Backdrop Magazine recently published an article featuring The School of Media Arts and Studies' Virtual Reality Technology. Zachary Berry, a staff writer for Backdrop Magazine, discusses the vision Ohio University’s Immersive Media Initiative has for this burgeoning new medium. Also featured in the article was MDIA Professor Josh Antonuccio who discusses the educational uses of VR in his Storytelling And Media class.
From the Backdrop article:
In the wake of a still morning, a dew-covered valley sits in silence. Out of nowhere, an explosion disturbs the peace. Soldiers donned in Union and Confederate uniforms emerge from behind hills and charge into battle. Brother fights brother in a brutal skirmish. The scene is soon interrupted by another noise: a student informing his professor that class is over. With that, the computer-generated images of the battle dissolve, and History 2000: Survey of the United States is dismissed.
That experience may seem like something out of science fiction, but it is actually the vision of Ohio University’s Immersive Media Initiative. With new virtual and augmented technology on the horizon, the virtual world could soon become reality.
The Immersive Media Initiative, abbreviated as the IMI, is a coalition of Media Arts professors and specialists at Ohio University. Its goal is to integrate virtual and augmented technology into every collegiate department, from nursing to philosophy.
“We’re strong proponents that this is going to be the future of media,” says Eric Williams, an associate professor in the School of Media Arts and Studies and a member of the IMI. “This is going to apply to every single discipline across the university.”
Virtual reality (VR) transports users into a computer- generated world, while augmented reality (AR) brings virtual aspects into the real world. The members of the IMI feel that VR in the classroom is closer to realization than expected, especially considering how the Internet changed the way courses were taught several years ago.
“Think about some technologies that have been disruptive in the last 30 years,” explains John Bowditch, director of the Game Research and Immersive Design (GRID) Lab at Ohio University. “Take the iPhone; look at how enormously popular that’s been at changing the world’s communication structure. It’s only 8 years old!”
Before it can implement the technologies into university classrooms, the IMI needs to explore the capabilities and limitations of VR. That’s where Oculus Rift comes into play.
Oculus Rift is a VR head-mounted display developed by the company Oculus VR. The Rift uses two stereoscopic 3-D screens to create a sense of visual depth. The result is a powerful illusion that makes virtual images seem real.
Palmer Luckey founded Oculus VR in 2012. Later that year, the company created a Kickstarter campaign to fund the first development kit for the Rift. The development kits are prototypes of the Oculus Rift that are available for purchase, which allow developers to create content for the device. The initial Kickstarter became flooded with funding, and work soon began on a second development kit, which included improved graphics.
Funding received another boost when Facebook acquired Oculus Rift for $2 billion in cash and additional Facebook stocks. Currently, a commercial release for the Oculus Rift is scheduled for early 2016.
However, that release date might be too slow to the draw, as many competitors have entered a jungle of VR technologies. Sony is planning on releasing its Project Morpheus VR system around the same time as the Rift, and HTC has teamed up with video game developer Valve to release the HTC Vive later this year.
Awaiting the commercial release of Oculus Rift, Ohio University staff and students explored the technology with development kits. The university owns five Development Kit 2 systems, with Bowditch providing his own Development Kit 1 and Development Kit 2 devices. The university purchased multiple devices because of their affordability. Back in the 1990s, a VR helmet could cost between $6,000 and $15,000. By comparison, Bowditch says that each Oculus Rift Development Kit costs around $350.
Ohio University has the Oculus kits to develop virtual technology, but it currently lacks hardware to develop AR. The IMI members felt Google’s attempt at augmented technology, Google Glass, lacked the innovation they desired, and they hope a standard device for augmented technology will be introduced soon so their work can move forward.
“There’s no great hardware for it yet,” Bowditch says. “There’s no iPhone equivalent. Google Glass was OK technology, but probably poor realization of what you could do with that technology.”
For the time being, the IMI focuses primarily on VR research. What they discovered is just how immersive the technology can be. Along with the Ohio Musculoskeletal and Neurological Institute (OMNI), the IMI initiated a study to examine the effect VR has on the brain.
“If you watch a movie, your brain knows that’s just something you’re watching,” Williams says. “What virtual reality does is it changes that equation. Your brain thinks it’s much more real.”
Josh Antonuccio, a professor in the School of Media Arts and Studies, recalls just how real VR can seem. During his storytelling class, students had the chance to play a horror- based VR game. However, the experience was too immersive for some and two students quit the game.
James Thomas, director of the Motor Control Lab, and Chris France, a professor in the Department of Psychology, worked together on back pain research that used a VR bowling game to examine stretching patterns. Michael Braasch, a professor of electrical engineering avionics, also used VR in a flight simulation experiment.
In addition to university faculty, members of the Ohio University Game Developers Association (OUGDA) began using VR in their projects. During April’s Student Expo, students displayed two separate Oculus-based games. The development of VR games will increase when the new Scripps Hall GRID Lab, which is equipped with virtual technology, is finished later this year.
While previous immersive media research is extremely informative, the IMI hopes to work alongside faculty of every department to discover how virtual and augmented reality best works with different curriculum.
“Our vision with the IMI is to be the provider of media for the experts in these fields, and let their expertise and their imaginations tell us what we need to help make that a reality,” Antonuccio says.
With the rift between reality and VR rapidly decreasing, the IMI is determined to transform Ohio University into a leader in the immersive media race. That is clear in the mission statement provided by Williams: “Immersive media is the future of media, and it should be the future of media at Ohio University.”
To read the article in full please click here.
Original Article by Zachary Terry.