Virtual reality (VR) can transport people to places they cannot otherwise go, from deep dives into shipwrecks at the bottom of the ocean, to visits with penguins in the south pole, to journey through the inner workings of the human brain. In the WID Virtual Environments group, we develop virtual environments that recreate scenes in the real world and fabricate new worlds to teach learners about the inner workings of our universe.
In the UW Virtual Brain Project, we are developing immersive tours through 3D models of perceptual systems in the human brain. By following a track through the brain, the viewer can see the flow of information from sensory input to cortical processing. Stations along the pathway provide auditory narration to guide the viewer on key elements. So far, we have created VR experiences for the perceptual systems of vision, audition, and touch, with more coming soon! Through laboratory experiments and classroom evaluations, we have found that the UW Virtual Brain lessons are enjoyable, effective experiences for teaching learners about functional neuroanatomy
Virtual and augmented reality technologies can also be used to better understand the world around us. Through digital reconstructions we can explore crime scenes without worry of contamination, cultural heritage sites without needing to be physically present and an individual’s homes without disruption. Our current work focuses on everything from augmenting the capabilities of first responders, to creating new means of documentation for insurance and home assessment, to utilizing virtual reality technologies as a means of engaging with underrepresented groups from around the state. As these tools continue to evolve, we are excited about the possibilities these technologies have to offer in positively impacting people’s everyday lives.