Pamela

 Tracey of Proudlock Associates at the Pamela laboratory.

Tracey of Proudlock Associates at the Pamela laboratory.

How do new ideas for streets, train stations and other aspects of the built environment get developed and tested? The London & Southeast region of the Access Association visited PAMELA in north London to find out.

 PAMELA sign.

PAMELA sign.

Dr. Catherine Holloway is UCL's lecturer in Accessibility Engineering and researches the effects of access aids like tactile paving and ramps on tube platforms at PAMELA. Catherine showed us the laboratory, which is currently set up to examine how people with dementia could be helped.

We talk on a large raised platform with carpets, walls, tables, chairs, crockery and cutlery to simulate a domestic environment. An incongruous array of streetlamps is suspended above the room without a roof. These are used to create realistic street lighting for the more urban experiments and will soon be replaced with LED lamps that can switch between different lighting scenarios much more quickly.

 Street lights in the PAMELA lab.

Street lights in the PAMELA lab.

The whole laboratory will decamp to a brand new campus in Stratford in a couple of years, where PAMELA's floor area will expand significantly.

Videos of people wearing various coloured hard hats while alighting from a static replica of an London Underground carriage had us asking whether the lab can really recreate the behaviour of tube passengers in a helpful way. Catherine and her colleague Derrick explained that they are analysing CCTV footage from five cameras on London Underground platforms to assess this, and also that the more undesirable behaviour of the tube network has occurred in the lab, which was a surprise.

Catherine's research is focused on the biomechanical effects of wheelchair use on the human body, and the risk of shoulder injury in particular. Other current areas of research include ARCCS, an app that uses crowd-sourced information about the accessibility of routes, including information of ground surfaces and inclines, and wearable assistive materials (WAM).

Our discussions included the ethical and physical intricacies of gathering data from experiments, how access solutions like ramps for buses in the real world rarely resemble 'perfect' lab conditions, and using wheelchairs on escalators. 

If you've now got a certain song stuck in your head (like I have) it's probably due to the above description of PAMELA's room without a roof.