TCD Researchers Awarded €2.5 million SFI Grant to Create Virtual Metropolis

Posted on: 13 February 2007

A team of Trinity College researchers have been awarded €2.5 million by Science Foundation Ireland to create a virtual Dublin on a scale and level of realism never seen before. Metropolis is a novel interdisciplinary project combining computer graphics, engineering and cognitive neuroscience research, in which researchers will create a simulated lifelike city, where real people will be able to move around and experience total immersion in a computer generated Dublin.
Trinity College researchers Professor Carol O’Sullivan and Dr. Steven Collins from the Department of Computer Science together with Dr. Fiona Newell from the TCD Institute of Neuroscience and Professor Henry Rice from the Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering will apply principles of human multisensory perception to create a lifelike depiction of a virtual urban environment with street scenes, crowds and traffic noise. It is envisaged that the project will be of practical benefit to urban planning projects, the development of assistive technology for people with disabilities as well as computer games.
Industrial collaborators in the project will include Sony Computer Entertainment Europe (Team Soho), IBM, Creative Labs, Havok, Demonware, OC3 Entertainment and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Commenting on the significance of the project, TCD’s Professor O’Sullivan said: “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. Real meaning will be added to the simulations by endowing individual crowd members with appropriate, sentient behaviours that are based on cognitive and sociological models.
“New comprehensive studies into human perception of computer generated motion will be carried out, along with groundbreaking research into the perception of virtual environments with multi-sensory input. People and traffic noise will be simulated while the visual and auditory experience of central Dublin will be recreated through a comprehensive capturing of buildings,” concluded Professor O’Sullivan.
The effectiveness of this research will be demonstrated in the areas of games (thereby contributing to the growth of an emergent entertainment industry in Ireland), environmental simulations of scenarios like improved traffic management, pedestrianisation or evacuation situations, as well as outreach activities to create assistive technology through games for children in the Central Remedial Clinic (CRC). TCD’s Computer Science department has a history of success in research that has commercial value, with success stories such as Iona, Havok, Haptica and Demonware. The technology being developed in this project will contribute to the future of entertainment, as realistic depiction of virtual humans is critical for many applications.
Technological advances in the project include the development of a scalable simulation server capable of streaming the virtual environment to consumer devices (e.g. game console, mobile phone etc.). Central to this research will be the CELL Broadband Engine from IBM (the same CPU as in the Playstation®3).
Commenting on the award, Dr. Stephen Flinter of SFI said: “The Metropolis project represents the largest research grant awarded by Science Foundation Ireland to date in the area of computer graphics and simulation. In making this award, SFI was greatly impressed by the quality of the project team, their enthusiasm, ambition and the breadth of their vision.”

virtual metropolis