HS2 is developing a digital virtual reality (VR) technology to evaluate and improve its designs for aiding commuters to navigate around the new HS2 station at Old Oak Common in north-west London.

This initiative is said to be the world’s first development where VR, eye-tracking and emotion-sensing technology will be utilised for facilitating passenger movement.

Under its innovation programme, HS2 has collaborated with design and technology small-to-medium enterprise CCD Design & Ergonomics and station designer WSP for the development of ‘wayfinding’.

If successful, the technology will eventually be utilised for designing other HS2 stations and associated buildings.

As part of the programme, three sample groups selected from members of the travelling public will wear VR headsets and enter a virtual version of the new 14-platform station.

In the virtual version, these commuters will be asked to move around the station to reach meeting points, platforms and to change services between HS2 and Crossrail by using the signage incorporated in the current design.

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An additional session for mobility-impaired passengers will also be conducted to explore what additional help they might require for navigation.

The VR headsets will be equipped with eye-tracking technology for overseeing the passenger’s eye movements while they move around the virtual station.

This will help in spotting any distraction in the 100,000m² rail interchange station’s interior that might restrict stress-free movement.

The emotion-sensing software fitted to VR headsets will monitor the wearer’s facial expressions, along with their heart rate changes in the digital VR station.

The data gathered by CCD will allow HS2 and station designers to assess and enhance station designs for better navigation.

HS2 innovation manager Heather Donald said: “The HS2 super-hub at Old Oak Common is the largest single-build station to be built in the UK.

“Up to a quarter of a million passengers will use it to connect between HS2, Great Western and Elizabeth line trains each day, so it is vital that its design is fine-tuned to deliver a stress-free step-change improvement in the passenger experience.”

In a separate development, a new sanitising system is being tested at Manchester Piccadilly station to provide commuters with added protection against Covid-19.

Furthermore, Network Rail is set to introduce a new bridge design in a bid to bring rail crossings’ transformation across the UK.