Virtual environments provide the sensory experience of being in a computer generated, simulated space. They have potential uses in applications ranging from education and training to design and prototyping. The utility of current generation virtual environments is limited by a lack of veridical perception of simulated spaces and an associated lack of realism in interacting with the simulated spaces. Much of our work is based on the thesis that combining motor and visual information in an effective way helps optimize performance when people interact with virtual environments.
Locomotion interfaces. Treadmills are an example of a locomotion device allowing a user to walk in a relatively normal manner without significant change in actual location. Our research deals with combining more sophisticated locomotion devices with visual displays in order to construct true locomotion interfaces which will allow a user to interact with a virtual world by walking through that world.
Spatial orientation in virtual environments. People naturally interact with the the complex real world while maintaining spatial orientation in an effective manner. Simulated interaction with current generation virtual worlds is far less easy. Partly, this is because people systematically misperceive spatial information when using visually immersive interfaces such as head-mounted displays. Our work aims at understanding why this is so and improving the effectiveness of immersive displays in accurately conveying the geometry of the simulated world.
Virtual prototyping. The goal of this project is to add a sense of contact and manipulation in the CAD design of mechanical assemblies. Part interaction, assembly, and manipulability can then be evaluated without fabrication of physical prototypes. A haptic device, the Sarcos Dextrous Arm Master, is being employed as a real-time interface to the Geometric Design and Computation (GDC) research group's Alpha_1 CAD/CAM system.
Scientific visualization. Three-dimensional displays are one of the next steps and provide a much more realistic rendering of physical space. The goal of this research is a complete immersion of the user into the data to provide more intuitive and efficient interaction than is possible with conventional visualization techniques.
William B. Thompson