Distinguished lecturer talks virtual reality in modern world

Serena Bettis

Widespread use of virtual reality has yet to become the world’s reality, but it may not be too far away.

Colorado State University welcomed Doug Bowman on Oct. 14 to speak on augmented reality and immersive analytics as part of the Distinguished Lectures series, hosted by the Information Science and Technology Center.

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Bowman, a computer science professor at Virginia Tech, looks at how virtual or augmented reality can best serve the general public. His research asks how people might want to use this technology and what barriers there are to access it. 

“We really want to know if there are measurable benefits to using this technology for doing visualization of data,” Bowman said. “Do we understand things better? Do we discover things faster? Do we get insights that we couldn’t get otherwise?”

ISTeC Director Edwin Chong said ISTeC is an organization that covers all colleges on campus, with one of the main activities they hold every semester being the Distinguished Lectures series. The series is meant to be accessible to students of any major and provide simple insight into more complex topics. 

Bowman discussed the purpose of virtual reality, the problems that developers come across and research that he is currently working on. He said that when he was a graduate student, virtual reality research focused on specific tasks, such as showing building designs for architects or training surgeons to operate.

He believes that augmented reality could allow for users to conveniently work on tasks from anywhere in the world they might otherwise complete on a computer or a smartphone.

“I think that his research in augmented reality is pretty cutting edge, especially with the shared spaces and using one augmented reality headset to witness another augmented reality headset,” said Vidya Gaddy, a graduate student who works in the Natural User Interfaces lab.

We really want to know if there are measurable benefits to using this technology for doing visualization of data.” -Doug Bowman, computer science professor at Virginia Tech

Although the research in virtual and augmented reality is far from complete, Bowman was optimistic about its future.

“We can put any digital content anywhere we want at any time,” Bowman said.

Bowman showed videos of his experiments, which displayed different interfaces that act like apps on a computer, and the different methods of interaction that one could use. He said they found pros and cons to navigating the interface with a device like a joystick or to navigating it with body movements.

“I think we’re at a sweet spot right now in terms of doing this research because we have some pretty good AR hardware,” Bowman said. “We can prototype all these things we envision for the future and do these studies. Hopefully the results of those studies can be applied in a few years.”

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Serena Bettis can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @serenaroseb