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The product

The cylinder is fitted with six Epson 8K ultra-short throw projectors and, in a nod to its donor, is dressed in ExxonMobil-branded covers.

When it came to moving the cylinder from ExxonMobil and transferring to Texas A&M, the students were keen to help, and worked alongside Igloo technicians on the installation, giving them additional knowledge on the inner workings of an Igloo.

The university also makes the most of Igloo’s new software suite, Igloo Core Engine (ICE), to enable students to work with multiple sources of content at the same time. John Alberse, Graduate Assistant at the university, told us, “ICE has been pretty easy to use, very intuitive. It has a lot of different sources that we can grab from, like NDI or Spout or other texture sharing programmes.”

John also noted, “it's easy to choose where content is displayed on the Igloo and configure and scale things as needed. It's really intuitive. We use sessions, so saving and loading sessions with different content, it all works seamlessly.”

The result

Since its installation, the university has found the flexibility of the Igloo to be one of its biggest benefits. Being able to bring in any content, in any format, from any source, means students can work with a large range of content, like Unity, Unreal and Touch Designer, to create any type of virtual imagery or environment. From campus walk throughs, to virtual lecture spaces, the Igloo has been used for a wide range of student projects including:

Creating motion capture visualizations
Students from the visualization and dance programs produced an interactive dance performance titled “The Color of Connection,” which captured dancers’ movements in the space using Kinect cameras. This then created silhouettes of the dancers’ bodies surrounded by a fluid simulation, which was projected onto the Igloo’s 360-degree screen and showcased during an evening with fellow staff and students.

Simulating high-risk scenarios
On site at the university is a facility called Disaster City, used for training first responders, firefighters and disaster response teams. Using GPS trackers and bio-monitors on those being trained, the university was able to virtually capture that environment and bring it into the Igloo to simulate disaster scenarios. This means the training event can be analysed and discussed in a shared space, leading to improvements with both the Disaster City location and the performance of the trainees.

“The Igloo will really expand our research and artistic explorations — not just using headset-based virtual reality environments, but different levels of immersive environments. We will incorporate various scenarios into the Igloo immersive space and create a great synergy in teaching and research.”

Enhancing empathy
One student project created for the Igloo focused on putting the viewer in the shoes of an international student, who doesn’t have English as their first language. The content takes the viewer on a tour of the university, showing scenarios that international students may encounter, such as fast talking, slang, or overwhelming encounters. The narrative encourages the viewer to be more understanding of their peers in similar situations and makes students more aware of matters that may not otherwise cross their mind.

Developing a virtual lecture space
Students created a virtual lecture space using the Unity game engine to showcase different ways of teaching and engaging students. Whilst this project walks you through one example of a lecture, it enables students to think outside the box about ways in which teaching could be delivered in the future, and engaging whole groups of students inside a shared immersive space.

Enabling shared student showcases
Having a space like the Igloo at the university has given students the platform to explore creativity and collaboration in ways that were not possible before. Virtual reality (VR) headsets are often a one-person experience, which can lead to users feeling disconnected from colleagues and collaborators, whereas the Igloo encourages discussion and collaboration among students and instructors.

John Alberse also told us that “it's really nice that when students present their work, they can do it in the Igloo and have all their classmates in the space with them to share reactions. And so, the viewing experience is shared rather than isolating like it sometimes is with VR or AR. And that's great because it's nice to have that kind of collaborative or shared experience of viewing a project, which is rewarding for students.”

Going forward

The university has a number of plans for the Igloo going forward, including opening the Igloo up for use by other schools and subjects. Staff are keen to continue to offer the resource to teaching staff, researchers and students to encourage creativity with learning, expand horizons within research, showcase project work, and develop new skills that may not be learnt elsewhere. They invite anybody on campus to explore opportunities with them.

Dr Jinsil Hwaryoung Seo, Associate Professor in the Visualization program, told us, “these days, people have a lot of 3D content for virtual reality. That content could definitely be viewed in this immersive environment, with little tweaks. Any research labs or academic programs could bring students here to test scientific research. I really hope to have more collaborative activities around the Igloo environment.”

“You can close the door of the cylinder structure, and then when you’re inside, you’re enclosed by the whole 360 images and videos. You feel like you are somewhere else.”

“And so learning the Igloo environment and seeing how it differs from virtual reality, augmented reality and other mixed reality use cases have been really interesting. And having students learn that has also been really fascinating.”

“Here at Texas A&M we really like to work with the physical world and the virtual world and all the different technologies that enable the interactions between them. And I think that the Igloo is a really unique and useful piece of technology which does just that, which makes it a perfect fit for our programme.”

“In the first several weeks since the Igloo was assembled, visitors and students have been stunned by its capabilities.”