With the advancements in Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR), we are now capable of creating realistic environments, where the user can interact with additional layers of information that is not available in the physical space. As a result there is an increasing level of interest in developing virtual 3D scenes for prototyping and evaluating human behavior within different design alternatives. Furthermore, researchers working in the areas of artificial intelligence, computer vision, and robotics are turning to virtual environments to train data driven models for tasks such as visual navigation, 3D reconstruction, and activity recognition. In line with this, our research team is developing automated approaches, where AR tools (e.g., HoloLens, Magic Leap headsets) can be integrated within smart buildings to automatically localize the user within a space, recognize surrounding objects through computer vision techniques, and provide real-time assistance in order to reduce users’ cognitive load while creating situational awareness about the surrounding environment.
For instance, in one project, we are integrating advanced computer vision and machine learning approaches within AR displays to automatically recognize the objects within a scene and create a “story of the space” in order to provide situational awareness for the users. Such data-driven mixed reality environments have real-life applications for first responders to gain situational awareness when responding to a building or facility managers to gain real-time and historical information about a specific system in a building.
In another project, we are utilizing VR application to study how vulnerable road users (VRUs) behaviors may be impacted in different designs and contextual settings. To support this research as well as other research projects utilizing VR/AR technologies, in collaboration with Dr. Donna Chen and the support of University of Virginia Engineering School, we have established the Omni-Reality and Cognition Lab (ORCL), in order to support research studies related to understanding the impact of alternative design solutions on human behavior, psychophysiology, and decision making. This lab is setup to further support VR/AR research studies by other faculty in the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment.