) systems. The techniques and tools developed in this project aimed to help VR application designers construct solutions that are appropriate to users' tasks and requirements, irrespective of whether they use high-end immersive technology or PC-based VR systems. During this project I developed a graphical notation, called Flownets, to explicitly represent discrete and continuous interaction components. Flownets can be used to produce unambiguous interaction specifications supporting the identification and refine of discrete state/mode changes and continuous feedback elements. Funded by the EPSRC.