Moveable floor at PEARL aids urban design

Engineers have developed a movable floor that simulates real outdoor environments to help create future urban areas at PEARL.

Babcock collaborated with University College London (UCL) on PEARL (People Environment Activity Research Laboratory), a 44,000 m3 net-zero facility in Dagenham, east London, where public institutions, such as train stations and high streets, are simulated to analyze human behavior as they use infrastructure and move around.

Professor Nick Tyler, Chadwick Professor of Civil Engineering at UCL, said:[PEARL] was conceived so that we could see the environment as it really is, but to do this we had to realize that the world is not flat, so we needed a movable floor where we can easily adjust the slope and surface, while there are also holes in it.”


At the center of PEARL is the 600m2 configurable floor designed, manufactured and installed by Babcock.

The floor consists of 441 individually controlled modules that can be raised, lowered and tilted in three dimensions, creating a real environment where not everything is perfectly flat.

Using a tablet or laptop, researchers at UCL can configure the floor for a simulation in just two to three minutes compared to the two to three days it could have taken previously.

According to Babcock, the accuracy of the actuators is down to 0.1mm, which allows for fine control over the heights and angles of the surface placed on them.

(Image: Babcock)

Richard Drake, Managing Director of Babcock Mission Systems, said: “We were excited to partner with UCL to help create an easily configurable, multi-sensory environment that will help city planners design public infrastructure that is accessible to everyone. PEARL was a fascinating project to be involved in.”

Seated on four adjustable legs, each 1.2m square module weighs 840kg and can reportedly be stacked two high for storage.

Together with specialized lighting, dynamic acoustic systems, environmental influences and olfactory units, the floor enables UCL to create a configurable, multi-sensory environment.

Researchers will be able to conduct interaction studies from microscale (brain activity) to macroscale (such as crowd behavior) and it will be used by a range of faculties, including neuroscience, engineering and the arts.

The PEARL project is part of a £50 million investment by UCL’s Center for Transport Studies.

Abhishek Maheswari
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