Case Studies


Dr Alvise Simondetti, Global Leader of Virtual Design

The EngD VEIV programme helps to enhance the design benefits of Arup Foresight by supporting a doctoral student in evaluating design tools for complex engineering challenges. Our office seeks to advance Arup’s performance by driving radical innovations in major infrastructural projects. The success of our innovations depends on their adoption or acceptance among the public, so capturing support is, in this regard, a key driver for success.

Arup Foresight’s EngD student has dedicated his efforts to deploying a social-media public engagement platform, upon which Arup’s 3D assets are provided as enriched models of structural innovations. This web-enabled platform allows Foresight to engage a massive and diverse population of participants, which represents a qualitative shift in the scope and validity of our design consultations.

A key advantage for Arup of sponsoring an EngD VEIV student is the inclusion in our team of a researcher who is dedicated to evaluating virtual design tools. Our success as engineers depends in part on the effectiveness of our tools. With so many available to us, it is essential that we make clear, informed judgements about their appropriateness to the task at hand. Testing new tools involved prototyping, which is a valuable task for an EngD student to undertake. In this way, our EngD student helps Foresight to think in new ways, and to imagine solutions to the problems of the next generation.


Intel Collaborative Research Institute for Sustainable Connected Cities

Dr Duncan Wilson, Director

Investing in Research Engineers

The Intel Collaborative Research Institute for Sustainable Connected Cities thrives on the coloration between world-class researchers in academic and those at the cutting edge of developing computing technology to connect and enrich the lives of every person on Earth, The partnership between Intel, UCL and Imperial is founded on the principle that bringing together a diverse cohort of researchers will lead to novel ways of thinking about how we can enhance the social, economic and environmental well-being of our cities,. At the heart of that research are the PhD’s and EngD’s who are developing insights into problems that are the foundation for the projects we deliver.

In our experience the Engineering Doctorate attracts researchers who enjoy the parallel worlds of developing thought leadership while also wanting to develop and deploy their ideas at scale and in a commercial context. From the Intel perspective this technology focus aligns directly with our strategic collaboration with the academic community. The commercial training offered through the programme complements the exposure the EngD research engineers obtain through working closely with an industrial partner. The training is not just theoretically taught but also becomes practically tested through working on real industrial projects.

At UCL we have the benefit of having London as our living laboratory. We are making a significant investment to deploy a city platform to enable researchers and engineers to test their ideas for a sustainable connected city. Achieving this vision will entail investigating, developing and deploying adaptive technologies that cab optimise resource efficiency, and enable new series that support and enhance the quality of life of urban inhabitants and city visitors. There are many fundamental technical, social and urban challenges and opportunities that need to be addresses to accomplish this vision. The Institute embraces an interdisciplinary reserach approach, combining methodologies from computer science, the social sciences, interaction design and architecture to improve how cities are managed and maintained in order to ensure and enhance citizen well-being. It is the intersection of these disciplines, approaches and methods that are the bread and butter of the corporate reserach laboratory and as such the fertile ground for the industrial research of the EngD.

An Engineering Doctorate is different. It produces a different kind of researcher. Standing with one foot in the corporate lab, the other in academic, and communicating with supervisors who exist in both. The can be tough, since different environments have different pressures which often have to be managed by the person in the middle. But that is where the strength of training is most important. The product of such an environment is a researcher with academic rigour who can also appreciate the practical constraints of a commercial environment. It is quite timely that I am typing this notes while also trying to find the next member of our team in London, and guess what, there are a couple of candidates who have been through the EngD process.

PLP Architecture

Lars Hesselgren, Director of Research

The Next Generation Virtual Environment and Interaction Engineering

As somebody who has been involved in the digital industry on the architectural side from the 1980’s it gives me great pleasure to contribute to the discussion of what might happen in the future. Clearly a new generation of designers – both of systems and system users – need educating and allowed exploration into the only technology that offers a survival strategy for mankind.

Virtual environments have grown from one-off rendering shots with ray-tracing in the 80’s (I used one of the first commercially available systems then) to total environment immersion in today’s computer games. The focus has been to replicate reality, but increasingly the virtual world is acquiring its own ‘mores and morals’, some with unexpected consequences – the Arab spring comes to mind. Social media has brought its own successes and startling dangers.

The virtual environment mimicking the world is now expanding into simulating proper physics – from environmental control to structural analysis. Many animation tools and techniques exist to map this data to the ‘dumb’ 2D screen of your PC or tablet. New techniques and interaction media will need to be developed and shared to make better communication between man and machine.

Steve Jobs did the world a huge favour by moving the interaction paradigm from the mouse to the swipe. The new gestural interfaces are coming on, and clearly have a long way to go. Ever tighter integration to the personal sphere will come with systems such as Google glasses, predictive system responses, and direct mind reading.

However, it is worth reflecting that much of the success of the modern world is based not on direct interaction but by abstraction – particularly mathematics as a tool which also underlies all digital systems. Easier access into this abstract world and its manipulative tools underlies the resurgence of interest in parametric and generative systems.

Many other systems will adapt to the wide and cheap availability of computing power. We will move easily digitisable systems such as books, music, TV, movies to systems with intelligent behaviour. Cars are currently developing into new transport systems potentially allying the strengths of public systems into those hitherto regarded as private systems. One implication of this is regaining urban space back from the car to the humans; increasingly cities compete in human attractiveness as much as in location (location being irrelevant in a digital world).

Tall buildings are immensely successful, increasing numbers are being built. They are an essential tool in building dense and sustainable cities and megacities. The design tools available to the construction industry professions leverage the vastly greater computational resources available in the cloud and elsewhere. Traditional design approaches will examine a range of alternatives – typically in the hundreds. New technologies such as parametric and generative design tools allow orders of magnitude (millions rather than hundreds) larger solution sets to be both generated and assessed. Evaluations are also being automated (using tools such as generic algorithms) – the fitness criteria of any optimisation are crucial to the success of such an approach.

The role of education is vital in the area both of forming young minds and allowing research into the future. The EngD Centre in VEIV is such an institution and I await the future with bated breath.


An electric partnership advances animation

New joint industry and academic research increases number of on-screen characters without compromising visual quality.

Electronic Arts (EA), the world's leading interactive entertainment software company, and London's top graphics researchers, University College London (UCL) are working in collaboration to research futuristic visualisation techniques.

The close partnership investigates how industry and academia can work together to develop computer games. Ian Shaw, CTO at EA, and Anthony Steed, a senior lecturer in computer graphics at UCL, have joined forces to develop animation techniques that will dramatically improve the visual quality of computer games.

The partnership has also resulted in EA co-funding Simon Pilgrim, a student on UCL's Engineering Doctorate in Virtual Environments, Imaging and Visualisation (VEIV EngD) course, to work as a researcher in the company.

As computer games become increasingly realistic, many new and interesting development problems arise. Pilgrim is working within EA to research and apply a method known as 'progressive character skinning' to improve the quality of multi character animation in commercial computer games.

EA's partnership with UCL enables the company to benefit from academic advances and theoretical know-how. Having a researcher working on a game team helps developers leverage academic research that can work to improve game graphics in real time, and can advance certain areas of production. With a new generation of consoles launching, the production cycles of games could be drastically shortened to just one or two years.

The structure of UCL's engineering doctorate has proved extremely successful for EA, allowing Pilgrim to spend the majority of his time in the company researching and developing animation and visualisation techniques.

Pilgrim's research focuses on the quality of animations in games. He aims to increase the number of animated characters that can be seen on screen at any one time, without impacting the speed. This is vital as the computer games industry moves to deliver the scale and complexity of computer graphics and epic scenes that are seen in hit films such as Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia.

Pilgrim's 'progressive character skinning' technique prioritises the animation of characters in order to obtain the maximum number of characters on screen at once, whilst all moving separately with minimal error.

Ian Shaw CTO at EA comments: "EA has had a working relationship with UCL for the last six years and the university's academic research correlates with our development of computer games. As an organisation we wanted to form a closer relationship between the theoretical know-how and practical application for developing computer game animation.

"Our partnership with UCL is proving extremely beneficial and enabling us to find ways that academia and industry can work together to help keep us at the forefront of animation technology."

Anthony Steed, senior lecturer at UCL, believes applying academic expertise to digital media has many mutual benefits: "It's fantastic to see the direct impact UCL's work is having in a growing commercial market. Both EA and UCL continue to learn how academia and industry can produce market leading results together."

Businesses interested in getting involved in the VEIV EngD or students wishing to apply to the course should contact senior lecturer Anthony Steed: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.