Unique laboratory could make pavements more user-friendly

A laboratory specifically designed to make pedestrian environments safer and easier to use is up and running at University College London. This new experimental facility and its potential to enhance quality of life will be described at this year's BA Festival of Science in Norwich.

Research undertaken using PAMELA (Pedestrian Accessibility & Movement Environment Laboratory) is expected to have a positive impact on the lives of all users – which is particularly significant in view of the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act in April 2005.

The laboratory makes it possible, for the first time, to observe and understand how all the different factors at work in pedestrian environments can cause difficulties for people using them. By providing detailed insights into how pedestrians are affected by uneven surfaces and visual distractions, for instance, PAMELA will generate data that leads to improvements in the design of pavements, footways and concourses, and will enable new ideas and products to be tried out.

Nick Tyler, Chadwick Professor of Civil Engineering at University College London, has led the development of PAMELA, supported by funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. He will outline the laboratory's capabilities at the BA Festival on 8th September.

PAMELA consists of three key elements, which enable different, realistic combinations of conditions and their impact on people to be studied in a closely controlled scientific environment:

  • An 80m2 computer-controlled platform which can be altered to mimic the characteristics of different pedestrian environments, such as surface material, colour and texture, gradients, steps and obstacles.
  • A lighting system that can mimic different daytime/night-time light conditions.
  • A sound system that can create realistic ambient noise such as traffic movement, railway announcements etc.

As well as studying how accessible and user-friendly a pedestrian environment is for people with different capabilities, the laboratory can be used to pinpoint exactly how and why an environment may become difficult or confusing, e.g. a railway station subject to noises from different sources, strange lighting effects caused by shadows and arches, moving people and machines, changing floor surfaces and levels etc. Research of this kind could inform design decisions on issues such as surface types/colours/smoothness, slopes and lighting.

Similarly, the laboratory can be used to study changes in pedestrian capacity resulting from changes in the physical dimensions of pedestrian environments, or the need to step up, across or down from a bus or train to a platform, for example. This will help in the design of pedestrian spaces and transport interchanges.

"There's enormous scope to improve the design of pedestrian environments so that people can move around them more efficiently, while minimising the risk of trips, falls and similar accidents," says Professor Tyler. "PAMELA is the first laboratory of its kind and we're keen to see organisations from all over the world make use of its pioneering facilities."

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Notes for Editors

The 3 and a half year initiative to develop PAMELA, which is receiving EPSRC funding of just over £2.1M, is due to run until summer 2007.

This year's BA (British Association for the Advancement of Science) Festival of Science takes place in Norwich from 2nd - 9th September. Hosted by Norwich Research Park, the overall theme is 'People, Science and Society'. The event is one of the UK's biggest science festivals and attracts around 400 of the best scientists and science communicators from home and abroad who reveal the latest developments in research to a general audience. For more information, visit www.the-ba.net.

Professor Nick Tyler will be giving a presentation on the topic "How can engineers improve the quality of life for disabled people?" at 15.30 on Friday 8th September at LT3, Lecture Theatre building. The Disability Discrimination Act passed in April 2005 amends or extends provisions contained in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, and explicitly covers discrimination by public authorities. Some changes introduced by the Act came into force in December 2005 and others will come into force in December 2006.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK's main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. The EPSRC invests more than £575 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone's health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC also actively promotes public awareness of science and engineering. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK. Website address for more information on EPSRC: www.epsrc.ac.uk/

For more information during the BA festival contact:

Professor Nick Tyler via the EPSRC press office. Images are also available from the EPSRC Press Office.

Image details:

'newlab.jpg': suggested caption: 'Steps to Success - the new laboratory can mimic a variety of pedestrian environments' 'nicktyler.jpg':photo of Nick Tyler.

Contact details for Professor Nick Tyler, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University College London, once the festival has finished - for further enquiries regarding his research, tel: 020 7679 1562, e-mail: n.tyler@ucl.ac.uk, web: www.arg.ucl.ac.uk/pamela2


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