Spring Semester Wrap-up

2017-2018 Immersive Technology Wrap-Up

Summary of Academic Year Efforts

At the close of the 2016-2017 academic year, we recognized that in order to grow the Immersive Technology Initiative and impact more faculty and students, we needed a permanent space for our equipment and workshops. Working in collaboration with the A&S Dean’s office, the Library, and Information Services, we finally got our space on Gottwald Science Center’s third floor halfway through the spring 2018 semester. Since then, we’ve hosted weekly open houses for students and faculty and I’ve held 3 in-class workshops (see below). Our community of interested faculty, staff, and students continues to grow and we are really looking forward to new projects and collaborations in the 2018-2019 academic year!

Looking forward to this summer and next academic year, we are actively researching new software and hardware and seeking new collaborations in an effort to best support the University of Richmond student experience. If you are interested in using VR/AR technologies in your classroom and research program, please reach out to me at abell4@richmond.edu.

Courses Workshops

  • PSYCH 333 Cognitive Science Dr. Beth Crawford
  • FYS 101 The Search for the Self  Prof. Marcia Whitehead
  • FYS 101 The Neuroscience of Photography Dr. Andrew Bell
  • FYS 100 Games, Game Theory, and Leadership Studies Dr. Kristin Bezio (community activity)

Independent Student Research

  • Erin Bonilla Exploring Science Education through Google Daydream Advisor Scott Bray

VR Spaces

  • Gottwald Science Reading Room (HTC Vive Pro)
  • Gottwald Liaison Office (HTC Vive, as needed)
  • Mobile Immersive Set (HTC Vive, can be set up anywhere within < 1 hr)


  • Weekly Wednesday Open House in Gottwald Science Reading Room


  • 2x HTC Vive
  • 1x HTC Vive Pro
  • 20 Google Cardboard (Mattel Viewfinder version)
  • 1 Google Daydream
  • 1 Ricoh Theta 360 camera
  • 5 ARKit-enabled iPads


December Newsletter

Another semester is in the book here at the University of Richmond. I’m looking forward to big developments next semester for the Immersive Technologies community. The Gottwald Reading room will open with new VR and AR capabilities, probably students, faculty and staff access to on-demand VR technologies for research, study, and scholarship.

Content Creation

Prior to the creation of Photoshop in 1988, creating digital graphics and images were extremely challenging. Only a few engineers had the skills to create even the most rudimentary images. I believe 2017 will be the turning point for VR/AR content creation. The learning curve and development environment have started to look more and more manageable with developments from Unity, Google, and Apple in particular.

Google is putting together an impressive suite of development tools for aspiring VR artists and developers. Google Blocks is a great way to create shape files within VR, Google Tilt Brush is a great way to create environments within VR. and Google Poly is proving to be a compelling site to store and share one’s creations. I have some reservations about Google controlling these tools but the developments are certainly exciting.

The Future of Memory

If you’ve met me, you probably know how obsessed I am with the impact technology, particularly imagery, has on memory and recognition. In a general sense, medicine has gotten remarkably better in diagnosing and treating cardiovascular disease and cancer, so much so, life expectancy in the US is now above 80. So while doctors have gotten more capable of extending our lives, doctors have not made large impacts on reducing the impacts of dementia and the toil time takes on our brain function.

Can technology prolong our ability to transport ourselves into the past to relive our lives? Research and time will tell but the developments out of 8i are exciting and point towards a VR/AR use case that might cause massive consumer adoption. Holographic memories of our loved ones.

“Everybody wants holograms of their kids,” Nicole St. Jean, 8i’s vice president of content and a former Twitter executive, told me. St. Jean held up her iPhone and showed me an Instagram video of her son Lowell as an example. Only, it wasn’t just one Lowell in the clip: there was a one-year-old Lowell, juxtaposed with an almost two-year-old Lowell. One of these toddlers was a hologram.

Where do I sign up?




November Newsletter

Google Daydream Review

We recently let an Education student borrow our Google Daydream to review. Here are her thoughts:

The google daydream itself was a really neat piece of equipment with some glaring disadvantages. Besides the cost, the daydream is very heavy, then add on your phone and it becomes even heavier. The strap was difficult to utilize and never got quite small enough for my head. The device itself fit my head very well, but it did not fit my husband when he tried it out; it really smashed his nose and hit his forehead in a weird spot. The highlights for the daydream are the fact that there is no outside light that can enter the device; I found this to be a draw back to the cardboard. And the remote is unbelievably useful. You can even see it virtually, which is a big plus when you need to orient yourself.
The app for the daydream was clunky and definitely has some kinks to work out. The tutorial is very helpful, but when downloading through the VR App store, it rarely works, and there is a lot of taking your device out, and putting it back in. It’s obvious that this technology is still in its infancy.
This technology would still be fun to implement in my future classrooms, but I have concerns about accountability. There’s no way for me to tell if they’re doing what they should be doing.

VR and Pain Management

Using VR as a therapy is gaining popularity and as the technology matures I imagine the use cases will only increase. Jeremy Bailenson is doing some great stuff using VR in pain management. Learn more here.

Chemistry and VR

One of the educational advantages of virtual reality content is that you are not bound by the laws of physics. You can visualize microscopic mechanisms and slow millisecond reactions. For this reason, I believe VR has the potential to change the way we teach sciences, particularly chemistry, biology, and physics. The first step for chemistry and biology is to get existing 3D models into a virtual environment. The ChimeraX team at UCSF have successfully done this. Exciting times!

October Newsletter

I apologize for the hiatus in our newsletter. I was on parental leave welcoming my son, Jack, into this world. It’s good to be back!

ARKit now available on iOS 11!

If you follow this newsletter closely, you know I’m very excited about the lo-fi augmented reality experiences enabled by Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore. Both are available to the public and the initial apps do not disappoint. Check out Atlas (an anatomy app) and Sky Guide (star atlas) for some of the best educational apps so far.

These AR experiences work great with the CTLT’s iPads. If you are faculty and want to use these experience in your classroom, connect with me!

Virtual Reality Casting Call?

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to act on stage?

Acting takes time, courage and a lifelong dedication that very few possess, and even less can do well… The creators behind Theatre VR say the program will allow you to experience what it is like to be an actor. Giving you the choice of which play and role to engage in, you’re fed your lines and given the opportunity to interact with either AI-driven or real players. (roadtoVR.com)

In theory, this sounds thrilling but I wonder how well the development comes together. I’ll be sure to download their demo if anyone on campus wants to try it out.


The educational power of immersive technologies comes from, in part, the sense of presence and scale that is simply not possible with traditional media. Timelooper is a mobile VR application that takes viewers to famous places during important moments in history (i.e. Trafalger Square, 1940 during Blitz). For me, the app is a bit cartoonish but is an interesting start to what I expect to be much more exciting and immersive experiences – particularly once AR merges with this. For instance, standing in Trafalgar Square and experience the square at different moments in history. This type of AR will likely require an ‘AR cloud’ – a topic I’ll talk more about next month.

Review of app: https://www.virtualiteach.com/single-post/2017/09/09/Virtual-time-travel-with-Timelooper


June Newsletter

ARkit: the Brownie Mix for AR Developers

Immersive technologies, in general, have been in “beta” for the last few years. Don’t get me wrong, there are some very cool technologies out there that demonstrate endless potential and opportunity but most, if not all, lack practical application for most consumers. This is rapidly changing. Removing barriers for developing immersive content is a big reason behind this change. The best analogy I can come up with to help describe what I mean is from my experience making brownies. I have no idea how to make brownies from scratch, even with a recipe it would likely take me forever and the final product probably wouldn’t taste that great. That said, give me a box of brownie mix, and I’ll make some of the best brownies you’ve ever had in less than 5 minutes. This past month, ARkit (an API) was announced at WWDC (Apple’s developers conference). ARkit is basically like brownie mix for developers to more easily and quickly create AR (augmented reality) content with. In less than 24 hours of being released, developers were posting demonstrations of what they’d already come up with (see below). In ARkit, Apple has made it possible for most developers to create Pokémon or Snapchat filter experiences with ease. In addition to lowering the barrier for development of new AR experiences, Apple’s existing hardware base (100s of millions of iOS devices) increases the likelihood we start seeing a raise in practical consumer AR applications soon. The lead Apple has taken (over other tech giants like Google and Microsoft) with ARkit can’t be overstated. Look at these demos and compare them to anything Microsoft or Google have demoed over the last 2 years and remember these developers have had access to the software for like ~2-3 weeks and the experiences are made with off the shelf, single camera iOS devices… developer brownie mix… Minecraft Space X Rocket Landing in your Backyard Within’s storybook  Measurement app for more demos check out https://twitter.com/madewithARKit Based on what I’ve seen from these demos and read about the API, I’m convinced the software will be there for rich AR experiences but the looming question is whether wearable hardware (i.e. glasses) will become a consumer product (enabling new interaction models and driving down costs of production) or if we’ll only see them in limited (expensive) use cases (i.e. computer labs, etc). Not to throw water on all this hype, I think there is huge potential for AR applications, but I really don’t see a future where everyone wears expensive, battery-powered glasses all day…  

“VR’s power is not in simulating reality but giving new ability to reason, communicate, and reflect” eleVR

I talk a lot of about the technologies behind the emerging immersive tech field but equally important are the creatives and thinkers that develop new paradigms around the technology. In order for a technology to become a part of life, or an industry like education,  hardware/software needs to be developed but people also need to develop uses for the tools. An interesting group of thinkers/technologists I’ve been covering for the last year are eleVR (el-uh-V-R). eleVR “studies and experiments with immersive media, particularly virtual and augmented reality, as a tool to reveal new ways to understand our world and express ourselves within it.” They recently released a 1 year of research review video of their work and I was blown away by the insights they’ve gained and moved by the kind of perspective they bring to immersive technologies.
We don’t think VR’s power is in simulating reality. We’re interested in using it to create wholly new kinds of experiences that give us new abilities of reason, of communication, of self-expression and self-reflection, that last through the rest of our lives. What the headset shows us isn’t reality but the experience is real and it changes how we feel and how we think.
Check out their Annual Review video here.