University tech lab takes on virtual reality

By Mark Carter, Arkansas Business
February 29th, 2016

virtual reality

Carolina Cruz-Neira’s visualization technology lab in the Emerging Analytics Center at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock is a playground for the imagination.

The virtual reality that unfolds within Carolina Cruz-Neira’s lab is helping envision better companies and cities–both modern and ancient–and even train better medical students.

Arkansas Business reports that Cruz-Neira is an internationally renowned virtual reality scientist who was recruited to UALR in 2014 by the Arkansas Research Alliance Scholars program, and the university is benefiting from her expertise and the industry credibility she brought with her.

Born in Venezuela and raised in Spain, Cruz-Neira has been on the forefront of VR since the 1990s. Before joining UALR, she established the Virtual Reality Applications Center at Iowa State University and the Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise at the Univer-sity of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Her EAC program at UALR is in its first full academic year, now grown to about 25 students and a faculty/staff leadership team of six. Cruz-Neira believes the program is starting to hit its stride.

Throughout March and April, she and members of the team will continue their “world tour,” taking the VR programs developed in Little Rock to prestigious events and conferences on both coasts and in Europe. Cruz-Neira thinks the EAC team has made enough progress to show off a little in just the program’s second year.

“Right now, our biggest challenge is to tell the world we are here,” she said. “Now we have enough stuff to take the show on the road. At some of these events, we’re one of the main displays.”

Thanks to the addition of Cruz-Neira and her husband, EAC chief scientist Dirk Reiners, an expert in immersive virtual reality, UALR is beginning to emerge as a true VR player.

ARA President and CEO Jerry Adams said Cruz-Neira has not only been a valuable addition to UALR but to the research talent level of the state as well.

“Carolina has international credentials and contacts in a number of technology areas,” he said. “Recently, I introduced Carolina to a good friend who is involved with museum design worldwide and of course, Carolina has experience in that area too. Carolina has already made inroads into corporate Arkansas and has also recruited a top-notch leadership team also, all of this in less than two years.”

Last year, Cruz-Neira presented at the international Virtual Reality Summit in Santa Clara, California, alongside firms such as Adobe and schools such as the University of Southern California. She also led an EAC contingent to France where Reiners led a two-day session on VR software infrastructure.

(Next page: What the EAC crew has planned for the spring)

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