UMBC to Build Giant Virtual Reality Environment

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If you still think of virtual reality as something that involves bulky goggles and awkward holograms, think again. The cutting edge of VR today involves hybrid environments, where the virtual and the actual coexist (and interact). And thanks to a major grant from the National Science Foundation, a group of professors from UMBC is embarking on a quest to build a state-of-the-art virtual reality environment right in our own back yard.

According to the researchers’ NSF grant award, their hybrid virtual reality environment — named PI2 — will create “a human-computer symbiosis.” This technology won’t be aimed at creating badass first-person shooters, either; instead, PI2 will use visualizations, body-centric human interaction and semi-automatic feature detection (essentially, a VR function that mimics the processing capability of the human nervous system) to accelerate education and further collaboration among researchers. Its visualization capabilities could help scientists better interact with big data, or more easily explore regions that are too dangerous or inaccessible for human travel. The possibilities are truly staggering.

While similar VR “caves” exist elsewhere, PI2’s immersive environment will be one of the most advanced of its kind in the entire mid-Atlantic region. Think they’ll let us sneak in and watch trippy YouTube videos in there?



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