Exploring Immersive Worlds
Research in immersive environments has applications in many domains, including health diagnostics, marketing, architecture and design, and many more. The key is virtual reality’s ability to transport viewers into different situations, places, and times, and then to produce compelling simulations that are experiences as entirely real. Behavioral psychologists and clinicians have long been interested in the ability of virtual reality (VR) to create environments where trauma can be safely addressed.
Other work aims to provide experiences that carry viewers into different historical periods. Imagine the educational power of going into a simulation that recreates a battle scene, as opposed to reading about it.
In Georgia, the virtual reality sector is growing as firms that have done entertainment work stretch to apply VR to other sectors. Companies such as Trick3D and Moxie produce VR applications for corporate clients, and Mark Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks owner, invested $3.5 million in an Atlanta startup working to produce VR applications for the automobile industry.
Entertainment applications dominate industry interest. Of the VR gear bought this year, about two-thirds will relate to game systems. Because interest in the hardware is most likely to be driven by entertaining content, a lot of industry research aims to create a workflow most likely to generate VR killer apps. Developer tools including Unity and Unreal Engine are heavily invested in research that will enable developers to put together content for multiple platforms.
Some VR research addresses platform issues. A surprisingly high number of VR goggle headset users report the experience triggers vertigo or nausea, and a key industry priority is making the experience comfortable. As consumer interest in VR grows (a 2017 survey found 9% of households with broadband expect to buy a VR headset in the coming year, and annual headset sales are projected to soar to 67 million annual by 2021), resolving platform and software issues will become more urgent.
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An example of Georgia State research connected to immersive world building is the project organized by professor Tony Lemieux in the Global Studies Institute in collaboration with Georgia Tech. The project uses augmented reality (AR) in social psychology research and aims to discover what leads people to engage in either peaceful protests or violent attacks, specifically terrorist acts.
For years, Georgia State has used online text-based scenarios to collect data from study participants, but a long-term aspiration has been to administer more realistic experiments. So researchers collaborated with a screenwriter and filmed scenes with professional actors to create an AR experience. Through video montages and first-person narration, participants took on the persona of a member of a fictional oppressed minority group. They also listened to dialogue from two virtual actors who try to persuade them to join a peaceful, student-led protest or join a violent resistance movement. Georgia State and Georgia Tech will soon start a study using the augmented reality system and will compare the results to the online version.
Page Anderson, associate professor of psychology and an associate of the Neuroscience Institute, investigates the use of virtual reality and other widely available technologies to treat anxiety. Her team examines why treatments work and for whom they work. One of Dr. Anderson’s funded research projects is developing internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy using virtual reality exposure therapy for college students with social anxiety disorder.
The new CMII building includes state-of-the-art virtual reality systems that can be used by industry and academic researchers to organize a full range of immersive experimental conditions for message testing and behavioral training and therapeutic applications. Systems being installed include Optitrack motion capture systems that can capture human performances and convert them for use in virtual worlds, and WorldViz VR systems that enable the creation of controlled experimental situations and the manipulation of the world in ways that would be typically impossible.
One of CMII’s professors of practice is James Martin, a specialist in VR and motion capture systems. To organize faculty and industry uses of these systems, a VR/augmented reality research group is being formed so that prospects for collaboration can be explored. If you have an interest in this area, reach out to professor Martin right away and consider joining the research group that will be strategizing future CMII technology use for the coming year.