Creative Minds Will Take VR to the ‘Next Level’

Virtual reality is a new way to watch, but technology isn't enough, says one expert. We also need fresh approaches to make it compelling.

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“The lines between reality and virtual reality will become increasingly blurred. I think technology is steamrolling ahead. The technical advances are going to be there. It’s really up to us to see what we’re going to be able to do with them.”

Robert Allison is a professor of computer science and engineering at York University’s Vision Science to Applications (VISTA) program. He doesn’t just work on new ways to display visual information; he also works to understand the human experience of using new technologies like virtual reality (VR) so that they feel seamless, both for content creators and for users.

One of the interesting things about vision, says Allison, is that the images of the world that are projected onto the light-sensitive retinas in our eyes are, in a sense, impoverished. They’re flat projections that need to be built up in our brains so that we can perceive more about the world around us in order to know how we relate to it and how to act within it. And as we move, our surroundings also move in our visual field.

That is one of the aspects that makes virtual reality different from any cinematic experience that came before it. The content that is displayed needs to respond to a user’s movements and gaze in order to create compelling and immersive experiences.

“Understanding the human aspect of human-display interaction is very important,” says Allison. “Technology itself is obviously necessary but not sufficient in order for us to get these better experiences.”

In designing displays, there are always trade-offs. Understanding which elements are critical and which can be sacrificed optimizes the experience. Allison and his team are working with the local film industry to integrate science into the tools that will unlock creative potential in VR.

“What’s really going to take VR to the next level, I think, is creative minds,” says Allison. “I think technologists need to enable the creatives to take this and then say, you have an entire new medium, a new palette you can paint experiences with.

“If we do our jobs right, as technologists, scientists that are building this, this will give an incredible set of tools for people to do things that are different.”

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Robert Allison’s research focuses human perceptual responses in virtual environments and the basic study of stereoscopic vision. Specifically, his research is focused on depth perception and self-motion perception. He is also interested in the measurement and analysis of eye movements and the applications of this technology, such as his work in evaluating the use of night vision goggles for forest firefighting and the support of aerial and border searches.  

Allison was the lead of the 3DFLIC film and television project, which consisted of an interdisciplinary team of scientists, filmmakers and industry leaders who applied fundamental research in stereoscopic perception to the development of stereoscopic 3D (S3D) film language and production. Dr. Allison’s research on the underlying perceptual process has contributed to best practices in the 3D film industry. 

Research2Reality is a groundbreaking initiative that shines a spotlight on world-class scientists engaged in innovative and leading edge research in Canada. Our video series is continually updated to celebrate the success of researchers who are establishing the new frontiers of science and to share the impact of their discoveries with the public.