January 16, 2024
MU students are harnessing the virtual to train for reality.
Photo illustration by Blake Dinsdale | Story by Tony Rehagen, BA, BJ ’01
Austin Barr grew up in a world of virtual- and augmented-reality technology. At the time, VR headsets were basically used to play games like Half-Life and Beat Saber. But when Barr, a senior information technology major, joined the University of Missouri’s Virtual Reality Organization (MUVR), he was amazed to discover how much the use for — and users of — the tech had grown. “There are meditation applications, meetings with a virtual whiteboard, even doctors using VR to practice surgeries,” Barr says. “It’s pretty cool that it’s gone from a game to a training tool for neurosurgeons.”
That’s why Barr is working with his fellow IT and computer science majors to raise awareness of MUVR across campus and open the club and the Collaborative Research Environments for Extended Reality (CREXR) Lab to students from all disciplines.
“ln 2016, the lab was the only place for students to access this technology,” says Fang Wang, associate teaching professor and director of CREXR Lab. “Today’s students have their own headsets. They’re more interested in using them to solve problems in their own disciplines.”
For example, Wang says that they’ve worked with an archaeology student to build a 3D VR model of a dig site using drone footage. She is also currently working with the nursing school on training simulations using virtual reality.
Barr says that these new interdisciplinary interactions have done more than provide archaeologists and nursing students with cutting-edge tech — it has also given engineers and IT people like himself new ideas that push the technology further. “It depends on where I go,” he says. “But understanding the devices now might help me in my future.”
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Originally published in MIZZOU Magazine Winter 2024. Published on Show Me Mizzou Jan. 10, 2024.