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Research, arts, information and service: The RAIS against time at Leeds Metropolitan University

Neil Willis
Leeds Metropolitan University, United Kingdom
Leeds Metropolitan University has been developing its information strategy to include multimedia based usage in all areas of teaching and learning, administration, internal information provision, advertising and marketing, presentations and external communication. This paper describes the approach being adopted, indicating the opportunities provided by multimedia and the areas to which Leeds Metropolitan University is devoting its energy. External communication via the intimate is also providing an opportunity for active external marketing of Leeds Metropolitan University courses, research collaboration, consultancy and short courses. The paper also presents interesting research activity related to the Arts on the one hand and to motion analysis on the other.


Technology is bringing digital media to the workstation desktop at apparently affordable prices. Extremely rapid developments have taken place in two major directions:

Firstly, the power and flexibility of the desktop workstation has increased at an amazing pace. A revolution is taking place caused by the amazing developments in the area of digital media. Multimedia is the term generally used to describe the integration in a seamless environment of a variety of media such as video, still images, audio and text. The technology is certainly well developed. The software in terms of authoring languages and other tools for integration are rapidly being refined.

Over the next decade or two, digital media is likely to have an impact on nearly every aspect of creative endeavour - an impact that will rival that of the printing press, the telephone, and the motion picture - while incorporating aspects of all of them (Cruickshank, 1992).
Second, a revolution has taken place in the world of communications technology which, through the use of the Internet, allows computers all over the world to communicate. A more recent phenomenon has been the introduction of the World Wide Web. Graphical interfaces to the structured hypermedia have been developed making the tool relatively accessible to a wide range of people. Indeed, in the original paper the authors say "The aims of the W3 initiative are twofold : firstly to make a single easy user interface to all types of information so that all may access it, and secondly to make is to easy to add new information that the quantity and quality of online information will both increase" (Berners-Lee, 1992).

However, all of this is certainly not without its problems. The characteristics of multimedia make very significant demands on both storage and transmission systems. Although data compression can be used to reduce these demands, that is usually at the expense of loss of detail. Also, the ways in which users access multimedia can impact seriously on the networks. For example, multimedia learning material can be accessed directly from a server during a class or downloaded to student machines at the beginning of a session. Further, if the connection to the Internet is via a shared backbone on, say, an ethernet, the WWW may be the "killer application" if a lot of use is made of downloading multimedia images. There are also strategic issues to be addressed. Although the WWW is apparently seen to be very popular, many sites have not installed a corporate server and most do not have a well developed strategy for its use.

The information strategy at Leeds Metropolitan University

The University has an emerging strategy which is currently expressed through a series of key statements.

The complete information strategy for the University is concerned with access by the University's various communities to internal and external information sources, and includes strategies for the provision of.

  1. an appropriate information infrastructure

  2. information production, information utilisation and information technology in support of:

Overall strategy

The overall University information strategy is to support the delivery of the University mission by providing staff and students with relevant access to a variety of information sources using a range of media. Electronic access to appropriate local, national and international information sources will be provided, over a high speed campus communications network, at the desktop or student workstation through a common, user friendly interface. All information related services will be delivered to agreed quality standards and will be supported by appropriate induction, guidance, training and documentation and will be backed up by informed help, inquiry and advisory services.

The detailed strategy statements are expressed under the following headings:

Information Infrastructure
Information Production
Information Sources and Access
Information Technology
Information Skills
The following extracts give a feel for the nature of the strategy, though there is clearly a lot more detail to underpin these broad strategic statements.

Information infrastructure

Access to information sources will be provided via campus wide communications network which connects a series of major information production and resource centres and provides gateways to external information sources and services.

The capacity of the data network will be sufficient to allow:

Information sources and access

Library and other information services in support of teaching, learning, research, consultancy and related University services will be provided through an appropriate mix of print and other materials and via a variety of access methods.

This includes the provision of information sources and appropriate access or delivery mechanisms for print, electronic, video and multimedia materials in support of teaching and learning.

All network delivered information sources and services should be accessible from the same delivery platform via a common, user friendly interface.

Access to specialist information sources should be provided on the basis of 'need' but will be influenced by resource constraints, eg. initial access to certain information sources may be restricted to specific delivery points or to specific communities before wider access (to, say, all staff desks) can be provided.

The University will provide campus wide information services which provide access to basic information, provide a range of electronic messaging and conferencing facilities and serve as an introduction to the range of information sources available elsewhere.

Information skills

All staff and students should be provided with appropriate induction and training in the effective access and use of information sources, in the use of information production facilities, and in the development of information technology skills.

Use of WWW

One of the most obvious trends over the last year has been the tremendous growth in the use of WWW in academic circles, in business and even in the private or social domain. "Surfing" the Internet seems the latest social phenomenon. However, alongside all this is a new and interesting use of the web purely internally within an organisation, sometimes with no direct links to the outside world.

Organisations are realising that the web can be a complete internal information delivery system, with a number of advantages over some proprietary systems. For example, it is an open system in that it is independent of platform. As long as they support the underlying TCP/IP protocols you can mix and match any hardware and operating system. Similarly it is scaleable in that you can start with a minimal system where the HTML files reside on the same machine as the browser and expand to as complex a network as is necessary.

Use of the web in this way provides a plethora of opportunities for organisations: internal communications, company organisation charts, corporate newsletters, replacing telephone directories, annual reports, minutes of committee meetings. This can be especially valuable for an organisation occupying multiple sites, and especially so for multinational companies.

Use of multimedia

The developments in technology referred to earlier have come at a time when the number of students entering universities in the UK has dramatically increased. Universities are therefore concerned to develop their infrastructures in order that this greatly increased body of students can still be provided with an acceptable learning environment, but with very few more staff. There has been a natural turn to computer based tools. Multimedia systems and sophisticated network communications are able to make a significant contribution.

Papers at previous Perth Conferences (Willis, 1994; Hobbs & Moore, 1992) have given an indication of a range of work being undertaken at Leeds Metropolitan University in the multimedia area, much of it in the form of student projects. This work continues unabated. For example there are currently a number of final year students doing individual projects concerned with producing multimedia teaching packages in a variety of domains such as addressing mechanisms in assembler programming, the data link layer of network protocols though to network topologies and network management.

Another interesting application of multimedia (in the form of digital video) is associated with motion analysis. The following section describes the work being undertaken by the author in collaboration with colleagues in Biomechanics.

An automated system for motion analysis

One of the major problems currently faced by individuals working in motion analysis is that of data input to computers. The input of the large number of images typically required to accurately analyse and describe a body or object in motion is time consuming and requires much human interaction. Digitised input is subjective and may contain both systematic and random errors. These difficulties have in the past, forced studies to be generally performed on a 'case study' basis.

Such routine, repetitive tasks are ideally handled by a computerised system. However, several aspects of automated motion analysis have proved intractable in the past, and so general success was not achieved. The project is a new approach to the problem that has been adopted by the development team.

The new approach has been implemented in a prototype automated motion analysis system and tested on sets of human motion data. The new system can successfully track designated parts of the body through complicated manoeuvres, completely automatically.

Technical description of the project

A very simplified block diagram of the system is given in Figure 1. The main loop in the application consists of two interdependent processes, known as 'feature extraction and identification' and 'tracking'. Images are processed two at a time, each pair consisting of the corresponding images from each camera.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Feature extraction and identification

This process is responsible for locating the positions of the points of interest (referred to in future as 'targets', for brevity). Inputs are estimates of the target positions, descriptions of what constitutes a target, and the next pair of images. Output is the current position of each target, which is passed to the accompanying tracking algorithm and to a camera model, which converts the positions to 3D real world coordinates.

If we are processing the first pair of images, the system operator will be asked to indicate (digitise) the required targets. This provides the necessary initial estimate of position. The feature extraction algorithms will then be invoked to obtain a description of the target. Targets are recorded individually, and processed separately during each iteration.

Subsequent pairs of images use the estimated position output from the tracking algorithms, plus the stored target description from the last iteration.

The feature extraction algorithms process a region about the estimated position. Potential targets are discovered, and a description for each is produced. The list of candidates is then passed to the feature identification process.


The tracking algorithm is required to produce an estimate of the position of the targets at time t+1, given a location at time t. History information may also be required to resolve possible ambiguities.

Much of the complexity of the total system lies in the feature extraction, description, and identification portions of the code. The tracking algorithm used in the prototype is an extremely simple linear predictor. In other words, the difference in position of a target between times t and t+1 is assumed to be the same as the positional change between times t-1 and t. Motion is therefore initially assumed to be linear with no acceleration. This assumption works perfectly well where targets are not occluded, and where the frame rate is moderately high. More sophisticated algorithms are required to handle more difficult scenarios.

Advantages of the new system

The system is completely general and the object or body being studied does not need to have special markers attached. This in turn eliminates the requirement for expensive, special purpose cameras or lighting. Data has been obtained using standard S-VHS video camera equipment, as well as a 1000 frame per second high speed imaging system. This wide range of useable frame rates (25 Hz to 1 kHz) adds to the versatility of the system and makes it applicable to a wide range of conditions and activities. Currently the system is implemented on an IBM RISC System/6000 but work is continuing to develop a PC version in order to enable portability.

Since we are able to input images from standard video equipment we are able to process data asynchronously using video recorders to capture data in the field, which can then be replayed later in the laboratory for analysis. This too offers considerable advantages in terms of operational flexibility.

A major advantage of the new system is its sheer speed. For example, the image sequence digitisation of say 150 frames would take a skilled operator almost one day to input. It would be subject to operator error and fatigue. The same series of 150 frames would be processed in approximately seven seconds by the prototype of the system running on an IBM RISC System/6000 computer. Numerical results obtained are within 3% of those obtained manually.

Future research directions

The speed of the system will allow researchers to capture and analyse large amounts of data on a routine basis. Thus, we will be able to advance from case studies to a statistical methodology. Once a sufficiently large body of data has been accumulated, it will probably be possible to develop an accurate mathematical model of human motion, at least, in the constrained sense applicable to the skill being studied. Some preliminary work in this direction has been done, and indicates the general form of the models required.

Development of the motion analysis system itself will concentrate on using more sophisticated algorithms, particularly in the tracking phase. The simple linear estimators used will be replaced by adaptive non-linear predictive algorithms. These algorithms will allow us to track the designated points of interest even if they are obscured in one (or more) of the images.

Computer aided learning of engineering

In 1992 the national funding bodies for Universities in the UK launched a special initiative, backed up by significant funding, the aim of which was to make teaching and learning more productive and efficient by harnessing modem technology. A series of 43 projects were initially funded, one of which was in the area of Engineering.

The "CAL Group Engineering Consortium" of 14 UK Universities aims to increase the productivity, quality and flexibility of course provision by the development and implementation of open learning materials covering first and second year mechanical, electrical and manufacturing engineering (Ball, et al, 1993).


In the short term, the consortium's objective is to improve the productivity and efficiency of engineering departments within the Higher Education sector, by improving the quality and flexibility of course provision, while in the longer term it is to make the widespread establishment of CAL an integral and indispensable feature of undergraduate engineering education.

More specifically, the provision of highly interactive material (examples, case studies, simulations, experiments) to support a "key note" lecturing approach and reduce lecturer involvement in tutorial and laboratory work is a fundamental aim, but one which brings with it an enrichment of students' learning experience. CAL also provides the opportunity to undertake intelligent automatic assessment of student progress and provide remedial support.

The project

The group of fourteen higher education institutions are collaborating to produce computer based open learning material for use on engineering degree courses. The material will mainly be computer based tutorials carefully designed to explain, develop and enhance the student's understanding of key engineering concepts. Where applicable other support material will be provided so that the tutorials become a fully integrated part of course provision. Class monitoring, and if required, individual assessment will also be available to enable large classes to be taught effectively. The software is based on a Windows style environment for ease of use. Uniformity and transportability will be ensured by the courseware being jointly developed by academic staff and a central software development organisation C131, Technology Ltd. (Willis, 1994).

Desired outcomes

The outcomes of the project are well designed, carefully tested, and documented computer based open learning modules for use on first and second year Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering degree courses. The use of these modules will be widely encouraged in higher education through implementation seminars and meetings before the end of the project.

Progress to date

Significant progress has been made, summarised by the following, which also gives a feel for the scope of the work.

TitleStatus  TitleStatus

Basic Electricity - BASELEC
 Basic Electronics - ELECTRIC
Basic ConceptsRelease Introduction to AmplifiersRelease
Electrical Sourcesalpha Introduction to Op. AmplifiersRelease
Electrical Circuitsbeta DiodesRelease
Resistors in circuitsbeta Transistors

Control - CONTROL
 Data Communications - DATACOMS
Introduction to control systemsbeta Introduction to Data CommunicationsRelease
Intro. to Transfer Functionsalpha Analogue CommunicationsRelease
Frequency Responsedevelop Digital Communicationsalpha
Intro. to Controller Designalpha Protocolsdevelop
Design - DESIGN
 Digital Electronics - DIGELECT
The Conceptual Design Processalpha Number Systems
Fluid Mechanics - FLUIDS
 Manufacturing automation - MANFAUTO
An Introduction To Fluids
 Plant Management
Pressure Measurement
 Manufacturing Resource Planning
 Just-In-Time and Material Requirements Planning
 Elements of Manufacturing Robotics
Manufacturing - MANUFACT Maths - MATHS
Casting of MetalsRelease Complex NumbersRelease
Strength of Engineering - The Tensile TestRelease Logs and Exponentialsalpha
Intro. to Numerical Controlalpha Trigonometrybeta
Roundessalpha  Vectorsbeta
Computer Aided Part Programming - module 3 Matricesalpha
Computer-Aided Part Prog - 3 using PEPS for Windowsalpha 
Linear Measurementalpha 
Numerical Control - Machine Design 
Particle Dynamics - PDYNAMICS Rigid Body Dynamics - RBDYNAM
Dynamics of Particles Vibrationsalpha
Kinematics of Particlesalpha Dynamic SystemsRelease
Kinetics of Particles Relative Vel. of a Rigid Body
Statics - STATICS Thermodynamics - THERMO
Force SystemsRelease Thermodynamic HeatRelease
Rigid Bodiesalpha Thermodynamic WorkRelease
FrameworksRelease Introduction to Energy
Bending of BeamsRelease 
Introduction to Mohr's Stress CircleRelease 

Artline project

This is a TEN-IBC (Trans European Networks - Integrated Broadband Communications) project. The broad aim of Artline is to specify the provision of an international online visual arts information service to a wide cross section of the community. The project is to assess the ideal end user and system requirements and produce a system specification in terms of the terminal hardware and software as well as scenarios for the use of Broadband bearer networks and services which will be possible to implement in the European context.

One primary objective of the studies is to focus on the implementation aspects of the Artline service from the terminal specification level.

The other objective is the production of trials specification to develop a prototype for the transnational visual arts information service, Artline, based on knowledge gained from market research and consultation forums in the 'Definition Phase'. The trials should allow the prototype to be refined to produce 'a beta version' of the product based on the feed back from selected user groups. Furthermore, to evaluate the capabilities of the bearer network to provide a viable commercial service based on the user requirements.

Multimedia databases

Investigation was carried out on two commercial multimedia databases (under development) to evaluate their ability to meet the user requirements and their suitability for wide area networking.

The first database is AXIS, a multimedia information system encompassing the contemporary artists, craftspeople and photographers in England, Scotland and Wales. The information service is aimed at art libraries, visual artists, architects and various other users to promote the contemporary artists both in the UK and overseas. The prototype database was created using a limited number of artists utilising initially MS Access 1.1. AXIS was developed on a PC platform based on Intel 486DX-66MHz microprocessor, 16MB RAM, 640 MB hard disk, 17 inch high resolution colour monitor and 24 bit video card, which at the time of inception was the top of the range available user platform.

The second database was DISCOVER which is multimedia tourist information system aimed at presenting the visitor to a region with an interactive tool to explore the regions landscape and it's tourist cultural resources. This system was originally developed by ERA Maptec as a stand alone system on an Apple Mac using SuperCard and Omnis 5 database. Later it was developed on a UNIX platform. The user interface used Motif toolkit running over X windows. An Oracle database is used to store the information.

Based on a critical comparison of the above systems and taking into account parallel studies and surveys of the user requirements it was concluded that the ARTLINE project should be based on AXIS prototype.

Transmission trials specification

A further study has been conducted on a possible trials transmission of the chosen database between specific trans-national sites via Integrated Broadband Communication system. The trials aim to capture and further refine the user requirements.

The study of the available technologies of the day, and in accordance with the initial market studies of the user requirement, has resulted in a proposed trial to use the SuperJanet networking system with the incorporation of ISDN for comparison. The proposed connection for this ATM trial is between Trinity College Dublin and Leeds Metropolitan University in the first instance with possible inclusions of another site(s) in France and/or Switzerland. The presentation will report further on the current state of the development of this system.


The last few years has seen an explosion in the activity of producing computer based learning material in the UK. Admittedly this has been forced upon Universities by the pressure of coping with significantly increased numbers of students with the same number of staff but "necessity is the mother of invention". Although much work has been undertaken alongside this to reorient teaching and learning methods there is still much to explore and learn from experience. Added to this is the fascinating opportunities afforded by the introduction of the world wide web. Technologically, the future looks as exciting as ever.


Ball, R. et al (1993). The CAL group Engineering Consortium. Proceedings of the EAEEIE Fourth Annual Conference, Prague.

Berners-Lee, T. J., Cailliau, R. and Groff, J. (1992). The World Wide Web. Computer Networks and ISDN Systems, 25(4-5), 454-459.

Cruickshank, D. (1992). Digital Media. IRIS Universe, No 20, p16-21.

Hobbs, D. and Moore, D. (1992). Instructional technology for student centred learning: The Leeds Polytechnic experience. In Promaco Conventions (Ed.), Proceedings of the International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 227-234. Perth, Western Australia, 27-31 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1992/hobbs.html

Willis, N. (1994). Multimedia in a university teaching/learning environment. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Second International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 576-582. Perth, Western Australia, 23-28 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1994/qz/willis.html

Author: Neil Willis
Assistant Dean and Head of School of Computing
Faculty of Information and Engineering Systems
Leeds Metropolitan University
Leeds LS63QS, UK
Tel. +44 113 283 2600 ext. 3729 Fax +44 113 283 3182
Email: n.willis@lmu.ac.uk

Please cite as: Willis, N. (1996). Research, arts, information and service: The RAIS against time at Leeds Metropolitan University. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Third International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 419-425. Perth, Western Australia, 21-25 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1996/ry/willis.html

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