Posts tagged: THINKlab

THINKlab secures new Disaster Management Project

1 July 2020

The University of Salford THINKlab has been awarded almost £1 million from the UK Research and Innovation Collective Fund to develop an advanced digital platform which can be used by various government agencies and communities to work together to analyse, forecast, visualize and debate disaster risk and to choose development plans that ensure sustainability and equitable resilience which will help guide climate change adaptation and decision making.

This project which aims to promote a participatory approach that supports the transparent and democratic involvement of all the relevant stakeholders (known as TRANSCEND) builds on the THINKlab’s groundbreaking research on digital platforms for sustainable cities and on the disaster community resilience research from the Centre for Disaster Resilience at the University of Salford. It will also include experts from the University of York (UK), University of Moratuwa (Sri Lanka), University of Peshawar (Pakistan), Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia and the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, thus bringing together their research expertise in social science, urban planning and community engagement.  The project is supported by an international advisory committee and key government organisations such as disaster management centers, urban development authorities and community-based charity organisations.

This project builds on the MOBILISE project, which is another UKRI funded project that has successfully worked with government organisations in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Malaysia to develop an advanced technology platform for risk assessment using satellite technologies, drones, sensor data and social information. The new research will take a different approach; rather than focusing on how to manage a disaster, it will look at the urban planning of risk-sensitive areas.


Professor Terrence Fernando, Director of THINKLab said: “The transformation of current urban development and disaster management practices is at the heart of this project. Our challenge in this project is to study how current practices can be transformed by establishing new partnership models and introducing participatory methods that empower vulnerable communities through advanced digital solutions.”

Professor Bingunath Ingirige, Director of the Centre for Disaster Risk Reduction: “TRANSCEND will study the narratives that need to be developed, presented and discussed to establish a comprehensive understanding of the impact of proposed developments on the community, economy and environment.  TRANSCEND will study approaches to communicating the conflicting narratives and discussing the trade-offs that need to be considered in promoting a new form of development practice that is equitable and resilient.”

Dr. Kaushal Keraminiyage, one of the Co-Investigators, said: “There are many examples around the world which indicate that vulnerable communities are facing the consequences of risk insensitive urban development’s firsthand. In TRANSCEND we intend to tap into their knowledge and experience in promoting a risk sensitive urban development strategy.”       

The project will establish three Living Labs in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Malaysia creating an ‘Experimentation and Learning Environment’. These Living Labs will involve academic experts and government organisations in co-creating solutions and partnerships to try out new methods and tools to explore a digitally enhanced participatory process for urban development.

The project’s consortium held an initial project launch in Sri Lanka in December 2019 in collaboration with relevant government organisations. The project brings together public and private partnerships between a host of organizations in the UK and in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Malaysia.

Key messages and notes:

The University of Salford has been awarded funding of almost £1 million to promote risk-sensitive urban development to reduce the impact of natural disasters on vulnerable communities around the world.

The goal of the project is to transform current “silo” based urban development and risk reduction practices in disaster prone countries (such as Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Malaysia) to a participatory approach that promotes cross-organisational collaboration, openness, adaptability, learning, impartiality, power sharing and public participation.

The project will take a proactive approach by setting up three Living Labs as experimental and learning environments in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Malaysia which will work collaboratively with a range of government organisations, NGOs and marginalized communities to transform current practices.

Evidence-based decision making that exploits the power of data, modelling, urban simulation and visualisation is at the heart of this project.

This work is based on the digital expertise in the THINKlab and on the disaster risk reduction expertise within the Centre for Disaster Resilience at the University of Salford.

The funding has been awarded to the research facility THINKlab that undertakes leading research in advanced technology platforms for smart city applications.

The TRANSCEND project builds on the previous GCRF funded MOBILISE project that focused mainly on developing digital capacity for understanding risks and risk governance in disaster-prone areas.

Notes to editors:

* The project is a 3-year programme funded by ESRC and GCRF.

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is part of UK Research and Innovation.

The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) is a £1.5 billion fund announced by the UK Government in late 2015 to support cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries.

THINKlab digital simulation transforms maintenance planning for UK railways

27 March 2020

The University of Salford’s THINKlab has designed and developed a UE4-powered 4D simulation tool which can help dramatically improve Network Rail’s track renewal programs.

The UK’s railways carry about four million people a day, and with those numbers set to increase, it’s imperative that improvements and modernizations are carried out to deliver more frequent, reliable, and safe services, while causing minimal disruption to passengers. 

For Network Rail, a publicly owned infrastructure manager which maintains large swathes of Britain’s train tracks, this means track renewal programs must be carefully planned and designed to avoid major service disruption, and The THINKLab’s new simulation tool can evaluate rail works in a virtual simulation environment.

With this innovative software, Network Rail can dramatically improve the efficiency, cost, and the time it takes to deliver a project. “In the past it would take a full week to plan a weekend’s work,” says Steve Naybour, Head of Transformation at the Network Rail South Alliance. “This effort can now be reduced to a few hours using the new tool.” 

The THINKLab’s simulation tool enables Network Rail to build a 3D model of any site from a range of data sources. Virtual tracks are positioned onto 3D digital terrain from CAD or laser-scanned track data. Building Information Modelling (BIM) models of overhead line equipment, ballast, sleepers, rails, and signalling apparatus can be imported for a more accurate representation of the physical site. And a library of plant equipment assets provides excavators and diggers to include in the simulation. 

Users can define the resources needed to complete the project and build a timeline of activities, with task interdependencies mapped. Costing functionality in the software provides an accurate view of the financial impact of choices. As planning decisions are made and data is input, the software automatically simulates the work, offering views from a number of camera angles, at different levels of magnification, and at different speeds. 

Any changes in the planning inputs are immediately represented in the simulation. This results in much shorter feedback loops compared to the conventional approach to computer modeling, because engineers, designers and planners don’t have to rely on computer-modeling specialists to see the implications of changes to their plans. 

The tool could prove invaluable for assigning the right amount of resources to Network Rail’s track renewal programs. “Whereas we might have used five pieces of equipment for a job, we can often use two or three,” says Stephen Kearney, Head of Development at S&C Alliance South East. “With this package, we can see and prove what we will need in advance.”

Leveraging Blueprints to improve workflow efficiency

Unreal Engine is the go-to solution for nearly all of THINKlab’s visualization work. “We started migrating most of our projects to UE4 shortly after it became public, as it provided vastly superior image quality out-of-the-box and allowed much easier and faster iteration of our scenes,” says Michal Cieciura, Lead Developer at THINKlab. “The licensing model was fantastic, and we were getting a top-tier engine for next to nothing.”

With access to the engine’s source code, the team’s developers could familiarize themselves with the framework much faster, which allowed them to optimize the mechanics early on and to a much greater degree.

They also made good use of the Blueprint visual scripting system, the scripting language that puts tools that are ordinarily reserved for programmers into the hands of designers and other non-programmers. “The Blueprint system not only made prototyping and experimental designs a breeze for our programmers, but it also allowed the non-programming members to become more self-sufficient, as they were able to build parts of the needed functionality themselves,” says Cieciura. “This, in turn, made our workflow more efficient overall.”

Having worked with node-based interfaces in their respective modeling packages, team members on the project found the engine’s Material Editor easy to get to grips with. “What’s more, the PBR materials—in combination with Unreal Engine’s lighting solutions—have not only improved visual realism in real time, but also removed the requirement for offline rendering,” says Cieciura.

For Network Rail, the innovation has already proved worth its weight in gold. “This tool reduces the risk of incurring additional cost and time in the delivery of the work,” says Ameet Masania, Programme Manager at Network Rail. “It’s becoming an integral tool in the way we deliver railway jobs.” 

For more information please visit THINKdigital or email:

Thank you to Unreal Engine and their continued support, read more.

THINKlab showcase work as part of Greater Manchester Digital Blueprint launch event

14 February 2020

THINKlab were asked to exhibit at the launching of the Greater Manchester Digital Blueprint, a citywide initiative organised by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) which aims to help the city region’s residents lead healthier and happier lives.

The event set out a refreshed digital strategy blueprint for Greater Manchester for the next three years and included key speakers Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, Elise Wilson, Councillor and Leader of Stockport Council, Lou Cordwell, OBE and CEO of Magnetic North and Sarah Todd, Chief Executive of Trafford Council.

THINKlab showcased their recently launched MOBILISE digital platform and the work they have undertaken with the Environment Agency, namely two resilience based digital platforms which enable multi-agency collaborative working and which are aligned to the Blueprint’s five digital priorities. The digital platforms were presented on high performance equipment which allowed the team to fully engage with delegates and demonstrate how the design of the platforms build city resilience and sustainability with their partners and stakeholders.  

Director of THINKlab, Professor Terrence Fernando, said: “We’re delighted to be involved with this key event for Greater Manchester. Creating sustainable cities requires a stronger collaboration between a range of public and private sector organisations to ensure cities are safer, healthier, and are intelligent and prosperous places for citizens to experience an enhanced quality of life. We have developed a range of novel technology platforms that will allow public and private organisations in a city to utilise the power of their data intelligence to make collective evidence-based decisions to address the challenges faced by cities.

THINKlab have an experienced R&D team who can develop customised technology platforms for bringing city information into a discussion space through advanced visualisation and interaction technologies. The team have further extended the toolset available within these platforms to improve disaster resilience and help tackle the climate change challenges in different parts of the world.”

THINKlab ‘think’ sustainably to receive silver award under national Green Impact Initiative

6 December 2019

This year the THINKlab decided to take part in the Green Impact Initiative; an environmental accreditation scheme which inspires teams to reduce their carbon footprint and environmental impact. 

Led by the University’s forward-thinking Environmental Sustainability department (which works with university wide teams to identify sustainability issues in their office, laboratory, catering area or grounds) the scheme is a nationally run behavioural change programme set up by the National Union of Students and is recognised by the United Nations.

Teams work through a comprehensive tool kit which gives hints and tips as to how individual teams might challenge perceptions and influence staff to make small and unique changes for a more positive environmental impact. Teams can undertake additional special projects dedicated to their environment and must document their activities so a full audit can be undertaken at the end of the scheme.

With it being the first year, in order to gain a better understanding of the programme and to work through the programme’s toolkit, the THINKlab formed a small staff steering committee to meet monthly and to consider a range of questions and actions in the toolkit’s six key areas; energy and water, waste and recycling, travel, procurement, communications, and health and wellbeing.

As well as simply encouraging staff to take the stairs more often, not leaving computers on overnight, or ensuring that they are using the correct recycling bins, the tool kit also challenged behaviours which might have impacts on wider stakeholders such as minimising meeting handouts, reducing plastic use in the lab, social areas and at events, and communicating ways to travel to the University other than driving.

After submitting the documented work for the toolkit, the THINKlab team met with a team of auditors to speak about their achievements and challenges. The results were announced at an afternoon presentation at the Old Fire Station where the team were presented with a silver award from the Environmental Sustainability team and Lord Keith Bradley (Chair of the University Council and former Member of Parliament).

The Green Impact auditors summarised the THINKlab’s first year involvement: “This team is new for this year and they have made a fantastic start. The auditors thought the team were very passionate about Green Impact and improving the THINKlab’s environmental performance, and that Simon demonstrated evidence of going the extra mile to encourage thoughtful discussions with the team on these issues. The team have encouraged staff to use reusable items and staff regularly have remote meetings with local and international stakeholders, reducing the need for travel. They have also started using the THINKlab Twitter account more actively to raise awareness of their Green Impact work and demonstrate the benefits with their stakeholders.” 

Simon Hadfield, THINKlab Facilities Co-ordinator said: “This is the first year we’ve been involved with the Green Impact Initiative and we’ve made a really great start. After forming our monthly steering group, all our colleagues have really got on board with the different parts of the toolkit and shown their support with making positive changes to reduce both our team and individual carbon footprints. There’s a lot more we can do in the Lab and we’re really excited about demonstrating this further with our different stakeholder groups.”

The University of Salford’s THINKlab donate their MOBILISE digital platform for disaster risk reduction activities in Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Pakistan

13 November 2019
Prof Terrence Fernando

After intensive research and development work over the last two years, the THINKlab team is now ready to release their first interactive digital platform to disaster management centres in Colombo, Sri Lanka; Sarawak State, Malaysia; and Peshawar, Pakistan.

The donation from the THINKlab is the MOBILISE digital platform which runs on a state-of-the-art multi-touch screen driven by a high-performance computer.  Agencies have the choice of using a web-based interface or a 3D virtual reality interface of the platform to explore and develop their risk reduction strategies. The software created and developed by the XR software engineers, the UX designers and researchers from the THINKlab combines seven main data categories (including built and natural environment, social information, land characteristics, hazards, real-time and remote sensory data) which segment a further 60 data layer and attributes to determine disaster risks.

This digital platform, developed as a part of the MOBILISE project, funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) and UK Research and Innovation, will allow the disaster management centres to combine various vulnerable, exposure and hazards’ information from multiple agencies to establish a more holistic understanding of their local risks. In turn, this will enable them to work together to develop disaster risk reduction strategies to reduce the impact of natural disasters on the local communities, infrastructure and economy.   

The Director of the THINKlab, Professor Terrence Fernando stated: “It has been a challenging journey for developing a common approach and vision for our partner countries and bringing digital innovation to their current disaster risk reduction and disaster response activities. This is only a beginning of a long journey to transform current disaster risk reduction activities by various government organisations in middle-income countries. We are fortunate to have committed academic partners and government organisations in our project consortium who have worked with us to progress this far.”

Professor Fernando also added: “The feedback from various disaster management agencies and other government agencies has been extremely positive. We hope to make the MOBILISE platform available to other governments around the world very soon. I hope other research organisations will join us for creating bespoke environments for their local governments.”

Funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) and The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the MOBILISE project focuses on LMIC communities in Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Pakistan who are regularly affected by natural disasters such as flooding, landslides and earthquakes. 

The MOBILISE platform is targeted at helping various governments to implement the Sendai Framework Priority 1: ‘Understanding Risks’ and Priority 2: ‘Risk Governance,’ as established by the United Nations.

Led by the THINKlab Director, Prof Terrence Fernando, the project is developing a digital infrastructure which offers intelligence to multiple stakeholders who can work together to help reduce the impact of natural disasters on their local communities. Set up in May 2017, the project is to be completed in December 2020. For more information about the MOBILISE project.

Strategic Modelling to Support Decision Making for the North

26 September 2019

Tuesday 22 October 2019, 15:00 to 17:30 (followed by informal networking)

System Dynamics professionals discuss modelling for Northern Decisions

Old Fire Station G05 (Council Chamber)

In a complex world making good decisions is difficult. Creating models, whether qualitative or quantitative, improves our understanding of complex situations enabling us to make better informed decisions. Systems Thinking (ST) and System Dynamics (SD) approaches can be used for qualitative and quantitative modelling. For example, SD can be used to map the cause and effect relationships that drive performance and then project their behaviour over time using computer simulation. The presentations at this event will describe instances where ST and SD based approaches have, and are, being used in the North.

Presentations include:

‘A polycentric pan-Northern economy – modelling economic transformation through transport connections.’ Jack Snape, Transport for the North.

‘Applying System Dynamics to support strategic decision making within the Nuclear Sector.’ Dr Siôn Cave, President of the UK Chapter / Decision Analysis Service Ltd.

‘Whaley Bridge Dam Emergency: How SD can help Decision Makers understand Evacuation Behaviour.’ Hisham Tariq, THINKLab, University of Salford.

‘Public Sector Integration – Understanding and monitoring complex pathways.’ Leo Wall, Kasia Noone, Paul Holme, Manchester City Council.

The event is FREE through advanced registration.

15.00:    Arrival

15.30:   Presentations and discussion

17.00:   Networking

19.00:   Close

For more information about the event

The Old Fire Station G05 (Council Chamber) is located opposite the Peel Park Campus and located on the main road (A6 / Chapel Street). For more information and directions.

MOBILISE International Collaborative Meeting 2019, Malaysia

23 August 2019

Members of the UK based MOBILISE Project team are currently visiting Malaysian partners to explore how best to strengthen the impact of the MOBILISE project in various states in Malaysia, especially Sarawak State and Selangor State. 

The Selangor Disaster Management Office
The Selangor Disaster Management Office

Funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the MOBILISE Project has been working with its partners to create a digital platform which can be used by agencies to work together to reduce disaster risks and response better.

As part of an extensive visit (which also includes visiting Sri Lanka), Prof Terrence Fernando, Director of THINKlab at the University of Salford, has met with Dr. Khamarrul Azahari Bin Razak and his team at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) based in Kuala Lumpur, and Mr Ahmad Fairuz Mohd Yusof, Director of Selangor Disaster Management Office to discuss how the outcome of the MOBILISE project can be used to strengthen disaster management strategies in Selangor State and in Malaysia in general.

The Selangor Disaster Management Office, the only state-level dedicated office for disaster management works with its 52 technical agencies in the State of Selangor and key government agencies at federal level including National Disaster Management Agency (NADMA), the Fire and Rescue Department, the Royal Malaysian Police and the Malaysian Armed Forces.

Prof Terrence Fernando said “The Universiti Teknologi Malaysia has already joined the MOBILISE project as an Associate Partner and this visit has helped us to discuss how UTM and THINKlab can work together to strengthen the disaster management strategies in Malaysia. We hope to combine the research strengths of Dr. Khamarrul Razak’s team and the THINKlab to create a world class digital infrastructure in supporting disaster risk reduction activities”.

Dr. Khamarrul said “We are excited about the opportunity to work with the MOBILISE project led by the THINKlab and bring technology innovation into disaster risk reduction and response in Malaysia. During our discussions, we identified a range of future research project ideas and we look forward to implementing them through joint research programmes with the THINKlab.”

The Selangor Disaster Management Office
The Selangor Disaster Management Office

For more information please visit: THINKlab and MOBILISE

The Festival of Research

23 May 2019

The THINKlab: Addressing industry challenges through research, data and digital solutions.

We’re inviting you to learn more about how we’re creating digital solutions and advancing technology in Collaborative Engineering, Digital Cities and Virtual Training Environments. Through partnerships, collaboration and one-off projects, join us to understand more about the research and commercial team and their work which is addressing industry challenges.

Why and how do virtual engineering environments support team collaboration in the aerospace, railway, construction and energy industries and in space exploration?

How can digital city platforms create healthier, wealthier and safer cities?

See how virtual reality training environments exploit the power of gaming technologies to enhance learning through play.

Each event is 1 hour long with a 45-minute presentation followed by discussion. Events take place on Wednesday 19, 26 June, 3 and 10 July. Book your FREE place HERE

RenoZEB General Assembly in Bilbao

29 November 2018

RenoZEB General Assembly in Bilbao

RenoZEB General Assembly in Bilbao

Partners of the RenoZEB project recently met in Bilbao, Spain to attend their second General Assembly. The event, which took place from 23-24 October 2018 was held at partner headquarters, TECNALIA and included 29 delegates from 19 European partners.

Prof Terrence Fernando and Dr Zafer Ozturk attended the two-day event and presented research findings and key achievements within their work packages. They highlighted how the RenoZEB lifecycle can be implemented throughout wider renovation processes, before confirming the next stages to be developed by THINKlab.

The team presented a holistic approach which explained the workflow of activities within each one of the project’s life cycle, and covered the plan, design, construction and management including a selection of environmental and social KPI’s with the financial and energy aspects. The approach defined the actors and stakeholders involved in performing these activities, the input/output and the visualisation output.

The Information Delivery Manual (IDM) was used to specify the process and workflow activities, actor/stakeholder involvement, the application of tools, and the information created, consumed and exchanged. It considered each phase of the Deep Renovation (DR) life cycle (plan, design, construction and management) and the value chain through its stakeholders for each phase to reach an optimum cost/benefit ratio. The approach is oriented to individual buildings with some consideration to create Active Energy Nodes for future district action.

The key phases in a sustainable retrofit programme consist of:

  • Phase I: Project set up and per-retrofit survey
  • Phase II: Energy auditing and performance assessment
  • Phase III: Identification of retrofit options
  • Phase IV: Site implementation and commissioning
  • Phase V: Validation and verification

The RenoZEB project uses these five phases to map and determine its life cycle:

  • Plan phase: this will focus on preparing the general strategy of intervention such the project set up, per-retrofit survey and define the required data to carry out energy audit and performance assessment.
  • Design phase: this will consist of the activities relate to define various solutions on a building and neighbourhood levels including cost and benefit analysis.
  • Construction phase: this will focus on defining the optimal construction procedures.
  • Management phase: this will focus on defining the procedures for an optimal management including operation and maintenance.

* Mapping the key phases in a sustainable building program into the RenoZEB DR life cycle


The event gave partners the opportunity to visit two case study sites, Durango and KUBIK, where they looked at ways to better understand requirements and fine-tune their approaches to renovation.

The RenoZEB project targets the nearly Zero Energy Building (nZEB) renovation market by increasing property value through a new systemic approach to retrofitting and includes innovative components, processes and decision-making methodologies.




RenoZEB General Assembly in Bilbao

RenoZEB General Assembly in Bilbao






Second MOBILISE Project Consortium Event planned for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

22 October 2018

The MOBILISE Project Consortium will organise its second project workshop on “A Collaborative Multi-Agency Platform for Building Resilient Communities” in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on 29 – 31 October 2018. The event is funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The workshop is being coordinated by Dr Noralfishah Sulaiman at the Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia and THINKlab at the University of Salford. Dr Sulaiman is one of the Co-Investigators and is the project lead for the MOBILISE project’s Malaysia activities. Over forty-five government, academic, non-government and business organisations from Malaysia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom, are contributing to the workshop which will be held in English.

The workshop will particularly focus on three specific themes relating to disaster risk governance:

  1. Collaborative disaster risk reduction and response governance
  2. Building community resilience
  3. The use of technology for understanding, monitoring, predicting local disasters’ risk and cascading impacts.

For further details about the event:

Photo by: Ishan @seefromthesky on Unsplash