XR Lab News

WKU XR Lab Students Have Award-Winning Showing at Mid-South ACM Conference

November 13, 2022

On Friday, November 11, the WKU XR Lab attended the ACM (Association of Computing Machinery) conference in Gatlinburg, TN, with an interdisciplinary team of 15 students representing the colleges of OCSE and PCAL and the Gatton Academy. The five supporting XR Lab faculty in attendance were SEAS Professors Greg Arbuckle and Michael Galloway, and Professors Kristina Arnold, Mark Simpson, and Truth Tran, from the Department of Art & Design.

Every XR Lab student presenting received awards for their research, with student teams placing first in undergraduate paper presentations, and first, second, and third in poster presentations.

First place for an undergraduate paper was awarded to the “Eclipse Totality Megamovie Application” research presented by Joey Jackson, Travis Peden, and Lance Warfel, with application prototype development by Madison Whittle. This project aims to test the bounds of citizen science, or the practice of public participation and collaboration in scientific research to increase scientific knowledge, by involving over a million members of the public in capturing data on the total solar eclipse occurring on April 8th, 2024, spanning from Texas to Maine. This project seeks to expand upon a similar one conducted in 2017, which used 1000 citizen scientists, to a significantly larger scale, by developing an incentivized, user-friendly application for smartphones that will utilize camera tech to take a series of photos and videos of the eclipse.

First place for posters was awarded to the team of Nicholas Clayton, Austin Costello, Will Herring, Cole Johnson, Zachary Mers, Alyssa Putman, Michael Putman, and Emma Young for their project on “UAV Cave Mapping and VR Experience.” This team has been working to build and use an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) drone to map the inside of caves and use the data to ‘rebuild’ these caves in virtual reality, thus eliminating the need to physically enter them. The expected result of the project is to create a virtual environment that accurately represents the geographical data collected by the drone using a LIDAR sensor, overlaid with more detailed texture and image information. This project hopes to develop applications for LIDAR data and the use of Unity in creating experiences in virtual reality to allow for educational and research projects such as cave exploration.

The Gatton Academy student team of Ivy Bowers, Jonathon Reilly, and Carolina Wheeler placed second in poster presentations with their project on creating a “Virtual Reality Campus Tour Using 3D Modeling and Scanning.” Their project investigates the use of 3D modeling and scanning in the construction of enhanced lifelike virtual reality tour experiences. While many virtual reality tours use 360-degree camera imagery because of its relative ease, these tours do not allow the user to interact with the environment and explore freely, nor do they allow for the reconstruction of past sites where imagery no longer exists. This VR project, created using the Unity game engine, produces a realistic and interactive virtual tour of some of Western Kentucky University’s oldest buildings, both in their present state and at the time of their construction. This work serves as a proof of concept for larger scale projects involving true-to-life interactive virtual reality environments, especially those concerning the reconstruction of past sites, an important development because of their potential for use in educational settings and in the community recognition of past events.

Madison Whittle presented the third-place poster on her research “Utilizing Innovative Technology to Bring Specialized Museum Exhibits and Tech Optimism to Rural Communities in South Central Kentucky.” Her team seeks to combat the relative lack of access those living in South Central Kentucky have to museum experiences through using the WKU Extended Reality Lab to bring historical and cultural experiences to SoKY, introduce innovative technology to rural communities, and promote tech optimism. Whittle and her team developed an interactive virtual museum experience targeting SoKY-specific culture and history, with the primary impact of the project serving to make education, cultural experiences, and innovative tech processes more accessible in rural communities. Featured exhibits include an interactive blues theatre experience through the Jack Dappa Blues Foundation; a virtual comparison between our modern campus and the Civil War fort that once resided there; and a reflective auditory experience that celebrates a local African American community and the resulting diaspora after WKU’s expansion in the 1960s.

Additional information about the lab and its projects can be found on its website, also developed by student Madison Whittle: www.wkuxr.com.

Jonathon Reilly RIG Feature

October 1st, 2022

This past summer, we hosted two more @gattonacademy students through the RIG program! Our second RIG student feature is Jonathon Reilly!

Jonathon is a Gatton Student from Elizabeth, KY. Alongside Carolina, he is also working on a virtual reality tour of WKU’s campus both in its current state and throughout its development. His work primarily centers around LiDAR scans of 3D objects and environments.

“My favorite aspect of my research is working with all these different programs that I likely would never have the drive to learn on my own or were far too niche for me to find without a reason to search them out,” Jonathon shares.

Since joining the lab, Jonathon has gained knowledge that will benefit him in his future career as an engineering manager at a computer hardware company. “Since virtual reality will most likely be a large component in the field’s future, having the software-facing experience will give me a better perspective into my work.”

Follow Jonathon on LinkedIn to stay up-to-date on his professional and academic achievements!

Carolina Wheeler RIG Feature

September 26th, 2022

This past summer, we hosted two more @gattonacademy students through the RIG program! Our first RIG student feature is Carolina Wheeler!

Carolina is a Gatton Student from Scottsville, KY. In the lab, she is currently working on a virtual reality tour of WKU’s campus both in its current state and throughout its development. “This includes when parts of campus belonged to Jonesville, an African American community that was bought and destroyed by the university in the 1960s to make way for Diddle Arena and other sports facilities,” she explained.

“My favorite aspect of my research is getting to see the things I’ve created in a VR headset; it’s really rewarding to get to see something you modeled on a computer screen moved to a 3D virtual space.”

Since starting work in the lab, Carolina has learned a lot about project development and collaboration. “It’s been really interesting to see how there’s so much more than coding that goes into making a playable VR experience, and I think all the new skills I’ve had to pick up will be really useful to have in the future.”

After graduation, Carolina plans on going into tech. “I think the experience with programming and design that I’ve gained while working in the XR lab will make me a stronger applicant for internships and employment opportunities.”

Be sure to follow Carolina on LinkedIn to see what amazing things she’s doing!

Live Link Face

April 12th, 2022

STEAM isn’t only about STEM + Visual Arts!

Yesterday, Professor Alan White of @wkutheatredance lent their amazing voice acting skills to our industrial robotics training simulator! Prof. White provided the voice for our instructor avatar, Guy, who will lead users through the robotic arm training simulator, mimicking the traditional training in a risk-free space (virtual reality).

Using the real-time face animation app Live Link Face, we recorded Prof. White as they read our training script. This data was then transferred to Unreal Engine, where it was synced to our “Guy” avatar. Simultaneously, we recorded Prof. White’s voice as a .mp3.

With these assets, we will place “Guy” into the 3D developing software Maya to add blend shapes, which will allow for full-body animation. Finally, we will place the fully animated “Guy” into our final build in Unity.

WKU Hosts STEAM day

February 14th, 2022

his past Saturday, WKU hosted @wearejonesville at the first-ever STEAM Day!

Elementary and middle school students had the opportunity to test virtual reality games ranging from our donut slicer and golf game to beat saber!

The JA crew was able to leave campus with a new perspective on how art and tech come together to create things we use every day.

Happy Virtual Reality Day

November 20th, 2021

To celebrate the 5th Annual VR Day, we wanted to share our semester’s progress!

User Experience – UX is the psychological study of how a person (user) interacts with a given program/situation/product. The UX team is pictured here with Jeremy, the primary user persona. User personas are fictionalized representations that assist designers and strategists visualize the target audience they are creating for.

Gamification – Gamification is the strategic attempt to enhance systems, services, organizations, and activities in order to create similar experiences to those experienced when playing games in order to motivate and engage users. The Gamification team has been working on amplifying existing mechanics of the robot program and working to create new level experiences that keep the user involved.

3D Modeling/Assets – 3D modeling implements various 3D modeling softwares to replicate lifelike scenes to further immerse the user. Our primary programs include Maya, Blender, and Adobe Substance Painter which we use to realistically create and texture elements in the given space. In this demo, we showcase some of the assets that we created to recreate a virtual environment based on a real scenario.

Unity/Coding – The Unity/Coding team works in the game engine and writes scripts that allow the user to interact with the virtual world around them. In this video, the team demonstrates the remote that controls the movement of the robot, using hand tracking technology to allow the user to hold a cardboard box in real life and see it as the remote in VR.

Testing & Documentation – Testing and Documentation keeps a record of current and past developments to show the progression of work on the project. As of now, we are developing criteria to test that our projects meet the targets set and are cohesive throughout the different groups (UX, Gamification, Modeling, Coding).

WKU XR is supported by the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Ogden College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, PCAL College of Arts & Letters, Department of Art & Design, WKU Office of the President, and the Office of Research and Creative Activity.

Research Conference

November 14th, 2021

We had a productive trip to Gatlinburg this weekend!

Undergraduate, Graduate, and Gatton students presented their respective research topics at the Association for Computing Machinery Conference.

Undergraduate students Madison Whittle, Sarah Terry, and Diego Diaz and Post-Baccalaureate student Chris DiMeo’s “The Connection of STEAM and Art & Design” won first place in poster presentations!

Trevor Brown presented his graduate research regarding extended reality implementation in industrial environments that brought a fresh and innovative perspective on technology-aided training practices to the conference

Samirah Salifu, Isabel Ocegueda, and Eric Xing made Gatton proud by presenting their research on Bioinformatics Clouds, Gamification of VR Robotics Training, and Deep Learning Techniques on Kentucky Motorcycle Crash Data & Neural Network Uncertainty, respectively. Eric took home third place for his oral presentation on Neural Networks!