American universities bring VR closer to reality

Guests are shown experiencing virtual reality at Innov8: V-Commerce Gala hosted by Walmart's Store No 8, on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in Los Angeles. (Carlos Delgado/AP Images for Store No 8)

Guests are shown experiencing virtual reality at Innov8: V-Commerce Gala hosted by Walmart's Store No 8, on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in Los Angeles. (Carlos Delgado/AP Images for Store No 8)

The University of Connecticut is developing various virtual reality (VR) projects, echoing efforts such as the Ringling College of Art and Design’s addition of a VR degree to its curriculum this month. 

While UConn does not offer a virtual reality major, the university has various virtual reality labs on location, including one in the Bishop Center and one in Greenhouse Studios in the Homer Babbidge Library, according to Dr. Tom Scheinfeldt, associate professor of digital media and design and director of digital humanities at the university.

“While we don’t have courses that are directly in VR, our faculty members and students are working on VR projects in other tracts,” Scheinfeldt said.

Among those working on projects is MFA graduate Tom Lee. Lee is the first to graduate from UConn with a degree of his kind, according to Scheinfeldt. Prior to graduating in May of this year, Lee completed his final project on virtual reality.

“I had about a year of experience working with the digital media department on interactive projects, including the Boston Children’s Hospital interactive wall,” Lee said.

The wall interacts with its environment by turning onlookers into virtual characters such as birds, Lee said.

Lee and a group of students, faculty and historians are currently working on a project to virtually reconstruct a Roman cathedral as it was in 1530 when Charles V was coronated as Holy Roman Emperor.

Lee said that the cathedral experience works off of a concept known as room scale VR, a process that utilizes lasers communicating with a headset to allow a user to freely roam in a controlled environment.

Another project Lee mentioned is a simulation of bartending, in which the user serves drinks to incoming customers and utilizes two handheld controllers in order to simulate human hands.

Scheinfeldt said that VR has many outlets outside of the mainstream media where it’s heavily focused on.

“I think there’s huge opportunities in the area of education,” Scheinfeld said. “While games are one of the first places that it’s hit, I think its widest uses will be outside of the entertainment fields.”

Development of the virtual reality platform and its introduction to the consumer market is ultimately still in its infancy, according to Lee.

“I think if there’s anything that’s a barrier of entry, it’s that (VR is) still kind of clunky. This model is heavy for something that you’re going to have on your face.” Lee said, referring to his HTC Vive, one of the various pieces of equipment that VR developers at UConn use.

Scheinfeldt agreed and added that he sees the industry expanding in the future.

“We’re at the very early stages,” Scheinfeldt said. “We know virtual reality is going to be big just as we knew home video was going to be big in the early 80s, but we don’t know which technology is the BetaMax and which technology is the VHS.”


Collin Sitz is a campus correspondant for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at collin.sitz@uconn.edu