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GRID Lab's first grant-funded initiative underway

ATHENS, Ohio (June 16, 2005) -- Thanks to a $100,000 grant from the Ohio Board of Regents, the Game Research and Immersive Design (GRID) Lab's first grant-funded initiative, an augmented reality system for firefighters that will aid the state in homeland security, is now being researched and developed.

GRID LabThe system will be a wearable augmented reality system built into a firefighter's helmet, and would enable firefighters-in-training to safely and effectively experience real-life emergency situations. John Bowditch, associate director of the GRID Lab and one of four primaries for the project, says the end goal would be use of the device in the field.

"The ultimate goal is to adapt this technology for the real world, to be able to use it in a real fire situation, so that it could make firefighters' jobs easier and safer," he said.

The grant was made possible in part by Ohio University Associate Provost for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer Bill Sams, who saw the possibility for collaboration among the GRID Lab, Owens Community College in Toledo and the Department of Homeland Security and made the necessary introductions. The augmented reality system being developed by the GRID Lab will eventually be a part of the Fire and Police Training Center for Homeland Security, a 110-acre emergency preparedness and first responder training facility sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security and the Third Frontier Network, now under construction at Owens Community College.

"Owens Community College has a $24 million grant to develop what could be the finest reality training center of its type in the country and, possibly, the world," Sams said. "When we learned about this, it occurred to me that if we could couple the finest reality training center with one of the finest virtual reality training centers that would provide Owens with the resources to dramatically improve their reality training."

Sams believes that if this initiative succeeds, this part of Ohio could be positioned to produce professionals well-trained in developing these types of technologies.

"Through research done at the GRID Lab, we are preparing our students and young people of the region for the technologies that are to come so that we can have the opportunity to be on the cutting edge of these developments rather than falling behind and being in the never-ending cycle of retraining," Sams said.

According to School of Telecommunications Director Karen Riggs, Sams' involvement in the initiative set the stage for the GRID Lab's role in making Ohio the center for homeland security training.

"The GRID Lab is grateful for Bill Sams spearheading this grant and for the Ohio Board of Regents for visualizing the possibilities the GRID Lab represents for mapping homeland security in the state of Ohio," said Riggs.

The GRID Lab team working on the project also includes Assistant Professor Beth Novak, Ben Schneider and Travis Funk. As Schneider points out, the Ohio Board of Regents grant is "for proof of concept, not the actual device." The estimated completion of a working demo is December 2005.

"Our goal is to create a prototype, so that we can then get multi-million dollar grants to make it a reality," he said.

The GRID Lab team has already begun research for the initiative and is poised to create a dynamic augmented reality device.

"One thing we all bring to the table is storytelling, which will make it all more real," Funk said. "Another quality we bring is that we're all so different and opinionated. We rarely agree."

Schneider agrees, "At the end of the day, it's kind of like an intellectual Darwinism."

He is also quick to point out that the team is not only opinionated, but fair in reaching consensus.

"We do have a general respect for one another," Schneider said. "It never turns into an argument; we come to a conclusion of the best diversity of ideas and the best outcome. We definitely don't have 'group think' problems."

In addition to developing the augmented reality system, GRID Lab researchers have begun assessing the possibility for three-dimensional room scanning to be utilized with the technology, which will allow them to take augmented reality technology on the road and adapt it to any layout or scenario and further their impact on the field.

College of Communication interim Dean Greg Shepherd looks forward to seeing the GRID Lab established as a research hub in both applied and academic arenas.

"This is, I am confident in predicting, the first of many external grants our GRID Lab initiative will receive," he said. "It is the result of strategic planning, successful partnerships, and a great deal of hard work and leadership from Karen Riggs and her talented team."

The GRID Lab, which will include a public arcade in addition to research space, will open in its location above Follett's Bookstore at the corner of Court and Union streets this fall. For now, researchers are using what space they have available to them in the Radio-Television Communication Building and even in their homes.

Supporters like Sams have no doubt the GRID Lab will improve the region.

"I'm a strong believer in what they are doing and want to do everything I can to help it succeed," he said.

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Media Contact: College of Communication External Relations Coordinator Erin Roberts, (740) 593-0030 or roberte1@ohio.edu

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