Students explore virtual reality in Miami University’s Huge Immersive Virtual Environment (HIVE)

[From The Miami Student; more information is available in The HIVE: A Huge Immersive Virtual Environment for research in spatial cognition (in press) (pdf).]

Students explore virtual reality in HIVE

By Samantha Wargolet for The Miami Student

Published: Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Participants enter a grocery store full of food with a shopping list in hand, and a timer begins to count down from six minutes. As they walk around the aisles, it is slightly difficult to walk straight, and the items on the shelf are impossible to pick up. These shoppers are not at your local Kroger; they are in Miami University’s Huge Immersive Virtual Environment, also known as the HIVE.

Eric Bachmann, associate professor of computer science and software engineering, and David Waller, associate professor of psychology, have created a virtual environment with the world’s largest tracking area. It serves both the psychology and computer science departments at Miami and is located in Phillips Hall.

“[The HIVE gives] the ability to explore large virtual worlds that are inside a computer, but we make it sound, feel and look like you in the place that is in the computer,” Bachmann said.

Participants, usually psychology students, wear a mounted head display covering their eyes, displaying the virtual world. An infrared light is attached to the helmet, and cameras line the walls of the gym, picking up the infrared signal. A backpack sends location signals back to the main computer, according to Tyler Thrash, a fifth year graduate student at Miami.

“It’s like a video game, but you wear the screen on your head, and you can explore the inside the game,” Thrash said.

Bachmann explained how the equipment doesn’t stop users from exploring.

“It is a wearable rendering unit. You aren’t tied to any equipment and you can walk around,” he said.

Thrash has been working with the HIVE. He said the reason it can feel difficult to walk straight has to do with the way the system is configured.

“The computer rotates what you are watching to lead you back to the center of the gym…[we] use this method to simulate larger environments than what we can accommodate here in this set up,” Thrash said.

First-year Taylor Forbes said she was excited to hear about the HIVE on campus.

“It’s something very unique about our school, and how cool would that be to try out?” Forbes said.

The HIVE is used for research on a wide range of topics, including virtual environment and cognitive research, Bachmann said. Psychology students can use the space to explore topics in memory, special locations, redirection, and special awareness, but the HIVE is also important for computer science and software engineering students.

“The computer science part of this is in developing all this equipment and modeling those very large environments,” Thrash said.

The goal is to eventually let the HIVE exist outside of its current location in Phillips Hall, according to Bachmann.

“We want a low cost virtual environment that is portable,” Bachmann said. The virtual environment team is currently in the process of creating this idea, and they have received research funding from the National Science Foundation and the Army Research Office.

Students interested in participating in studies with the HIVE for the respective departments should visit the psychology website, Bachmann said.


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