UCL News


Pedestrian behaviour research gains ground

5 June 2006

Academic, industrial and public sector representatives came together in a darkened warehouse in North London to celebrate the launch on Thursday of the world's first Pedestrian Accessibility and Movement Environment Laboratory (PAMELA).

The platform of square and triangular paving slabs covers a total of 80 square metres. Its 36 movable modules can be adjusted in terms of height, incline, surface material, colour, texture and layout to simulate numerous pavement environments and research the hazards encountered by pedestrians. Sophisticated sound and lighting technology allows researchers to assess the effect of, for example, the noise of a plane flying overhead or low levels of street lighting on the way people navigate an urban environment.

PAMELA platform

The Department of Transport and other government agencies are eager to use the new data generated by PAMELA to improve design policy. Software that provides guidelines on the layout of street features, such as telephone boxes and steps, will soon be delivered to local authorities, based on research conducted on PAMELA using laser tracking and video. However, the applications are wide-ranging. Experiments have already determined which design of emergency exit allows the fastest evacuation.

"This is the first opportunity in the world to be able to study how all the various factors involved in the pedestrian environment come together to make life difficult for people," said Professor Nick Tyler, Head of UCL Civil & Environmental Engineering. "It provides exciting opportunities for research and improvements in design practice as well as testing new ideas and products for use in the pedestrian environment. This will become very important as the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 comes into force later this year."

This latter point is borne out by two other parties queuing up to use PAMELA. The Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital plans to use the controlled environment to study the safety and personal injury challenges experienced by people who push wheelchairs on a regular basis. In addition, UCL Opthalmology will test the effectiveness of a gene therapy trial designed to restore sight by assessing how patients navigate the space before and after treatment. MIT (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and the French government have also expressed an interest in using PAMELA, which was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Image: Professor Nick Tyler and UCL President and Provost Professor Malcolm Grant at the launch of PAMELA