Virtual Reality

University of Maryland Uses Virtual Reality Lab for Research and Education

The University of Maryland hosted a demonstration of its new virtual and augmented reality laboratory recently, showing off the lab's potential to support research, education and training in the sciences, engineering, medicine and industry.

The lab, called the Augmentarium, is housed in a 1,000 square foot facility at the University of Maryland's College Park campus. It opened in December 2014 with the help of more than $1 million in funding, including a $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

The Augmentarium features both virtual and augmented reality technology. While virtual reality immerses people in a computer-generated simulation of an environment, augmented reality overlays computer-generated visuals on the physical environment. The virtual and augmented reality is achieved with the help of a large, tiled, immersive stereoscopic display; headsets from Oculus, MetaAR and Vuzix; interaction sensors such as Microsoft Kinect, LeapMotion, infrared cameras, EEG sensors and eye tracking devices; multi-camera light-field arrays for multiscopic video capture; rapid prototyping facilities with a 3D laser scanner and 3D printer; and high-end 3D graphics workstations.

The university is using the Augmentarium for practical purposes such as surgery and medical training. According to information on the Augmentarium's site, the technology enables surgeons "to effectively 'see through' a patient before any incision is made," and helps industrial organizations train technicians to install, calibrate and maintain complex systems in a safe environment.

The people behind the Augmentarium said they believe this technology has the potential "to improve the way doctors operate, the way police officers respond to emergencies and how soldiers navigate dangerous situations," according to a recent story in the Baltimore Business Journal. However, it will be years before the technology is ready for general application in operating rooms and elsewhere because video glitches that may be tolerable for entertainment applications could have devastating effects in life-and-death situations. The researchers at the Augmentarium are working to transform human augmentation research to improve applications in those and other fields.

About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at leilameyer@gmail.com.

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