By Shane Klestinski, Associate Editor


The University of Central Florida (UCF) hosted its Spring 2024 AR/VR Innovation Discovery (AVID) event at the Digital Twin Lab in Research Park, April 24.


AVID events take place at various locations where they feature the growth of professionals in the virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) community, and they offer a platform for real-world use cases and research through interactive technology demonstrations and presentations. These events are hosted by UCF’s Center for Distributed Learning, in a group effort between the Faculty Multimedia Center and the Pegasus Innovation Lab.


The Center for Distributed Learning partnered with the university’s School of Modeling, Simulation and Training (IST) for this particular AVID event, which focused on its efforts in exploring VR and AR research through its numerous partnerships, labs and faculty research initiatives. Event organizers invited attendees to sit in on a discussion panel, participate in a brief Q&A session, and interact with tech demonstrations as they toured IST’s new Digital Twin Lab.


“We co-hosted the event here to give a soft launch of IST’s new space and show off some of their new technologies and partnerships,” said Rocco Fazzalari, project coordinator for UCF’s Center for Distributed Learning. “We want to bring faculty, educators and support staff who work with faculty and students together to immerse them into what’s available at the university in building content with AR and VR technologies.”


Fazzalari said the goal of these events is to help faculty understand the best practices and technologies currently used in the field, and how they can connect with educators and practitioners to build out their own technologies within their courses to ultimately increase student success.


Rae Hanson, information architect with Engage to Innovate Creative Studio, moderated the featured panel, “Exploring the Use of Innovative Technologies in IST-SMST Labs.” Panel members included Michael Eakins, creative lead for the IST’s Mixed Emerging Technology Integration Lab; Carsten Neumann, research scientist with Virtual and Augmented Reality Lab; Scott Malo, production manager for Engage to Innovate Creative Studio; and Dr. Crystal Maraj, director of Realistic Assessment of Performance in Devices Lab.


The panel members explained their organizations’ missions and described some projects under development.


“We work with internal and external partners [like] DoD, industry, healthcare and education, and we’re heavily focused on advanced visualization,” Eakins said. “But our underlying construction relies on simple ‘ABCs’ – AI, block chain and cybersecurity – those are the fundamental building blocks of what we do in the lab.”


Maraj said that her organization’s research focused on AR and VR in certain efforts, while other areas concentrated on the human digital twin, cybersecurity, and robotics. She described one of her team’s studies as evaluating the effectiveness of headsets on the market because “every two or three months, there’s a new headset out,” and people wonder which one they should purchase based on the training needs of various agencies. Maraj explained that her team took a 30-60-90-day approach in assessing a headset’s weight, dimensions, field of view, and depth perception accuracy, among other factors.


Following the panel, attendees explored demonstrations of various VR/AR/XR tech that allowed them to use haptic gloves to move objects in a virtual environment, fly above Orlando in an F/A-18 “Hornet” flight simulator, and analyze medical AR projections on a visor that displayed a virtual patient’s internal organs – and then switched to the patient’s CT scans upon receiving verbal commands. The event also featured non-AR/VR technologies, like UCF’s dog-like robot, “TapeMeasure,” and “Microchip Mayhem,” a serious game developed to teach children capacity planning in a factory environment.


“We’re always trying to foster innovation within our faculty at UCF, and we hope to increase awareness and grow our faculty who are using augmented and virtual reality programs,” Fazzalari said.


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