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Design of virtual immersive environments for inclusive multimodal experiences

Immersive technologies such as Virtual Reality are a topic of fast-paced research, and knowledge boundaries are presently being pushed by design research on inclusive immersive social environments, among others. Similarly, haptic technologies have witnessed significant developments, including progress driven by large-scale private organisations worldwide. In particular, the concept of Tactile Internet, i.e. of a network with ultra-low latency and high availability, reliability, and security, has received increased attention in recent years. Further development in this area is expected to be facilitated by the availability of 5G wireless communication technology.

This project will explore the convergence between immersive and haptic technologies. It will fill a knowledge gap by identifying and understanding opportunities and barriers towards design of equitable multimodal experiences, individual and social, within virtual environments. One potential incarnation of the research addresses the role that the Tactile Internet can play within the Metaverse, a future immersive virtual world envisaged as a hypothetical iteration of the Internet.

The successful candidate will take responsibility for designing, running, and evaluating a programme of activities with end users, to understand attitudes towards tactile and multimodal interaction within immersive environments. They will play a key role in understanding opportunities and barriers towards inclusive multimodal immersive experiences.

The ideal candidate’s profile combines proficiency in user-centred design processes with technical competency in relation to immersive technologies, with an emphasis on Virtual Reality. Familiarity with haptic technology is preferred. A Masters’ degree is desired but not essential.

The research will be carried out in a stimulating interdisciplinary environment in the Brunel Design School in close collaboration with Brunel Engineering. The successful candidate will be supervised by Dr Federico Colecchia, who specialises in emerging technologies and innovation at the intersection between technical development and user-centred design. They will have access to relevant stakeholders and will benefit from a range of support services that Brunel University London offers to their Doctoral Researchers, including professional skills and career development support.

For informal enquiries about the research project, please email Federico.Colecchia@brunel.ac.uk.

The University entrance requirement for registration for a research degree is normally a First or Upper Second-Class Honours degree (1st or 2:1), or international equivalent. A Master’s degree is a welcome, but not required, qualification for entry. 

How to apply

If you are interested in applying for the above PhD topic please follow the steps below:

  1. Contact the supervisor by email or phone to discuss your interest and find out if you woold be suitable. Supervisor details can be found on this topic page. The supervisor will guide you in developing the topic-specific research proposal, which will form part of your application.
  2. Click on the 'Apply here' button on this page and you will be taken to the relevant PhD course page, where you can apply using an online application.
  3. Complete the online application indicating your selected supervisor and include the research proposal for the topic you have selected.

Good luck!

This is a self funded topic

Brunel offers a number of funding options to research students that help cover the cost of their tuition fees, contribute to living expenses or both. See more information here: https://www.brunel.ac.uk/research/Research-degrees/Research-degree-funding. The UK Government is also offering Doctoral Student Loans for eligible students, and there is some funding available through the Research Councils. Many of our international students benefit from funding provided by their governments or employers. Brunel alumni enjoy tuition fee discounts of 15%.

Meet the Supervisor(s)


Federico Colecchia - I am a specialist in emerging technologies and innovation. My research focusses on the integration between technology development and user-centred design to facilitate the achievement of positive societal and economic impact. My work has a marked interdisciplinary character and a significant part of it has been carried out in close collaboration with private sector organisations. My current research focusses on machine learning, and artificial intelligence more broadly, the Internet of Things, and immersive technologies. I have 20+ years of R&D experience in academia and in the private sector, which has led to the establishment of a broad international network of academic and industrial collaborators.  I have been active in Higher Education since 2002 leading undergraduate and postgraduate modules and am presently in charge of a Year 3 undergraduate module covering electronics and microcontroller programming for product design, as well as of the Brunel Design MSc dissertation module. I also teach Systems Design and electronics to Year 2 undergraduate students. I was awarded a doctoral degree (PhD) in Physics from the University of Padova in 2001, following work on a large-scale physics experiment at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in the USA. I subsequently built an interdisciplinary research and innovation portfolio focussing on applications of artificial intelligence across disciplinary boundaries with an emphasis on the biomedical domain - brain tumour segmentation from MRI scans, protein-DNA binding site prediction, informed decision making in the pharmaceutical industry. Following my work in Padova and at Stanford, I have been a research staff member at University College London (UCL), Brunel University London and Lund University, honorary research scientist with the UCL Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and project leader in the private sector - artificial intelligence and informed decision making for the pharmaceutical industry. My research has been funded by UK Research Councils, the EU, and private investors, and has involved close collaboration with multinational technology companies such as QinetiQ. Over the years, I have collaborated closely with clinicians, biologists, statisticians, mathematicians, sociologists, psychologists, educationalists, and designers, thereby developing a robust understanding of interdisciplinary collaboration dynamics and a deep appreciation of knowledge exchange and research exploitation pathways. I have published research in computer science, human-computer interaction, design, bioinformatics, and physics, and my academic articles have received more than 6,000 citations (ResearchGate, 2020). I am sole inventor on a US patent on distributed storage and visualisation of large relational datasets. I have delivered presentations at international conferences across academic fields, chaired conference sessions, and peer-reviewed scholarly publications in medicine, human-computer interaction, and physics. Research Expertise and Interests: Artificial intelligence, machine learning, embedded electronics, Internet of Things, immersive technologies, human-computer interaction, user-centred design, data mining, information visualisation. ResearchGate: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Federico_Colecchia Google Scholar: https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=wZlM_6YAAAAJ&hl=en Teaching - Embedded Systems for Design - FHEQ L6 Design MSc Dissertation Project (Integrated Product Design) - FHEQ L7 Electronics, Programming & Interfacing - FHEQ L5 Systems Design - FHEQ L5

Related Research Group(s)

Digital Design Lab

Digital Design Lab - User-centred research, innovation, consultancy and knowledge transfer aimed at design, development and evaluation of innovative digital and digital-physical systems, products, services and experiences.