Znak Politechniki Warszawskiej

Great prospects of the Virtual Reality Laboratory

phot. Krzysztof Kaczmarski

Put on special goggles and find yourself in another world. What you see, hear and experience is so real... It is hard to believe that this reality is created by programmers. Employees and students from the Faculty of Mathematics and Information Science of the Warsaw University of Technology are working on various applications of this technology.

“We're still setting up here,”  Joanna Porter-Sobieraj PhD Eng and Krzysztof Kaczmarski PhD Eng explain.

We enter room 310 at the Faculty of Mathematics and Information Science. This is where the Virtual Reality Laboratory is located. It looks just like an ordinary classroom. There are tables, chairs, computers... Thanks to the goggles, the controllers, and – above all else – the creativity of the people working here, solutions that will make our daily lives easier or provide entertainment at the highest level could originate here.

First in Poland

This idea can become a reality thanks to cooperation the Faculty of Mathematics and Information Science started with Crytek in 2016 under the VR First initiative. Crytek is the creator of the CryENGINE game engine used in the Crysis series and in Kingdom Come: Deliverance, among other titles. In November 2016, the Faculty of Mathematics and Information Science became the first academic partner of the VR First consortium in Poland. Thanks to this, the Virtual Reality Laboratory is now up and running at the Warsaw University of Technology.

VR First is a global program combining business, academia and research institutes. Its objective is to develop virtual reality's potential. The work done here is aimed at facilitating emerging laboratories and VR centres. Under such conditions, talented developers can advance their ideas. What is more, the programme is based on cooperating with industry players, meeting the expectations of the modern world, and sharing knowledge and experience between the various partners of the consortium.

“We submitted our Faculty to the VR First initiative in February last year,” Dr. Porter-Sobieraj remarks. “In September we were informed that a VR First representative wants to meet with us and see our accomplishments. We prepared a presentation; we talked about what we do. A few weeks later we received the information that we were qualified for the programme.”

Then everything went really fast. Under the VR First initiative, three sets of Oculus Rift goggles were sent to the scientists – the best of this type of equipment currently available on the market. Meanwhile, work started at the Faculty in order to create a place where the devices could be freely used. This resulted in the laboratory where we are talking. Aside from the VR goggles and computers, it is also equipped with several traditional 3D glasses, numerous Kinect sensors and steering wheels. Leap Motion controllers are coming soon.

More than entertainment

“We associate virtual reality with games, entertainment,” Dr Kaczmarski admits, “and that's not wrong. There is no reason to depreciate this industry segment. Software developers also operate on the gaming market. In terms of market capitalisation, CD PROJECT, the creator of the Witcher games, is one of the biggest companies in Poland and has even become a showcase for Poland in the world. People want to pay for entertainment and if we do not do this, someone else will. When we are at the centre of things, we can steer in the direction that is of interest to us. Sometimes results can be more significant than they seem. Imagine a paralysed person who is unable to travel the world. Virtual reality could allow them to ‘visit’ different places.”

This is the technology of the future, not just for the entertainment industry. “The industry needs VR in many situations, for example in training and simulating certain circumstances,” Dr Kaczmarski explains.” We do not ask a pilot to get in a plane and turn off all the engines, because it is dangerous. What we can do, is give the pilot goggles and ‘put’ them in a virtual cockpit, where they can learn emergency procedures and test them. Then they will know what to do in a real dangerous situation. The same applies to a subway driver or a miner. The applications are endless. Then, we also have expanded, augmented reality, or AR. Goggles will allow us to expand the abilities of our senses, see through walls and distant places. We will be able to obtain unlimited information about the things we see. And this is just the beginning of the technology's development.”

The Laboratory at the Warsaw University of Technology will develop exactly such solutions. “A Virtual Reality Research Circle has been active for several weeks,” Dr. Porter-Sobieraj says. “Our Circle is preparing a project to assist older people in collaboration with the Warsaw Medical University. Students are also drawn towards entertainment, computer games. They want to develop algorithms used to process multidimensional data and display virtual worlds dedicated to VR platforms. A VR goggles user is more demanding; the googles need greater processing than traditional monitors, adapted to such hardware and new interfaces.”

Looking to the future

Researchers from the Faculty of Mathematics and Information Science want the VR Laboratory to serve not only members of the Virtual Reality Research Circle, but also other students and employees of the University of Technology, who have ideas for projects using this technology. They are also open to working with people from outside our University. Classes for students in programming VR applications will be offered in computer science classes already in the coming academic year.

“At the second-cycle studies in computer science, we have a speciality 'CAD/CAM systems design', where we teach computer modelling, among other things,” Dr Kaczmarski says. “Virtual reality is a natural step in development. The difference is that the modelled world is shown not on a flat screen, but in goggles.”

“The aforementioned speciality has always been based on advanced methods of modelling, processing and simulating virtual environments. So far, our students have had the opportunity to work with a new generation of stereoscopic glasses that work in conjunction with a graphics card,” Dr Porter-Sobieraj adds. “VR goggles mean new opportunities and new challenges.”

The skills and experience gained from working in the Laboratory at the Faculty of Mathematics and Information Science are meant to make the students and graduates even more competitive on the labour market. “For now, only the largest computer game companies are able to afford VR goggles,” Dr Porter-Sobieraj explains. “However, the technology is going to get cheaper and grow, so it's worth investing in such education pathways today.”

 

Agnieszka Kapela

Office of Promotion and Information