Virtual reality comes to campus
By Adam R. Smith
The old billiards room on Purdue University's campus is now the location of a new virtual reality research facility.
Graphic provided by Information Technology at Purdue
The Envision Center will feature a 1,000 sq. ft. virtual reality theater that will be used by both professors and students.
The same place where students once played pool between classes will now be used to take virtual reality tours. "You can do things in virtual reality (VR) that you can't do in the real world," said Laura Arns, visualization and computer graphics application engineer. "You can essentially make yourself very small and walk around an atom, or you can make yourself very big and see whole continents at a time."
The transition from pool balls to atom exploration stems from a growing field of science known as "perceptualization." This new field of study is a mix of many disciplines such as psychology, computer engineering, electrical engineering, computer science and mathematics and is the basis for the Envision Center for Data Perceptualization at Purdue.
"Perceptualization combines many different perceptions," said Gary R. Bertoline, associate vice president of visualization, data mining and research interactions. "In our case, we combine visual, auditory and haptic or touch technologies to make a perception."
Research has been done on the different areas. The results all point to the fact that, while a person can learn about an environment by only having one perception, when a few perceptions are combined, the user can learn much more.
"With virtual reality technology you can see a wall but put your hand right through it," Arns said. "If you include haptic technology in the perception, it will feel like you are actually touching the wall." While wearing a computerized glove, a user would be able to virtually touch things in the VR world and feel a sense of pressure, texture and temperature.
"The science behind virtual reality is from the creation of two images," Bertoline said. "A stereo (two) image is split using filters. Special polarized glasses split the image and give the user's brain the perception of virtual reality."
Although students won't be able to play in the center like they could in the nearby arade, a professor might decide to take his class to the facility for a virtual representation of a topic being discussed in lecture.
Bertoline predicts that students will one day have projects that will necessitate the use of the Envision Center. For instance, a student in agricultural and biological engineering (ABE) could use the center for a senior design project.
"Purdue is becoming very high-tech," said Nathan Houk, senior in the College of Agriculture from Decatur, Ind. "It has changed tremendously since I was a freshman." The Envision Center is due to open in the spring of 2004.