Honors class joins the village

(This semester, I’m teaching an Honors course all about ICAT. We spend each class period in a different ICAT studio or on a different ICAT project. This is the third in a series of guest blogs from my students.  Stay tuned for more.  Enjoy!  ~Phyllis)

From guest blogger Heather Sangalang

Instead of our usual routine of visiting a specific location to experience the innovative creations that reside in the Moss Arts Center, we remained in the classroom to get educated about the serious matter of working with children. At first glance, the task of working with/around kids seems to be lighthearted and simple, but there turns out to be a lot of things that you must be aware of if. Our instructor went through a Powerpoint that contained important information about this subject.

The main goal of this “training” was to learn how to keep the children safe. They are entrusted in us and we should be made aware of how to protect them. When a child gets physically injured, we would either let another superior know or call for help ourselves; paperwork is also involved in this process. It may seem like a lot of extra steps when the easy solution would just be to help them ourselves, but for legal and safety purposes, others must get involved.

During the lecture, the class heard some disturbing and negative terms, such as pedophile. It is not a pleasant subject, but it had to be touched upon because, again, our number one goal is to keep the kids safe. We are not allowed to leave a child alone with an adult. I was uncomfortable learning about this at the beginning, but I had to realize that I had to know this if I was to work with kids because I would not want anything to happen to them under my watch, especially if it was preventable.

After getting through the Powerpoint of listed precautions and expectations, the members of the class split up to brainstorm possible emergencies that we could encounter and devise a solution for them. A few of the ideas that were shared included if a child had a seizure, if an earthquake hit, if a child got lost, and if the child had an asthma attack. We expressed our opinions on how to deal with those kinds of situations and our instructor chimed in with her advice as well.

After this class, the term, “It takes a village to raise a child”, made me realize even more that it does take a lot of people to raise kids. No matter whether we volunteer for K2C, the Science Museum, or any of the other activities that involves kids, we won’t be single-handedly responsible for the kids. We have each other, other parents, and other volunteers to assist us if there is an emergency. The most important things are to make the child happy and make sure they are protected and loved if something happens. I love working with kids, so this training excited me because I became more equipped for my K2C volunteering that starts next month. This class was beneficial for all of us because we will use this knowledge well-beyond this class.

I’m Heather and I love family, food, and football. You can usually catch me laughing, drinking coffee, or watching YouTube videos.

Adventures in virtual worlds: ICAT class visits the Perform Studio

(This semester, I’m teaching an Honors course all about ICAT. We spend each class period in a different ICAT studio or on a different ICAT project. This is the third in a series of guest blogs from my students.  Stay tuned for more.  Enjoy!  ~Phyllis)

From guest blogger Clark Cucinell:

The friendly robot stared at me for a moment, then offered me a floppy disk which had imprinted on it the image of a rocket. Using the controllers, I grabbed the floppy disk and inserted it into the printer on my left. As the rockets printed, I scanned the room. It was small, around the size of the interior of a typical RV. The space looked like the home of a graduate student preparing for their thesis presentation. Papers and cans were scattered everywhere, the desk in front of me was cluttered. Directly next tome were numerous screens and buttons, which I either could not interact with or did not know how to work. The rockets had finished printing, all four a stereotypical rocket shape with an orange body and light red cone top. I picked one up, pulled back the string dangling from the base, and let go. The rocket propelled itself through the air in random directions, leaving a trail of sparks as it flew around the room.

This is one of the many demos offered by the Oculus Rift, a Virtual Reality headset that immerses the user in a simulated, interactive environment. The headset hijacks the visual and auditory senses, while the controllers provide haptic feedback depending on which object you’re touching. The Performing Arts studio, part of the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology (ICAT), in the Moss Arts Center provided this experience for the ICAT introductory class. We, the students, took turns using the two headsets available; one providing the experience of the previous example and the other introducing the combination of a Virtual Reality headset with Leap Motion, a sensor specializing in tracking hand movement.Using this hybrid headset, the user could manipulate furniture in the area around them by using hand gestures recognized by the LeapMotion sensor. Few of us had used this technology before, which quickly became apparent by the childlike enthusiasm in the room.

Virtual Reality technology is still in its infancy regarding everyday consumer participation. Only recently did these headsets reach price ranges of $600-800, and even then,there aren’t many applications for them yet. Furthermore, the headsets need to be adjusted in order to fit each user. Attempting to wear glasses with the headsets failed, and was very uncomfortable, so I wore it without my glasses.  Though not as prominent, I still experienced blurred vision similar to how I would see the world without glasses. This is apparently easy to fix but takes time, so fine-tuning the headsets for each person in a large group wouldn’t be practical.

Another major issue currently being resolved, in some very creative ways, is the dilemma of how to travel in the virtual world. It’s possible to physically walk and have the movement transfer to the virtual space, but this limits your traveling capabilities to the confinements of the room. The device used in the Perform Studio, and one I was allowed to experience, was the Virtuix Omni, a multidirectional movement simulation treadmill made specifically for virtual reality transportation. It looked like a tripod highchair with a concave base. I wore shoes with sensors on the top, used to track the movement, and plastic on the bottom that created a seemingly frictionless surface interaction with the base. A harness is used to ensure you don’t fall over,though it can be quite uncomfortable. After strapping in, the graduate students handed me the headset and controllers and gave me instructions on how to properly move on the treadmill. Before I knew it, I was running around in a room akin to a basketball court, but with slopes and walkways. I shot robots and defended a gigantic cube, which the robots would shoot, until my inevitable defeat.

Despite these obstacles, virtual reality technology has the potential to transform multiple aspects of society. Training for jobs, gaming and other entertainment experiences, and “visiting” out of reach locations are just some of the ways virtual reality can enhance our lives. Though the impact of this technology is limited until we manage to create consumer grade devices for most niches of society, we can still enjoy the demos and experiences that give us a taste of what is to come.

Clark Cucinell is a junior undergraduate researcher at Virginia Tech, where he is majoring in Computer Science and Chemistry. When he’s not studying or working, Clark can be found at Crimpers rock climbing gym or practicing guitar at his apartment.

ICAT class tackles transdisciplinarity

(This semester, I’m teaching an Honors course all about ICAT. We spend each class period in a different ICAT studio or on a different ICAT project. This is the second in a series of guest blogs from my students.  Stay tuned for more.  Enjoy!  ~Phyllis)

From guest blogger Pamela Kryschtal:

 

It’s easy to say that collaboration is important. But why it’s important is a more difficult question. Can disciplines truly and seamlessly coexist? What will the future of this continued collaboration look like?These, among other questions of interdisciplinary work, are the kinds of questions that interest graduate student Kari Zacharias, the guest speaker this past Monday in ourIntroduction to the Institute for Creativity, Art, and Technology (ICAT) class.

 

As students in this introductory class, we are beginning to expose ourselves to this notion of collaboration among different disciplines. To prepare for this day, we identified vocabulary words that would come in handy. In particular, understanding the difference between multidisciplinary, cross  disciplinary, interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary. The difference between these concepts includes how they are implemented and how they are utilized to solve complex problems.

 

Our day with Kari was informative and interactive. Kari began with a general “get to know you” round table, an important step to get the creative juices flowing, particularly when the topic is collaboration. She then continued by giving us a history of the arts and sciences blending together. Everything from the catalyst of “9 Evenings” in the 1960s, to the 1980s where these artist-engineer hybrids began to name themselves, and back to the 1860s, where the foundation for this world began with land grant universities and the transition from solving university problems to real problems.

 

Kari followed this introduction with an exercise to gain an insight of the possible future of ICAT.She began by asking us what we considered to be challenges with ICAT.We came up with a relatively comprehensive list and included challenges such as improper balance among the disciplines, the inability to communicate, and the job concerns associated with spending too much time outside of your specialty. Kari asked us to pick two of these challenges that stood out to us. We as a class decided on the disciplinary divide in these settings, i.e. how important decisions get made, and the review process, since art is subjective and technology is objective. We placed each of these challenges on a coordinate plane with the disciplinary divide as the y-axis and the review process as the x-axis. Each end of the axes represented the extremes in each of these scenarios, a hierarchal vs. a radically democratic divide and a qualitative vs. a quantitative review process. We split in to groups and each tackled a quadrant of this graph and came up with a scenario for those imaginary settings. For example, what would the world look like if decisions were made in a hierarchy and all decisions were based on qualitative research? Aside from some discrepancies about when qualitative research is, each group came up with applicable and insightful scenarios that could assist in how we approach this world of collaboration.

 

As an engineering student who does not consider herself very creative, I found this entire day particularly interesting. Kari highlighted that this initial collaboration was intended to “save the soul of the engineer.” In her paper, “Land-Grant Hybrids: From Art and Technology toSEAD,” Kari and author Matthew Wisnioski point out that these types of collaborations at MIT began, “with the intention of “humanizing” MIT’s local and national image through civic art.”was beginning to think that I was studying to become a pencil pushing numbers monger in need of saving until I read that, “MIT provided the equipment and the experts to realize artists’ interpretations in technological media.” I was put at ease with the realization that while I might benefit from an artist’s perspective, the respect is mutual and we all need each other.

 

Pamela Kryschtal is a seasoned but enthusiastic engineering student at Virginia Tech. She is driven by a passion for experiences and communication.

Honors class visits the Cube

(This semester, I’m teaching an Honors course all about ICAT. We spend each class period in a different ICAT studio or on a different ICAT project. This is the first in a series of guest blogs from my students.  Stay tuned for more.  Enjoy!  ~Phyllis)

From guest blogger Adham Nabhan:

During our visit to The Cube, the class was able to experience firsthand the incredible technologies that the facility has to offer, both visually and acoustically. We began by delving into the splendor of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon using the 130+ speakers that The Cube has at its disposal. Because of the immersive natural of the space, one could listen to guitar riffs float from their right and clash over head as they meet hard drum lines coming from their left. Goose bump inducing.

We were also treated to an incredibly unique experience in which The Cube was able to recreate the sounds that would be heard if the class was on the field in Lane Stadium during a football game. The noise was loud, but not nearly as loud as the battle cry in my soul. A very intense experience to say the least.

After going into greater detail about the programs and platforms that are used to create the immersive acoustic environments that The Cube offers, including the software that allows the user to manipulate the sound in the room with ultimate control, the class was formally introduced to the Cyclorama. This massive ring-like “canvas” gives ICAT’s artists a platform to display their creations like nowhere else on campus. We were shown several examples of the Cyclorama’s capabilities, highlighted by an immersive 360-degree look at elephants performing typical elephant tasks, such as walking, breathing, and walking, in their native Ghana.

Finally, the thirst from both our eyes and ears were quenched together when the class was shown a 360-degree courtside view of a basketball game at Cassell Coliseum, complete with 360 acoustics. Once again, my Hokie blood ran ferociously through my veins. This time, however, not because of the display itself, but because of the incredible work and effort that the people at ICAT have done to create such a unique, creative, and technologically advanced space for the great minds at Virginia Tech to have at their disposal.

Adham Nabhan breathes passion into everything he does. Whether he’s working towards his mechanical engineering degree, running up and down intermural fields, or writing in the third person, his energy and enthusiasm is apparent in all his work.

Wintermester ICAT / University Honors course

This Wintermester, Tanner and I co-taught a Honors College course hosted in the ICAT Cube and Perform studios.  The goal was for students to learn the ins and outs of these facilities and their systems, and to create projects that combine at least two of the following: motion capture, virtual reality, immersive projection, spatial audio.  They got to be the first folks to make use of our VR backpacks, which was really fun to see.  It was definitely a trial by fire for all our systems, putting everything to the test, but I’m glad to say that it seems like we built things robustly enough that everything held together.

The class was intense, with 4 hours of class-time per day, 5 days per week for two weeks.  The students were fantastic to work with.  They were very focused and eager, and I think they came away with a strong and novel experience.  Their final projects went way beyond our expectations, and we’re very proud of what they accomplished.  There 6 groups and 7 projects.

Haunted Halls

A virtual reality horror experience in the Oculus HMD with the VR backpack.  Walk through a haunted maze and be terrified by the spooky spatialized sounds and terrifying visualizations.

Wintermester 2017 – Haunted Halls Final Project
Wintermester 2017 – Haunted Halls Final Project

Crowning Achievement (a Pun)

Checkers in outerspace.  Using VR with the Oculus and backpack.  Multiplayer included.  Pick up checkers pieces with your hand and move them around the board.  Spatialized background music an added bonus.

Wintermester 2017 – Crowning Achievement Final Project
Wintermester 2017 – Crowning Achievement Final Project

PhoAsteroids

A game of asteroids, but with 360 immersive projection on the Cyclorama.  Hold a wand and point it at the screen to try to destroy the asteroids flying around.  The more you destroy, the faster they go.  Spatial audio tracks the asteroids as they fly around you, making a satisfying POP when you destroy an asteroid.

Wintermester 2017 – PhoAsteroids Final Project
Wintermester 2017 – PhoAsteroids Final Project

Michael Rhoades

An abstract fixed-media art composition, depicting a space of cylinders and mirrors.  Projected in stereoscopic on the Cyclorama, with spatial audio.  It’s quite an experience to see this metallic, glass world seem to come out of the screen in 3D.

Wintermester 2017 – Michael Rhoades Final Project
Wintermester 2017 – Michael Rhoades Final Project

Last Words

Where art, particles, typography, and 360 3D projection meet.  The depth of the stereoscopic projection they accomplished here was incredible, and it was really fun to see the first experiments in typography on the Cyclorama.  The spatial audio of music and sound clips to accompany the video was also very effective.

Wintermester 2017 – Last Words Final Project
Wintermester 2017 – Last Words Final Project

Peek A Boo

A short animation of a girl hiding in the Cube, peeking out from behind a curtain.  Sounds simple, maybe, until you find out that they accomplished this by using motion capture to record the animation, apply it to a prebuilt model, and then rendered in 360 3D for the Cyclorama.  With the spatial audio call and response with the girl, it puts you in the virtual space.

Wintermester 2017 – Peek A Boo Final Project
Wintermester 2017 – Peek A Boo Final Project

Lane Stadium

A recreation of what it’s like to enter Lane Stadium on gameday as a Hokie football player.  The spatial audio is the key component here; the students scraped together a series of audio clips they could find to reassemble the aural experience of coming down the tunnel and out onto the field, making great use of the sound system in the Cube.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like VT sports has gotten into the 360 video area yet, so the students used a video from another university instead, which looked amazing on the Cyclorama.  This would be great material for them to take to VT Sports to try to pitch for the opportunity to take a real recording.

Wintermester 2017 – Lane Stadium Final Project
Wintermester 2017 – Lane Stadium Final Project