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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Applying virtual and augmented reality

Dr. Randy Haas, assistant professor of Anthropology at UC Davis, presenting on high accuracy, low cost landscape 3D modeling with examples from Archaeology. (JORDAN CHOW / AGGIE FILE)

How 3-D technology is being adopted by researchers in different fields

The UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain hosted a research symposium this week detailing the functionality of 3-D technology in different fields. 3-D technology has been growing in popularity, power and functionality in the last decade, and, like other forms of computer technology, is expected to keep growing exponentially in the near future. Although it is not a foreign concept in terms of its applicability in video games, there’s a lot more to 3-D technology than entertainment. Finding strong applications in fields such as anthropology, engineering, and sociology, it is continuing to change the way researchers conduct their studies.

Mayowa Adegboyega, a graduate student of paleoanthropology in the UC Davis anthropology department’s evolutionary wing, applies 3-D technology to the virtual reconstruction of hominid fossils such as Neanderthals.

“We need to be able to have that type of visualization, that type of operating tool, when we are trying to do something like a reconstruction or trying to understand Nanderthals,” Adegboyega said. “At the end of the day, it’s not necessarily that we want to know what the Neanderthals look like, but more of how what they looked like affects us. We try to use virtual reality to find out how the adaptive differences among our closest hominin relatives can help us better understand ourselves.”

One very important aspect of applying 3-D technology in the study of hominid fossils is that there are only so many fossils that people have found, and, like artwork, many are in private collections or hard to request from university holdings. By using a platform that would allow researchers to get files from private institutions such as Harvard, further research could be done much faster.

“The stuff we are working with is rare,” Adegboyega said. “If you have to beg for access to something, it makes studying it very difficult. But if someone is able to share it in an open source database, anyone can have access to a reconstruction or the original cast file. Furthermore, it is also easier because the files can be 3-D-printed, which allows for different versions to be made and allows copies to be housed at different research facilities.”

Adegboyega focuses on how 3-D technology makes studying Neanderthal morphology, which is the study of bone structure, easier. For example, the pelvis directly influences a person’s gait, stance, and childbirth. These are all things that can be studied much easier by using 3-D technology. Consequently, studying bones and their structure allows research to be done about how early humans walked, and modifications can be made easily to measure for how minimal differences would alter stance and stature.

The great thing about having virtual files for research is the amount of times that an experiment can be conducted and altered. This is where some of the application of 3-D technology can be seen in different fields.

Jorge Peña, an associate professor in the Department of Communication at UC Davis, has applied 3-D technology to his research in virtual human interactions. He looked into whether archetypes about character held true in virtual environments such as the defensive reaction people generally have to people wearing dark clothing or the association with a team felt when seeing other people who look or dress like you.

Peña found that participants who played sports as avatars in virtual reality modified their performance based on the physical appearance of both their avatar and their opponent’s avatar. When both female and male participants played as obese avatars against thin avatars, the physical activity they put forth was recorded to be less than when their avatar was thin and they were playing against a thin avatar. Furthermore, when female participants played as thin avatars against obese avatars, their physical activity was also recorded to be less, whereas male participants in the same situation put in the same effort as if they were playing against a thin avatar.

“If the participant knows that they are roleplaying, then I think that the data becomes less interesting,” Peña said. “It is very important to control for the awareness of the participant. It might not factor in for some in the virtual reality field. My research relies on the hypothesis that avatar appearance affects personal dispositions.”

Weidong Guo, a software engineering researcher at UC Davis and a UC Davis alumnus, applies 3-D technology to his work in virtual and augmented reality. In association with other researchers, Guo is building video games that allow users to see the world from the perspective of a drone. The applications for this type of technology are vast, but Guo said that it will mainly be used by consumers in the video game industry for now.

“There are added virtual elements to the virtual reality that a player experiences,” Guo said. “For example, let’s say a missile is fired from the drone – it is a virtual missile that the player can direct towards a target on the field below them or in the air around them. What most drones use is GPS signals to locate the drone. But our system is different. It does not rely on GPS. We use a confined area which makes GPS not accurate enough, so we use image processing. Image processing is a system that implements the same cameras feeding images to the user to analyze markers at the boundaries of the game area to make sure that the drone knows not to get within a certain predetermined distance of the outer boundary. It is accurate to the order of centimeters.”

The game’s image processing is part of an open source software from a library called OpenCV which allows anyone to use and modify it for free. All users have to do is provide the parameters needed for whatever application they decide to use it for such as map size or how close the user wants the drone to get to an outer boundary.

Initially, Guo and his team were conducting their research academically. But now they have been undergoing the steps to commercialize their product. Although the other presenters at this year’s symposium are not necessarily in the position to commercialize their research, the functionality and interactivity of 3-D technology holds promising futures for fields across the board.

 

Written by: Jason Kelly — science@theaggie.org

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