University Libraries, particularly the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, will soon open @Reality, a 640 square-foot virtual reality + augmented reality studio. This new, innovative studio space will yield innovative exploration, study, and new applications for virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) at Nevada. Equipped with four dedicated virtual reality stations - two Oculus Rift virtual reality systems and two HTC VIVE headsets, a first-of-its-kind virtual reality system, @Reality will also have a Meta2 augmented reality headset which is designed to bridge the gap between the virtual and real world with the most immersive augmented reality experience available on the market today. @Reality will also provide users with access to four VR computers, two Leap Motion finger and hand trackers, and more.
Located in close proximity to the @One Service Desk on the first floor of the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, the @Reality studio will consist of clear glass walls running floor to ceiling and will be staffed with a team of experts well-versed in the understanding of conceptual and technical issues surrounding the creation and consumption of virtual and augmented reality products. A full-cycle "ecosystem" of support will be provided to all users. From creation of media, to utilization of hardware and software, to distribution and consumption of content, @Reality staff are prepared to assist and guide users in achieving their virtual and augmented reality goals.
About Virtual Reality - from play to academic research
VR is an emergent technology that seeks to simulate reality by providing the user with an immersive visual, aural, and haptic experience. VR has moved from limited uses in military simulation and training to a commercially available mainstream technology.
Within the context of higher education, the New Media Consortium postulates a wide range of possible scholarly applications for VR. Possibilities include using VR for teaching empathy and other soft skills, to exploring environments that are too dangerous or unreachable. Furthermore, the New Media Consortium observes that "VR may one day be able to compete with Real Reality, and once it does, the possibilities are endless."
"Many people do not completely grasp the possibilities that surround virtual and augmented reality until they experience it first-hand," said Daniel Fergus, manager of student digital media technology for University Libraries, Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center. "It is our goal, once @Reality is open, to expose students and faculty to academic and research-based activities taking place across campus while also offering a space for play and individual exploration."
Building the VR / AR Culture at Nevada
Several University faculty are integrating VR into their courses. For example, Gideon Capolivitz, Psychology, is researching human vision perception by analyzing how the brain can be fooled by 2D optical illusions. Howard Goldbaum, Journalism, is working on digital-heritage virtual reality environments, especially in Ireland and Nevada. His work focuses on locations that are difficult to access or those that require special permission to enter. Other University faculty are using this technology to research the affects on the brain regarding 2D vs. real world objects, they are also documenting things like the Burning Man festival and much more.
"The primary reason in establishing @Reality was based on the fact that no centralized space for this type of work exists on campus," Fergus said. "Many faculty are using the technology in their classes and for research, but faculty were working in silos without the awareness of what others on campus were doing. @Reality is to serve as a pollinator of sorts - a place where everyone can come together, share resources, and help cross-pollinate ideas to help develop the University's VR culture."
The University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine motor development program, psychiatry and political science departments have all made inquiries as to the efficacies of applying this technology to their disciplines.
"My research focuses on understanding the neural bases of how people visually experience the world," Associate Professor and Director of the Cognitive and Brain Sciences Graduate Program Gideon Caplovitz said. "With support from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, my lab develops novel stimuli that elicit misperceptions of reality (visual illusions), and uses them in conjunction with non-invasive neuroimaging technologies to identify neural correlates of what we see. @Reality represents a foundational resource for my research program, and is an extremely valuable platform to be used for the training of undergraduate and graduate students. This space is sure to become a true University treasure."
VR: many different things to many different people
"I can think of very few departments and colleges on campus that wouldn't benefit from the tools, expertise and technology available to them in the @Reality studio," Fergus said. "By providing an accessible, high-end, curated experience, users will begin to see, experience and understand what is possible. The possibilities truly are endless."
One way for members of the University community or local developers of VR/AR content to get involved is to attend the VR/AR meet-up event that is taking place on Friday, Oct. 13, at 3 p.m. in the Wells Fargo Auditorium located on the first floor of the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center. Introductions and formal presentations will take place from 3 p.m. - 4:15 p.m. with a soft opening of the @Reality studio to follow. The VR/AR meet-up provides an opportunity to University faculty using this technology to showcase their work, share experiences, ask questions, mingle, and get a sneak peek at of the new @Reality studio.
Professors scheduled to present at the VR/AR Meet-up include, but aren't limited to: Eelke Folmer and Fred Harris from Computer Science and Engineering; Jacqueline Snow from Psychology (clinical neuropsychology); Paul Macneilage from Psychology (vision science); and Gi Yun, Laura Crosswell, Howard Goldbaum from the Reynolds School of Journalism.
"Having this meet-up event take place in conjunction with the opening of @Reality is a true asset to the University community," Folmer said. "The meet-up allows students and faculty to come together to learn about and experience VR in a new, fun and exciting way."