Immersive Media Initiative-1

Pictured is the IMI 360 Video Camera Rig developed by an Immersive Media Initiative team in Ohio University’s GRID Lab.

Photo courtesy of: Eric Williams

Immersive Media Initiative-2

Student John Tauriello helps IMI team member Josh Antonuccio test the IMI 360 Video Camera Rig helmet.

Photo courtesy of: Eric Williams

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OHIO’s GRID Lab immersing itself in virtual reality technology, developing curriculum

It was 10 years ago this fall that Ohio University’s Scripps College of Communication launched its Game Research and Immersive Design (GRID) Lab with the goal of becoming a leader in interactive digital technology used in curriculum, research and industry. Ten years later, the GRID Lab is immersing itself in new virtual reality technology poised to transform both the academic and business landscapes.

Developed by OHIO’s School of Media Arts and Studies, the GRID Lab opened in September 2005 to serve as a center of innovation and creativity focused on the research and development of serious and educational games, simulations, computer animation and virtual reality. Both a research lab and a state-of-the-art arcade, the GRID Lab recently relocated from the basement of Scott Quad to the second floor of Scripps Hall and is scheduled to open to students in a few weeks. 

The relocation of the GRID Lab coincides with the early stages of a new initiative designed to position Ohio University as a national leader in the use of a new form of media that will hit the commercial market in the coming year – virtual and augmented reality. The Immersive Media Initiative (IMI) seizes on the potential of virtual reality and how it can be incorporated into the classroom and research facilities to benefit students as well as various industries. 

“Our primary focus is virtual reality and augmented reality, which we are calling total immersion because all of your senses are disconnected from reality and suspended in disbelief,” explained John Bowditch, director of the GRID Lab and a game design and development instructor. “Virtual reality goggles completely block out your vision and high-definition headphones control all the audible sensations. We are working on other technologies with partners around the University to help us with touch and other senses to create an all-encompassing experience.”

Bowditch, his colleagues at the GRID Lab as well as partners throughout Ohio University and beyond envision endless possibilities for that all-encompassing experience.

In early October, Bowditch and four Ohio University Media Arts and Studies students traveled to OhioHealth’s Doctors West Hospital in Columbus to test a piece of immersive media equipment created in the GRID Lab and to demonstrate the potential virtual reality has in the field of medical training.

A team from the IMI created an immersive media camera rig comprised of six GoPro cameras that are attached to a case designed on a computer and created by a 3-D printer. When worn, the camera system has the capability of capturing all angles to produce full 360-degree videos. The effect is that the viewer gets to choose the perspective that he/she wants to see; the control is taken out of the filmmaker’s hands and placed into the viewer’s. 

While at Doctors West Hospital, the IMI team used the immersive media camera rig to capture several medical training exercises. 

“We captured footage from the inside of a car that was part of a simulated car accident where they had to pry the doors and windows open with the Jaws of Life,” Bowditch said. 

In another exercise, the IMI team rode in the back of an ambulance to capture from the patient’s perspective how medical professionals start an IV inside a moving vehicle. That footage, Bowditch said, shows aspiring emergency medical technicians as well as medical students how challenging aspects of the job can be and caught the attention of WSYX ABC 6 in Columbus, which reported on the IMI’s work. That report can be viewed here.  

The IMI team hopes that these virtual reality experiences will help medical students acclimate to these intense environments before they become active participants.

Next semester the IMI team will be returning to Columbus to film actual patient experiences inside an emergency room.

But the medical field isn’t the only industry poised to be revolutionized by virtual reality, and the IMI team wants to ensure that Ohio University students are ahead of the curve when it comes to this new technology.

“That’s one of the things that we are really pushing to the forefront – making sure that the students at Ohio University get the opportunity to experience this new technology,” said Eric Williams, an IMI team member and associate professor in the School of Media Arts and Studies. “We want our students to be the ones to figure out how virtual reality is going to shape the future of media.”

Ohio University sophomore Taylor Rohrig was one of the four Media Arts and Studies students who participated in the medical training exercises in Columbus. A games and animation major and member of the Ohio University Game Developers Association, Rohrig said she spends more time on campus at the GRID Lab than anywhere else.

“Most of virtual reality right now is simply figuring out what works and what doesn’t. It is a very new medium, and getting started on it now is giving me and everyone involved great experience in a space where trial and error is accepted,” Rohrig said. “Knowing that you are at the start of some amazing project, of some growing, artistic masterpiece is unlike anything I ever thought I would have gained so early in my college career.”

While the IMI is housed within the Scripps College of Communication, the IMI team is committed to making this technology available to a wide range of academic areas. Already, the IMI team includes faculty and staff from at least six of OHIO’s degree-granting units.

According to Josh Antonuccio, an IMI team member and lecturer in music production and recording and media industry studies, he gets questions on a weekly basis about virtual reality programs and classes being offered at OHIO. 

“There’s such a hunger to get involved because students have been reading about it and, in my classes, they’ve seen the tech demonstrated and have now experienced it. Any media professional will tell you that this is where the future of the technology marketplace is heading,” Antonuccio said. “The exciting thing about our work at Ohio University right now is that what we’ve been doing with faculty and student involvement has allowed us to take the institution almost a full year ahead of where many other universities are right now.”

The IMI team is in the process of developing curriculum for virtual reality, and if things go according to plan, the first virtual reality courses at Ohio University will be available next summer.

This technology will not only prepare current students for the workplace after graduating, but has the potential to attract future students to OHIO.

“I think we are going to get this flow of students who want to go to Ohio University because of the virtual reality classes and the hands-on experiences that will be available for them,” Williams said. “Not just media students but we expect there to be students studying medicine or anthropology or engineering who want to come here because of the work with the GRID Lab and the IMI and the unique training they would get at Ohio University.”

To fund its research and acquire more software and hardware, the IMI team is seeking grant support. In fact, the IMI has been invited to submit a full proposal for the Ohio University Innovation Strategy program.

“We want to use immersive media for research and creative projects, and we also want to use it for education in the classrooms, and to educate students so that they can be on the cutting edge of this technology and be virtual reality experts in the future,” Bowditch said. “We really think that it has the potential to change everything.”