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Creating Virtual Reality Content in University Education

Takashi Kawai
Professor, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Waseda University

As We Approach the Age of Virtual Reality

In recent years, we hear more and more about virtual reality (VR). The year 2016, when VR headsets were made available for consumers, was dubbed the "first year of VR." Today, the trend is increasing on a global scale.

There are many systems that incorporate VR, including smartphones, computers and video game consoles, but there are two common characteristics that I will present here.

・It is a reality expressed on a computer system

・It gives humans a sense of presence and reality

In other words, VR is a technology of the senses and of experience, and it has deep connections to my field of expertise—ergonomics.

VR and Ergonomics

Behind the vitalization of trends surrounding VR are advancements in hardware and software, such as the miniaturization and lightweight engineering of headsets, as well as developing high-resolution imagery. However, problems like virtual reality sickness and fatigue, as well as the lack of high quality content has been pointed out as factors that restrict the popularization of VR.

In the past, we have been conducting research on the psychophysiological effects of 3D imagery and VR on an ongoing basis. We are also studying safe and comfort systems and content from an ergonomic perspective. As a presentation of the results of this research, introductions of methods for creating 3D and VR content were published in 2003 (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Jisedai Media Creator Nyumon (Introduction to Next Generation Media Creator) (CUTT System Development Laboratory, 2003)

VR and University Education

In my academic department, I have been directing educational activities related to 3D and VR content. My department, the Department of Intermedia Art and Science, School of Fundamental Science and Engineering, was established in 2007 with the vision of inspiring innovation by fusing and interconnecting science and technology with artistic expression. Since the department was first launched, we established Stereoscopic Expression and Virtual Reality Creation as subjects for learning how to create 3D and VR content.

Stereoscopic Expression

This is a required subject for the Department of Intermedia Art and Science and it focuses on understanding the principles and the methods of creating 3D, which is one of the characteristic sensory expressions in VR, through lectures and hands-on activities. In practice, students learn about adding binocular disparity in 2D imagery to generate 3D imagery, thereby learning how to convert from 2D to 3D. Today, most Hollywood movies that are 3D use this 2D/3D conversion technology. Images are converted to 3D by creating grayscale images called depth maps from the depth information included in 2D imagery (Figure 2). One of the challenges students take on in this course is to create a depth map by selecting materials suited for 3D, and analyzing the characteristics of 3D, as well as its effective ways of expression by evaluating the results.

Figure 2: 2D imagery that is used as material (left) and its depth map (right)

Virtual Reality Creation

This is an elective course for the Department of Intermedia Art and Science, and focuses on understanding the basic technology and characteristics of VR based on CG through lectures and hands-on activities. For the hands-on activities, we use the Japanese-made VR space authoring software called Omega Space (Solidray Co., Ltd.) to learn about the components of VR space as well as interaction design and implementation, and examine the effects of the VR experience through course work.

Figure 3: Implementation of interaction in VR spaces

Developing a New Educational Environment

It has been 10 years since the abovementioned subjects were introduced, and the "first year of VR" has also passed. In order to keep up with the trends in related fields, we began planning new developments in cooperation with Samsung Electronics Japan. Through this effort, in Stereoscopic Expression, for example, we are designing lectures and hands-on activities with 360-degree 3D imagery using Samsung's VR headsets.

Figure 4: Example of 360-degree imagery (equirectangular format)

In the new developments being planned for the spring semester of 2018, we will begin making practical efforts to engage in industry-academic cooperation as a role model for university education that contributes to the creation of content and applications in related fields.

Takashi Kawai
Professor, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Waseda University

Takaishi Kawai completed his undergraduate degree in 1993 and earned his Ph.D. in 1998 at the School of Human Sciences, Waseda Unversity. In the same year when received his PH.D, he became a research associate, and subsequently became a full-time assistant and associate professor. He took his current post in 2008.

He is an expert in ergonomics, and is engaged in research surrounding the interaction between humans and advanced imaging systems, such as 3D, VR and cross-modality. He has a Ph.D. in human sciences and he is a Certified Professional Ergonomist.