SFU Researcher Making Virtual Reality a Collective Experience

Starting 2018 by ‘hitting the ground running’ would be an understatement for Simon Fraser University professor and researcher Wolfgang Stuerzlinger. At the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) VR 2018 (the world’s top scientific conference in Virtual Reality research), he presented two papers, and at the Symposium on Virtual and Augmented Reality for Space Science and Exploration at The California Institute of Technology (CalTech), he was invited to give a talk. Now, back in Canada, the pace of his work isn’t slowing. 

But that’s how this accomplished researcher—who has been programming computers from the age of 14—likes to operate. As Stuerzlinger has been deeply involved in the evolution of computer technologies since the pre-Internet era, he has witnessed first-hand the attempts and near-wins, and ideas that weren’t ready then but might be now. As technology has evolved, some of those future-minded ideas are finally taking grasp. One that’s been on the tip of the public’s lips recently has been Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality (AR/VR). 

SFU has a strong talent pool of researchers focused on innovation in AR/VR and computer visioning, and Stuerzlinger has been working in these fields for many years. Professor at SFU’s School of Interactive Arts + Technology (SIAT), and director of the Virtual Reality, Visual Analytics, Interaction, Systems, and Experiments (VVISE) lab, is a leader in three-dimensional (3D) user interfaces. His research focuses on the areas of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), visual analytics, 3D user interfaces, and VR. One of his most ambitious projects attempts to solve issues in all four of these areas. 

TIVES (Temporary Immersive Virtual Environment at Simon Fraser University: A Non-Permanent CAVE) is a truly immersive experience. Four walls and four projectors surround the viewers, engulfing them in the virtual environment.

In this research, Stuerzlinger attempts to solve the problem of disconnect that the introduction of technological devices creates. TIVES takes the isolation out of VR. In this virtual 3D environment, multiple people can participate in the experience together, simultaneously, for extended periods of time. The four screens provide full 360-degree surround imagery, and the placement of the projection geometry ensures that the shadows that can be caused by participants crossing the beam’s path are not a problem. 

As Stuerzlinger proudly states, “TIVES enables multiple people to collaboratively experience virtual reality environments on wall-sized screens, while still being able to communicate face-to-face. You could use it to design a kitchen at full scale with a professional designer and your significant other. Or play a game with your friends."

 

TIVES is not just a revolutionary progression toward socializing VR, it is advanced in its construction as well. Normally, due to the nature of their size, CAVEs are heavy, bulky, and once assembled, permanent (or slow to disassemble). But TIVES has been designed with speed and portability in mind — it does not require permanent floor space. This means that TIVES has great potential for commercialization.

A barrier to truly incorporating technology into our lives, Stuerzlinger realizes, is ease of use. Think of how thin and light mobile phones, tablets, and laptops have become. The user is significantly more likely to grab it and go if it doesn’t weigh them down. Through brilliant engineering, Stuerzlinger has made TIVES so nimble that it can be set up and taken down very quickly. Hence, the “T” in TIVES, which stands for “Temporary.” As Stuerzlinger says, “TIVES hangs from the ceiling and ‘disappears' when not in use. It can be installed in conference rooms, show rooms, and even in a home media room."

How does he do it? Although this information remains a secret, the experience is not. Look for Wolfgang Stuerzlinger’s TIVES at the 2018 #BCTECH Summit. His innovative Non-Permanent CAVE will be demoing all day on both Tuesday, May 15 and Wednesday, May 16 in the Virtual Reality area of the Vancouver Convention Centre.
 



For more about Wolfgang Stuerzlinger, visit www.sfu.ca/siat/people/faculty/wolfgang-stuerzlinger.html.