UAB’s Immersive Experience Lab
By Jason Nunnelly
Corey Shum’s team at UAB’s Immersive Experience Lab is a group of computer scientists and designers that are part gamer and part mad scientist which probably makes up the DNA of most technology frontiersmen. Corey is the Technical Director of the Lab, a unit of the School of Engineering and the Engineering & Innovative Technology Development (EITD) group. Their AR/VR work includes experimental development for military simulations and experience therapy applications for physically challenged patients.
Of course, we played video games during out visit.
The lab is just like a college workshop. Young, smart people are hacking on new technology and talking about pushing the boundaries of today’s possibilities. My conversation with Corey centered on what the technology can do today and where he expects it to be in a few years. It was good to meet someone asking the same questions with the power of an academic system backing his queries and experiments.
We visited Corey’s team to discuss a project I’m advising that intends to use mixed reality to improve high school and collegiate football training. Jordan Ricks was a UAB football player whose career was ended by an injury during preseason practice. Now he wants to use augmented reality to help players avoid similar injuries. Even though most of us imagine gaming and entertainment possibilities when we think about augmented and virtual reality, scientists are working on solutions to physical world problems, especially in the fields of cognitive therapy and training simulations.
There’s much talk and even concern about the exuberance surrounding AR/VR or mixed reality as an industry. When I was on stage with Andy Grignon during SlossTech, we talked about his contribution to the first iPhone, a device that has transformed how we communicate and access information. When the iPhone hit the market, many pundits proclaimed it to be an overpriced cell phone with silly game-like functionality. As any modern executive knows, it’s much more. When Robert Scoble went on stage after us he held the audience spellbound for more than an hour talking exclusively about AR/VR technologies. He discussed technologies that aren’t on the shelf today. Some that are years from maturing to the consumer market. Andy and I were talking about the past and Robert was discussing the future.
The most interesting part of UAB’s work is how it makes tangible, real world experiences better when the AR/VR is absent. If you’ve ever seen The Rubber Hand Illusion from National Geographic’s TV series Mind Games, you’ve witnessed how perceiving an object physically strongly influences how the brain interacts with the body. Whether using VR to help spinal cord injury patients experience healthy legs to improve phantom pains or even expedite recovery, or providing training for football players so they can behave in ways that avoid concussions on the field, mixed reality holds a key to improve our experiences in the physical realm. That functional potential is at the core of much academic research today into immersive technology.
UAB’s program in Birmingham, Alabama creates new intellectual property as well as collaborates with companies to bring existing IP to market. When you think of the deep south, it’s difficult to imagine the cutting edge experience development resources available to local companies. UAB challenges preconceptions, providing a powerful advantage to Alabama companies that are developing AR/VR projects.