Drexel University launches new research lab for VR and AR

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Pennsylvania-based Drexel University has opened a new research lab for immersive technologies.

The Westphal College of Media Arts & Design’s Immersive Research Lab will work with students and researchers to push the application of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) into new spaces.

“This is the first space on campus dedicated to the study and development of immersive media and virtual and augmented reality,” said Nick Jushchyshyn, an assistant professor in Westphal College and director of the new lab.

“With a concentration of the latest AR/VR technologies and creative minds from around campus, we see this as a resource that will expose all Drexel students to the latest visualisation technology, while the next generation is being created by students in the lab.”

The 550-square-foot, glass-enclosed lab, which is centrally located in Westphal’s URBN Center, will feature the latest computer technology, including HP-ZVR Backpack workstations, as well as cutting-edge virtual and AR devices, from Oculus Go, HTC Vive and Microsoft HoloLens headsets, to Leap Motion hand-tracking and iClone facial motion capture systems, as well as a full motion capture studio equipped with OptiTrack and Vicon motion capture devices.

A number of new technologies have already been developed for the lab by Juschyschyn and his team, including 360-degree VR cameras, a custom VR cycle platform and an x-wing fighter cockpit platform.

The lab also includes three screening rooms, stereo and mono display screens, an Ambisonics sound system, and a 16-foot diameter domed projection screen.

“If you have even the smallest inkling of an idea that involves immersive media and AR/VR, this lab will give you the tools and expertise to explore it and test it out”

Nick Jushchyshyn, an assistant professor in Westphal College and director of the Immersive Research Lab

Jushchyshyn said of the lab: “If you have even the smallest inkling of an idea that involves immersive media and AR/VR, this lab will give you the tools and expertise to explore it and test it out, including computers, headsets, motion capture, custom immersive camera systems, motion platforms and even holographic displays. The lab is also just steps away from our maker lab, fashion design department and large motion capture and green screen studios, which has already inspired a number of collaborative projects.”

Jushchyshyn has supported a variety of interdisciplinary projects as a professor in Westphal’s digital media programme and director of its programmes in animation and visual effects, immersive media and the Animation, Capture & Effects Lab.

Many of them, including collaborations with the Academy of Natural Sciences to produce a VR dinosaur experience, an immersive projection display of items from Drexel’s Fox Historic Costume Collection, and an AR exhibition created with an organist at the Curtis Center, will continue as the Immersive Research Lab progresses.

In addition, Jushchyshyn, whose industry experience includes work on visually striking films such as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Last Air Bender and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, is also building a bachelor of science programme in VR and immersive media that will enroll its first students in the fall of 2019.

His goal is to expose students to the latest VR and AR technology and software, and work with industry developers and alumni in the field to deploy their talents through Drexel’s co-op programme.

Jushchyshyn concluded: “While we are preparing students to make their mark in a field that is in a constant state of motion, one thing is for certain—this technology, which allows us to experience our world, and others, in new and exciting ways, is the new reality.”