(Photo by Stephen Babcock)
The VR cave is now open to explore at UMBC.
About a year after word got out, the university’s immersive reality lab is up-and-running in the Information Technology/Engineering building at the Catonsville campus. It’s officially called the π² Immersive Hybrid Reality Lab.
The wall-size collection of curved, high-res screens projects images that offer a similar environment to virtual reality, but doesn’t require goggles. With the glasses, however, the images pop out in augmented reality fashion.
UMBC received a National Science Foundation grant to get the technology, and the aim is to use it to help faculty and students with research. Officials said they have interest from 35 professors across disciplines like engineering, art and science.
“The beauty of this new lab — and of visualization — is that that it allows for close and meaningful collaboration, by gathering in this hybrid reality space, to explore new ideas and concepts, and use the visual experience to transition across traditional disciplinary gaps,” said UMBC Vice President of Research Karl Steiner.
At a demo on Friday, Computer Science and Electrical Engineering Professor Jian Chen was giving curious students and faculty a look at a diffusion-weighted cancer MRI. Given the precision required to determine how a tumor is changing, the interaction that the lab provides can help researchers gain more precision, said Chen, who brought the idea for the lab to Steiner.
UMBC can also take interactive research tools out of the single room. Researchers have begun to use VR goggles. In another room, geography professor Jeffrey Halverson was demonstrating a sphere called the “Magic Planet.”
The tool projects images for study in a full sphere. Now that they have it, Halverson said hundreds of visuals are available for free.
The globe was a natural example given its shape, and Halverson showed maps that revealed ocean currents and seasonal changes in sea ice. We were impressed.
“It’s astounding because so much ice disappears,” he said, referring to the summer months. He then clicked a remote that spun the projection so Antarctica was facing him. “Almost all of it disappears,” he said.
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