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Brand new workspace brings virtual reality tools to MU engineering

A student tests out virtual reality goggles while sitting at a computer.

The new virtual reality room in Engineering Building North is equipped with six workstations, each with an Oculus Rift Development Kit 2. Each station is dual-booted with Microsoft Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 and has all of the software needed for LeapMotion and Unreal Engine projects.

It is Christmas 1941. A 12-year-old boy is opening his gifts eagerly. As he peers into a maroon box with white paper, he sees exactly what he is after — a View Master Model A with three image reels. He excitedly removes the View Master from the box, slides in the first reel, and peers through the viewports. Instantly, he is transported to the Rocky Mountains, to Crater Lake and then to the Grand Canyon. There is a sense of amazement and wonder in his reaction — not even the best book could transport him to another place with such 3-D realism.

Early renderings of a third-person shooter game created using VR technology.

One of the first creations in the VR lab was a third-person shooter using Unreal Engine developed entirely for use with the Oculus Rift, a project that was lauded by MU Computer Science’s Industrial Advisory Board.

That was nearly 75 years ago, and it was just an inaugural glimpse into the field of Virtual Reality (VR).

Late in September 2015, more than 1,500 VR industry leaders and developers filled the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles for the second annual Oculus Connect keynote. Oculus is a leading VR company that is “revolutionizing the way people play video games.” Plenty of things have changed since 1941, but the sense of amazement and wonder for virtual reality only has increased.

After making some announcements, including the launch of a VR shooter from game company Unreal titled Bullet Train, a collaboration with Netflix, and a new 3-D artistic tool — Medium — Oculus revealed they have 130,000 registered developers, 700,000 downloads from their Oculus Share service, and 40,000 live viewers on the Twitch livestream for the conference keynote alone. It’s clear that VR is garnering a huge amount of development interest across multiple industries, including video streaming, gaming and simulated learning.

This explosion of awareness and enthusiasm for VR is fueling inspiration across the nation. Many schools are adopting VR resources for their students, including MU Engineering’s Information Technology program, which has introduced its own VR space in 105 Engineering Building North.

The VR room is equipped with six workstations, each with an Oculus Rift Development Kit 2. Each station is dual-booted with Microsoft Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 and has all of the software needed for LeapMotion and Unreal Engine projects. The room also potentially is slated to include motion-tracking hand controllers, as well as a Virtuix Omni multidirectional treadmill — an extremely impressive technology line-up for VR enthusiasts.

Equally impressive are the VR projects being created.

The first finished project using the new space was a senior capstone centered on creating a virtual tour of MU’s campus. The second was a third-person shooter using Unreal Engine developed entirely for use with the Oculus Rift, a project that was lauded by MU Computer Science’s Industrial Advisory Board.

Currently, the room has several regular groups, individual users and computer science/IT capstone groups. Among other hopeful users is a potential campus VR Club as well as Assistant Teaching Professor Fang Wang’s game design course.

VR undoubtedly will be a major tech topic in the years to come, and Mizzou IT plans to stay on the leading edge of this new field, and produce the tools and inspiration needed for VR success as the technology grows in popularity.

If you would like to know more about the VR facilities/possibilities, email MU Engineering’s Director of Information Technlogy, Dale Musser at musserda@missouri.edu. For more information on the capstone project mentioned, check out Twitter @ProjectAngelis. See a sample of Project Angelis below.