K-12 Visiting the Cube

Editor’s Note – This post is from Phyllis Newbill, the Outreach and Engagement Coordinator here at ICAT.  Enjoy!

 

I had the pleasure of hosting school groups today from Mountain Vista Governor’s School and Hardin Reynolds Memorial School in Patrick County.  Thanks to Tanner and Zach, the students saw and heard demos of basketball games, elephants, anechoic chambers, cathedrals, dog skeletons, and fantasy landscapes.  The groups also visited the Experience and Create Studios to see 3D printers, the laser cutter, and a project involving lots of pencils that I haven’t quite figured out yet.  I know that graphite is conductive, though, so I think that’s a clue.

I was glad to see Mountain Vista again.  Their school has done a great job of sending projects and students to the Maker Conference each year in the spring.  Today’s group was of tenth graders, so I’m looking forward to seeing them again later this school year or in future years.

The Hardin Reynolds students happened to tour the Create Studio at the moment that Panagiotis, a CHCI grad student, was finishing a 3D print.  He showed them how the 3D printer works, and also gave them a full demo of his 3D printed olive oil factory parts.

My favorite part of the day was when the students got to see a 3D fantasy landscape in the Cube, and they reached out to see if they could touch the objects they were seeing.

VR upgrades in the Cube

While the blog has been quiet recently, ICAT is far from it.  I haven’t posted recently because I don’t have a new flashy video to show off yet, but we’ve made some excellent internal developments.

Foremost in my mind at the moment is our integration of the Oculus CV1 into the Cube motion capture system.  In the past, we’d used the DK2 as our go-to headset.  It was connected by HDMI and USB to a laptop that someone would have to carry around behind whomever had the headset on.  The DK2 itself was OK, but the resolution wasn’t fantastic.  There was also a decent amount of shakiness to the perspective coming from the mocap system.

Oh, how times have changed.  With the CV1, we can use the IMU’s rotational data for the VR perspective.  Not only does this eliminate the shakiness, but it’s super low-latency.  But in order to enable users to walk freely thru the Cube, we’re still using the position data from the motion capture system, and disregarding position data from the Oculus infrared sensor (it still has to be plugged in or the Oculus app throws a fit, but it doesn’t actually serve a purpose).  The combination of these two works *brilliantly*, resulting in by far the best VR experience we’ve ever had in the Cube.

But wait, there’s more.  Right now, we have this running off a laptop with a dedicated graphics card, which is a problem.  The laptop’s battery can’t supply enough juice to the GPU, so when the laptop is unplugged it automatically lowers the GPU’s memory clock which dramatically hurts VR performance.  Enter the MSI VR One laptop/backpack/jetpack(!)(??)/new-kind-of-computer-form-factor-that-doesn’t-really-have-a-name-yet.  This thing is designed for tetherless VR.  You put it on like a backpack, you hook all the VR stuff up to it, tie up all the cords, and you’re free to walk around the room with nary a concern of tripping on cords or having someone else hold the laptop (new meme idea: Hold My Laptop… while I do some VR).  Caveat: we haven’t actually tried this thing yet.  It JUST released, and we have one on the way.  So, it’s possible that it won’t live up to expectations, but I’m hopeful.  If this works, we will get several more, and have true, tetherless, social VR in the Cube for the first time ever.

P.S. I’m still doing a lot of work on the physics VR simulation, and it’s looking great.  I’ve built a diegetic interface.  Once we get this backpack, I’ll take some video of a user exploring the simulation, using the interface, and post that here.