Virtual Reality Soars at University of Maryland
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The term virtual reality first emerged in the late 1930s, but only now is the technology showing how it can help with security, medicine and training. The University of Maryland has one of the leading research teams.
We spent a day visiting the school’s Augementarian this week at the College Park campus, where over $1M has been invested to study and develop practical uses for virtual reality and augmented reality. The difference between the two is that VR replicates a physical environment and fools our senses into believing we’re there. AR embeds digital objects in a physical real world.
The school’s Virtual and Augmented Reality Laboratory, directed by Amitabh Varshney, has partnered with the federal government on public safety applications like using the technology to find lost people, say in a national park. The lab is also working closely with local healthcare providers on using the technologies to train medical students. Amitabh says virtual reality and augmented reality technology has taken off in the last few years because the equipment has dropped in price.
The University of Maryland is working with the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center on using virtual reality to get medical students comfortable in a fast-paced trauma setting. Trauma surgeon Sarah Murthi talked about the various cameras rigged in the clinical rooms so that medical students get a near reality experience of a real-life setting. The partnership is also exploring how virtual reality can be used in telesurgery and robotic-assisted surgery. Even on the warfield, AR and VR technology can be used to help a robot stabilize a wounded solider.
Murthi also demonstrated how the technology can scan a large megapixel photo for a missing person in an outdoor scene or a suspicious person in a crowd of people. Future research will be done on lighter weight, durable head gear with augmented reality technology. Soldiers will be able to receive real-time information while on the ground. The research will also include how much information is useful to the human brain at any given moment, as well as how stomach-lurching the VR technology can be in certain training sessions.
The university also launched a three-year summer camp that extends into the academic year for underrepresented grade-school kids to learn computer science, including how to develop apps in virtual reality. Maryland Center for Women in Computer director Jandelyn Plane, who runs the camp, is showing one of the games developed by students where players have to shoot at incoming astroids. The university uses millions of dollars in Oculus virtual reality gear donated by the company’s founders, who are also University of Maryland alumni.