Media and Information Graduate Students Delve Into Emerging VR Tech


With Facebook’s recent acquisition of Oculus VR, the company behind the Oculus Rift, a 360 degree virtual reality(VR) headset, the tech-sphere is abuzz with discussions over the future of virtual reality technology and the seemingly infinite amount of possibilities within. Virtual reality, however, has been around for decades, creating ever growing fascination across the globe and in researchers everywhere. Here at the department of Media and Information, two graduate students, Tom Day and me, Lissy Torres, are exploring ways that virtual reality may entice people to live healthier lives.

Having been awarded the Strosacker fellowship by the Communication Arts and Sciences department, Mr. Day is taking a closer look at the exergame potential of the Oculus Rift and the Virtuix Omni, a 360 degree treadmill. But first, our team of two is examining how these two types of technologies affect immersion and presence, and whether those characteristics impact the level of exertion.

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NASA explores Mars using the Oculus Rift headset and the Virtuix Omni treadmill.

Guided by faculty members Dr. Wei Peng, Dr. Casey O’Donnell, and Dr. Carrie Heeter, as well as a certificate in serious games under our belts, we have planned experiments to study the intrinsic motivations of our participants, who will be experiencing Skyrim and Team Fortress in all 360 degrees of VR glory. The research is separated into two experiments with one investigating exertion in cooperative, single-player, and competitive conditions, and the other focusing on immersion and presence with low immersion, or no virtual reality, moderate immersion, with the Oculus Rift, and full immersion, in which the Oculus Rift and the Virtuix Omni are used.

Why do we care? Well, because it’s awesome! But with companies like Facebook entering the fold, the rise of consumer tools for virtual reality could very well be the wave of the future, holding many uncertainties and a goldmine of information and potentials. Can VR inspire gamers to use commercial games for both entertainment and exercise? Will it become a new method of exercise that is fun, and possibly social? There are many questions surrounding the VR field, and we hope to contribute to our own future as gamers and the futures of others.

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