Exploring VR and AR at the EHSL

Jack C.

Jack C.
I’m a student intern at the Eccles Health Sciences Library. I seek out emerging technologies--things like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR)--and then I play with them!

I have a cool job. I’m a student intern at the Eccles Health Sciences Library. I seek out emerging technologies–things like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR)–and then I play with them. These are fringe technologies that didn’t exist 5 years ago, but increasingly, healthcare providers and researchers are seeing the potential of tech-assisted visualizations to communicate and teach. It’s my job as a VR development intern to experiment with these tools. Two of which I highlight below.

Enter the (Oculus) Rift…

Foremost among these tools, and available at the EHSL, is the Oculus Rift. You may have heard of the Rift; it’s arguably the first mass-market VR headset, and parent company Facebook’s multi-billion dollar bet on the future of virtual reality. And we have one!


To find it, visit HSEB room 3100, the computer lab on the third floor. The techies there–myself included–would be happy to show you what’s possible in the Rift. There is a little setup involved, mostly placing infrared sensors to act as the boundaries of the virtual space, but we’re pretty practiced at it. Once you’re in, you can throw virtual game cartridges at a virtual robot, or check out the medical visualizations we’re working on. At present, there are a lot of VR experiences ready to go, and we’re busy making even more. Check out the Virtual Reality LibGuide for more information about the technology, games, and interesting articles on the topic.

Enter the AR (Alternate Rift? No, Augmented Reality)

Screen grab VR robot

Get started by throwing things at this robot!

If VR allows you to step into a completely virtual environment, AR takes virtual objects and “places” them in the real world. If you’ve played Pokemon GO or used a Snapchat filter, you’ve gotten a taste of AR, the overlaying of virtual objects onto real-world images. Unlike VR, which requires you to strap a headset to your face, AR can be accomplished with nothing more than a phone or a computer. The result? Something like this:

AR objects

This is Vuforia, a free software that allows users to place virtual objects (like the skeleton above) and attach them to specific images (in this case, my university ID). Your computer or phone camera will then pin the virtual models to the image.

Want to try it yourself? Just go to https://developer.vuforia.com/license-manager. Register for a free account there. Then, follow this charming, gentleman’s tutorial. In 20 minutes, you’ll have a 3D model pinned to a real-world object. You’ll have to know a little bit about Unity, a cross-platform game engine, but assuming you do, you’ll find that implementing a futuristic tool like AR is far easier than one would expect. It’s really just a matter of dragging and dropping. The heavy lifting is all done by Vuforia.

Between VR and AR technologies, it’s clear that the boundaries between our world and the virtual world are starting to bleed. I’m fortunate enough to get paid to investigate these increasingly permeable boundaries. If you have questions about AR/VR or any other virtual environment, email us at ehsl-techies@lists.utah.edu.

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