Over the spring/summer our research group (Data 2 Knowledge) was invited to participate in the EPIC Games-Wellcome Trust Big Data VR Challenge. Data 2 Knowledge, ALSPAC and the MRC IEU provided the science perspective for games developers who were challenged to create innovative VR solutions for big data challenges in biomedical sciences.

The challenge in cohort studies such as ALSPAC is the complexity of the metadata. Researchers unfamiliar with the ALSPAC project, find it particularly difficult to navigate the large and complex data dictionary and metadata to discover what data is available and useful to their research. Working with two teams – LumaPie (London-based) and OpaqueMultimedia (Melbourne-based) – two different VR solutions to explore the metadata were developed using the Unreal Engine.

The finalists showcased their solutions at the Develop Conference, Brighton July 2015 – see my images posted to the D2K Flikr channel are below.

Team LumaPie won the challenge by creating an prototype end-to-end solution. Their system allows the user to explore a large number of variables in the metadata all at once. This enables the user to subset a selection of the data for further analysis.

I found the whole project extremely exciting – the chance to interact with experts from the cutting edge VR world was so far removed from my day-to-day research activities. Experiencing VR for the first time at the Develop Conference, applied to research projects, was actually mind-blowing. I think all the finalists created great solutions for their respective problems. It sparked up loads of ideas in my own head as to how else VR could be used in research and education. Imagine Google Mars viewed through a VR headset – you could interact with the surface of Mars to pick up and investigate rocks….

Data 2 Knowledge and ALSPAC are now working with LumaPie on a mix of public engagement and data projects that will build on the collaboration formed during the VR competition.

Media work:
During the competition, I was interviewed for WIRED magazine, Wearable magazine and the progress clip below for the Unreal Engine YouTube Channel.

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