Virtual Reality in Higher Education Q&A
with Jim Angelillo

virtual reality presentation at university
Virtual reality (VR) is the creation of a simulation using 3D images or modeling, and that can be interacted with using special hardware. Source:

VR technology consists of room-based display and interaction solutions such as the CAVE™, CAD Wall™, and other large field-of-view display-based systems. Head-mounted display (HMD) solutions such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are smaller field-of-view devices that can include interaction and are much lower in cost. These are driving more adoption, yet the experience using HMD can be difficult for users that have claustrophobic tendencies.

The user community has grown from the early adopters such as the military, U.S. Research Laboratories (i.e. Los Alamos, Sandia, NASA), university research labs, and research labs within the oil and gas, automotive and aerospace industries. It has grown to include K-12 education, primetime corporate America, and from a small handful of users to millions worldwide.

There is still much work to do for VR to become a standard technology within all organizations: costs need to continue to come down (just as computer hardware did from the late 1970s to now) and the capabilities of multiple people working in the same environment with a real-life feel needs to be improved. 

Jim Angelillo, AVI-SPL VP of enterprise business development, has been working in VR since 1992, and says the field is more promising than it ever has been.

Question 1: How are universities applying advanced visualization technology to create virtual reality?

They’re using it for recruiting, like virtual tours for students. Immersive language studies where you interact with a virtual teacher and practice languages. Architectural education – building walkthroughs, real-time renderings in 3D, proof of concept with clients. engineering education – proof designs and virtual prototypes before building physical prototypes or models. Medical education – training with virtual humans, immersion within real MRI data. History education – travel back in time. Art history – explore ancient and historical art without having to have the physical art in your presence.

Question 2: What kind of new relationships are schools able to form with outside partners because of advanced visualization technology and virtual reality?

As it becomes more prolific, VR is becoming essential to attracting students. As for public-private partnerships, we see the military forming partnerships with higher ed institutions to help with research and education (e.g. military EMT and first responder training; combat training; drone intelligence to name a few – see this video for a glimpse of what USC is doing with the military). Other partnerships include medical simulation companies such as CAE Healthcare working with University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) to create better human simulators from joint research. And AVI-SPL is working with UNMC to include tracking of human simulator data via Unify ME Symphony – creating reporting that will help medical trainers understand better what is happening with the students’ usage during simulator-based instruction.

medical presentation with VR

Question 3: How has technology evolved to improve the quality of visualization?

The visual acuity and resolution has improved dramatically, the physical tracking of humans and objects has become more accurate, the computing power is much faster, and the costs have come down dramatically as well, making it better quality at a lower cost.

Question 4: Talk about AVI-SPL’s ability and expertise in providing these solutions.

AVI-SPL’s main benefit is the ability to provide VR and AR as well AV and UC solutions and support. As for VR, we have specialized teams that understand the needs analysis process, as well as the computer cluster technology, tracking technology, and display technology. We also understand the mind of the client that is looking to integrate VR into their workflow. We know what is possible and what is not and are very up front with clients that come to us for advice.

University of Toledo was a groundbreaking training center for medical professionals such as med students, nursing students and EMT students, to name a few. Utilizing a training modality that starts with virtual reality imagery and moves to physical human simulators and ultimately to live tissue as opposed to training in a traditional classroom (lectures and book work), this is akin to how pilots train on flying aircraft. You must do procedures over and over successfully before ever being allowed to work on a real human (or fly a real airplane).

Rice University is using their DaVinci virtual environment for seismic interpretation (viewing and interacting with stereoscopic 3D seismic modeling captured from satellite and geo-probe data) that allows the users to walk through, around and into the actual seismic data and make drilling and acquisition decisions for the oil and gas industry. They are also using it for medical simulation and architectural modeling and rendering walkthroughs. The oil and gas industry in Houston has partnered with them for R&D for seismic interpretation research. See Rice video here.

The most interesting project to date is the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s iEXCEL℠.  iEXCEL is a bold initiative that engages learners in real-life scenarios using simulation and virtual reality technology, which enables them to acquire skills and knowledge before encountering real-life scenarios. The team creating this exciting new medical education training center is the same people that created the University of Toledo’s IISC. Find the center’s vision and description here.

Download this Q&A as a pdf.

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