Mar 7, 2011

Virtalis ActiveSpace for the University of Abertay

THE HIVE (Human Interactive Virtual Environment) lab at The Unversity of Abertay, Dundee, has just upgraded its Virtual Reality (VR) tracking system and added a Virtalis ActiveSpace.

The configuration for Abertay’s ActiveSpace is an NVIS SX60 Head Mounted Display (HMD) linked to an InterSense IS900 motion tracker with data wand and a custom-built workstation. The principal advantage of the Virtalis ActiveSpace is that its users have the freedom and flexibility to move around in their virtual environment. Many visualisation experts believe that the new generation of wide field of view HMDs combined with tracking give the greatest sense of immersion available today.

Abertay’s focus on the gaps between disciplines led to the creation of the UK’s first ever computer games technology degree. In this spirit, the HIVE accommodates research and games projects in disciplines ranging from Forensic Science to Digital Arts. The HIVE multidisciplinary laboratory aims to develop ways of using interactive digital media efficiently, effectively and intuitively. Dr Kenneth Scott-Brown, psychology lecturer at Abertay, says: “The digital business is big in Dundee, so we have a lot of buy-in for our various research groups. We turned to Virtalis, because we trust their VR advice.”

ActiveSpace deploys Virtalis’ integrated head and hand tracking solution. This means that the perspective of the visuals alters according to the user’s position and orientation within the scene. The hand-held controller allows the immersive experience to be enhanced further. The user can navigate through the virtual world, pick and manipulate component parts in real time and make decisions on the fly.
Scott-Brown explains: “Given Abertay University’s reputation for computer game design and technology, Virtalis’ ActiveSpace will be used to help inform and develop the layout, design and narrative of the next generation of computer games. It is mainly being used by final year undergraduates, masters students and PhD students. We are maximising the numbers of students and researchers who can use the ActiveSpace, because we find they really appreciate being able to address their own ideas with the latest kit.
“Integrating the ActiveSpace with Vizard, a development environment offered by Virtalis, speeds up the process of application development. What would have taken several files plus integration with C++ to achieve in Java, we can do with a dozen lines of code in Vizard. This means our programmers have reduced the time required to produce interactive content. We host a variety of industry-facing, prototyping projects, so our facility is also available to games developers in and around Dundee.”

Abertay is currently using its ActiveSpace to evaluate perception within virtual environments. For example, researchers are looking into what triggers cybersickness and how best to minimise it. Another fascinating research area is into the “Uncanny Valley”. This is an effect that some extremely realistic virtual environments unexpectedly have – they become stripped of emotion and believability. It appears that cartoon-like virtual environments may be perceived as more authentic. “Our contribution is focused on the application gap between the hardware and the software”, comments Scott-Brown. “The solution is in the software, so for this technology to be taken up more widely, the applications need to be right and the development process must be as fast and simple as possible.”