Image: Duke Engineering

These days I’m doing an interview series for Domus China on the future of the city and the connection between virtual and real. (I posted an interview from early in the series here a couple months ago.) One of the people I’ve talked to is Tony O’Driscoll, a professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and the executive director of its Center for IT and Media. It was a long, winding conversation, but he did mention one thing that sort of blew me away and I want to share…

Apparently the university has something called the Duke immersive Virtual Environment (DiVE), which is a 6-sided virtual reality theater that functions basically as a holodeck:

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But apparently, here’s lot of non-jazzy applications for the non-Trek version, like treating phobias and figuring out where to drill for oil. Here’s some specifics from the DiVE site:

The DiVE is a 3m x 3m x 3m stereoscopic rear projected room with head and hand tracking and real time computer graphics. All six surfaces – the four walls, the ceiling and the floor – are used as screens onto which computer graphics are displayed. For virtual worlds designed for this system, it is a fully immersive room in which the individual (researcher, educator, etc) literally walks into the world, is surrounded by the display and is capable of interacting with virtual objects in the world. Stereo glasses provide depth perception, and a handheld “wand” controls navigation and input to into the world for manipulating virtual objects.

And here’s an except from the interview where Tony talks about the applications…

TO: [...] Across the Duke community, virtual contexts are being used quite heavily in the medical field, for training purposes and teaching doctors about emergency room etiquette, dealing with critical incidents, and so on. At the nursing school, they’re using virtual environments for nursing education. Duke is also looking at the use of virtual context to help people deal with phobias or deal with stress disorders. If you’re scared of snakes, you can get thrown into a virtual context where it looks a little bit like [the film] Raiders of the Lost Arc, where Harrison Ford is surrounded by hundreds of snakes.

BM: How does that work?

TO: It’s called the Duke immersive Virtual Environment [DiVE]. It is a six sided CAVE like virtual reality theater that can simulate an experience . In the case of the snakes, your mind knows its fake, but at the same time it’s having that ‘fight or flight’ response and you’re physically experiencing the stress associated with your phobia. It’s actually helpful to be able to work through phobias in a context like that as it helps you parse out your cognitive processing of the experience.

BM: I’ve never heard of this. Could you tell me more…

TO: There is lots you can do in DiVE. You can create your own rollercoaster. You’re given a hand device and you create points in the space. Then you lay down and you feel kind of like you’re in [the film] Tron, riding the light cycle, and you’re essentially flying through the space, as if you’re riding on a rollercoaster of your own creation. You can be taken through a narrative where you meet all sorts of characters like a three-headed dog or you could get thrown into a snake pit as I mentioned earlier. There’s all kinds of uses, but the idea is that it is an immersive context. It’s a place where you are put either to see representations of data… Oil companies, for instance, like to use these 3D visualizations of data to try to figure out what the soil consistency might be and where they might find more oil. There’s lots of uses for it, but essentially it’s another context; it’s a virtual context where you array information to either elicit insight or emotion or help groups of people make informed decisions.

Beam me up.

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