Knowledge transfer technology

The University of Warwick has made a significant investment in facilities to allow industry to benefit from the fruits of research projects centred around digital technologies. The Digital Laboratory was outfitted by Pure AV and boasts some serious AV, writes Chris Fitzsimmons.

The Warwick Digital Laboratory is the latest facility to be opened at the University of Warwick. Located in the centre of the UK, it offers class-leading facilities to both academics and industrialists alike. In keeping with its high-tech heritage, the lab has been equipped with a state of the art AV solution by Lancashire-based integrator Pure AV.

InAVate asked Manager of the Digital Laboratory, Gavin Edwards, who also ran the tender process and build project for the University: what exactly is a digital laboratory?

“The digital lab was set up to be the first of its kind, bringing together a centrally located, multidisciplinary team of leading academics to focus on problems surrounding digital technology, because it affects all areas of our life.

“The reason we did this, more than anything, was to generate economic impact through our leading edge research, by transferring knowledge to industry. We want to educate industry, and work with it on the research programmes. We want to take businesses forward, and make them more competitive thereby delivering an economic benefit to the country.”

Despite being sited on a University campus, Edwards pointed out that its real purpose isn’t teaching at all. “It’s really focused on high-end research and knowledge transfer, that means getting the results of industry out of the laboratory and into industry,” he added.

The building was funded by a combination of the regional development agency (Advantage West Midlands), the UK higher education funding council, and the University’s own coffers. However, the technology inside was paid for by industrial partnerships. “They’ve put in equipment, they’ve put in software and importantly they’ve put in time. They [the industrial partners] are also funding a number of PhD and research projects going on within the laboratory.

The project was put to open tender towards the end of 2007, in a process managed by Edwards. He described the university’s approach to finding the right supplier for the job.

“What we did was to write a tender that was deliberately very open. We gave broad areas that we wanted filling, such as the high end auditorium and high resolution video distribution. It allowed vendors to demonstrate to use their real skills and capability to provide the right solution. We wanted someone who could deliver what we needed, and suggest really neat and innovative solutions for the building that would mark us out as being a bit different from the rest.”

The company selected to deliver that difference was Pure AV, under the leadership of technical director and project manager Richard Lister. His team designed and implemented the building-wide AV system including a 100-seat auditorium, usability lab, four meeting rooms, a conference room, a pair of demonstration suites and information display network. Pure AV also specified and installed a full-HD content distribution system using the building’s extensive Cat-6 network.

The centrepiece of the building is the main auditorium. By his own admission this is also Gavin Edward’s favourite part. “The whole AV system is really first class I have to say, but my personal favourite area is the auditorium, it looks and feels leading edge, somewhere I’m proud we can invite people to.”

The room itself is used for a variety of purposes – not just lectures. The opening event was a meeting of minds in the field of Neuroscience marketing. This vaguely sinister sounding field is the study of the physiology of marketing – what happens in the brain that makes people arrive at buying decisions!

Richard Lister described the system Pure AV installed: “It’s got high definition videoconferencing from Polycom. Also there are two Christie HD6K projectors edgeblended via a Dexon video processor and displaying on a six metre wide screen. We can put up to four images on there at once, over a background, or we can run two full HD images at 1920 x 1080, side by side. Alternatively we can run a BluRay video full screen on it.”

Instead of installing Polycom's own cameras, Pure AV opted for a pair of Sony EVI-HD1 PTZ cameras, which can be controlled via the AMX system either manually or via the use of pre-programmed positions for the various scenarios the room is used for.

The projection screen itself is a fixed frame, acoustically transparent model from Da-Lite, which was supplied by True Colours. Behind it, are mounted the centre, front-left and front-right channels for the auditorium’s 5.1 surround sound system. The 5.1 processor is a Denon DN-A7100, and it’s driving Ohm loudspeakers.

For audience participation in video conferences, Pure AV ceiling-mounted a selection of boundary and gun microphones from Audio-Technica. These are mixed and controlled via a Symetrix 8x8DSP unit, with an additional input expansion attached.

The room's controlled by an AMX NL4100 processor, and a lectern-mounted MVP-8400 touch panel, also from AMX.

Finally, for disabled accessibility, the company also provided a Sennheiser induction loop and IR audio distribution solution with a set of induction loops and IR receivers.

High definition networking

At this point we should mention what is known as “The grid”. This is a building wide Cat-6 network driven by Smart-e's HD AV distribution solution. In each room there is a range of transmitter and receiver units, allowing content to be pushed or pulled via the network and through a central Smart-e matrix located adjacent to the main Coms room.

In order to maintain the high definition video that the university wanted, extensive use of TV One scaling equipment is used. The ensures that any signal entering the grid is at full HD resolution, whether the source is RGB, DVI, HDMI or anything else. Pure AV also installed input and output boxes in the rooms to cover all possible bases on the source front. The result is the ability to deliver full 1080p video content and accompanying audio to anywhere in the building.

Also situated in that rack is a Gee Broadcast HD/SD video server and recorder. This allows proceedings in any of the suites to be recording in full HD with embedded audio. The audio component of any feed is aggregated to the recording via a TV One A2-7342 expansion unit to the C2-7310 HD/SD video processor. An AMX control panel in the rack room gives local control of signal distribution to any of the building's spaces or the LCD displays in the mezzanine.

Room to manoeuvre

The rest of the rooms in the building, apart from the four meeting rooms are deliberately open plan.

“The demonstration suites are are basically teaching areas,” explained Lister “primarily for CAD and things like that. You could put something in there like the wiring loom of a car – at the moment they have the loom for a Jaguar XK in there.”

The suites are equipped with Christie HD405 projectors and BlueRay players, as well as having the option to take content from the Grid via a Smart-e receiver module. In addition there's a fairly standard, if high spec, teaching set up in the shape of a Smart Technologies Smartboard 690 (the widescreen model).

The conference room seats around forty, and here Pure AV installed a pair of 52” NEC LCD displays instead of a projection system. “It's an environment with lots of daylight, like much of the building. There were several rooms that were originally spec'd with projection but that ended up with LCDs because of the brightness levels,” explained Lister.

There is the standard AMX control system installed and a KEF / Denon audio solution.

Down the spine of the building, as you walk in, there are eight so-called research pods. Each one accommodates a different project, and the 46” LCD display, mounted on a Unicol bracket outside, can be used to show either what's going on inside the pod or selected content from the grid.

The final major space is what is known as the usability lab. Richard Lister explained; “A usability lab is an area in which the university can study how people interact with objects. The room is fairly flexible – it has a Smartboard, stereo sound and a Christie HD405 projector. There is a mirrored glass control room from which researchers can observe subjects' interaction with whatever is placed in front of them.”

Inside the room on the floor, Pure also installed floor boxes with camera inputs, as well as a wall mounted HD PTZ camera from Sony. As usual, the grid means that behaviour can also be recorded on the video server in high definition, allowing close analysis later on.

The project, as with many at academic institutions, is an ongoing one. Pure AV have just finished tying in the AMX room management software with the University's new Microsoft exchange server, and another recent addition is a ambisonic sound laboratory (see March's interview with Arup Acoustics for more info on ambisonics).

So far, so good it seams, and is the customer happy? “Yeah absolutely, we're a 100 satisfied customer,” concluded Gavin Edwards.

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