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Mace & Crown | March 26, 2017

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Scaring and Caring with Society for Modeling and Simulation International

Scaring and Caring with Society for Modeling and Simulation International
Ross Reelachart
Technology Editor

The excitement centered around virtual reality, especially the Oculus Rift, can only reach a certain level before it needs to be experienced firsthand. Thanks to the Society for Modeling and Simulation International (SCS), based at ODU, I was able to experience what the Oculus had to offer, in literal first person.

In the spirit of Halloween scares, the SCS opened up their set of Oculus Rifts to the public in exchange for a small donation of $5. The donation bought a 20-minute session with the Oculus virtual reality headset, where players could experience one of many horror games developed by the Oculus Rift community. For those with weaker constitutions, there was also a selection of puzzle-oriented games. The Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters would receive 20 percent of all donations.

Before the play could begin, the members of the SCS described their own goal with the set of three headsets they owned, plus the newer “mobile” version they had recently acquired. Using the “safe space” provided by virtual reality, a space that is also being utilized for PTSD therapy, they hoped to develop a way to simulate dangerous or hazardous occupations for training purposes. Jerold Register, the SCS vice president, specifically mentioned “at-risk” jobs that might benefit from a way for new employees to gain experience without risking their safety or health.

Spencer Smith, the SCS president, provided instructions and introductions to the games they were demoing for donations. The headset itself was easy to wear, as it slipped over the eyes and head, and headphones would come next for a full immersive experience. Smith said that the commercial release of the Oculus would have earphones built into the headset, relieving the customer of the burden of also buying a good enough headset for the full experience.

The first game SCS demonstrated was a cartoony simulation of a secret agent escaping from a car within a cargo plane. While unable to move in the environment, players are able to manipulate items and the world around them using a controller. This game illustrated the strengths of a VR headset that tracks head movement, as some of the useful items can only be seen by fully turning around and looking at them.

Though the experience was at such low resolution that individual pixels could be seen, Smith emphasized that a high frame rate and one-to-one head movement tracking was more important. Lower frame rates and virtual movements that did accurately mimic actual head movements caused feelings of nausea and vertigo. But the Oculus managed to keep up and escape after a few tries.

The second game of the session was more in line with the theme of the day: Halloween and horror. The horror game was a small “haunted house tour” developed by the Oculus Rift community, and focused on the immersiveness of virtual reality. It was easy to forget that I was sitting in a lab with a headset on and not in an abandoned house being chased by a ghost girl who could be behind me at any second.

The graduate adviser to the SCS, John Shull, described both the hurdles to implementing VR in the mainstream and the benefits it offers if successfully integrated into the modern world. The next hurdle for VR is finding a way to manipulate the virtual world with simulated hands, and that hurdle will be cleared once the Oculus has its commercial release. With that in mind, the possibility for virtual reality simulations to aid in therapy and safe training is only a few years away.

Students curious about taking part in the SCS’s plans might be interested in a motion capture event that is in the works. Interested students can contact the SCS-ODU President Spencer Smith at ssmit195@odu.edu.