New virtual reality lab offers research, educational potential.
The system, called a Cave Automatic Virtual Environment, takes up an entire room in a UCSC engineering building. Multiple high-resolution projections of images at slightly different angles create impressions of depth and solidity, and a sense of presence in a virtual space.
Sri Kurniawan, associate professor of computational media and computer engineering, said the lab has applications in fields such as computing, game design, psychology and the arts.
For example, the virtual reality could be used to assess people with phobias, by creating controlled simulations of heights or other possible triggers. It also could be used to visualize large, complex sets of data, she said.
Kurniawan led an interdisciplinary team of faculty that won a $300,000 National Science Foundation grant, plus matching funds from campus, to buy the equipment and renovate the lab. Other members include computational media professors Michael Mateas and Noah Wardrip-Fruin, film and digital media professor Warren Sack and psychology professor Steven Whittaker.
Wardrip-Fruin, who has used similar facilities at other institutions, said this equipment can transport people into an alternate reality in an unprecedented fashion.
“There is a big difference between experiencing virtual reality with a head-mounted display and experiencing it in a CAVE. It’s a much more powerful experience of being present with the virtual world,” he said.
Arnav Jhala, assistant professor of computational media, researches computer games with believable full-body interaction. Jhala said immersive virtual environments can improve learning.
“Many educational environments, such as those for military or medical training, require players to be immersed in the surroundings of their target environment,” Jhala said. “The CAVE Lab provides us with an environment for developing and evaluating these applications.”
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