Public Relations  >  News Center  >  News Releases  >  April, 2019  >  April 16, 2019  >  Virtual reality becoming a reality at Creighton's Radlab
Virtual reality becoming a reality at Creighton's Radlab

Chad Brocker is walking around a pristine, fascinating museum of Star Wars memorabilia and casually picks up a model of an X-wing fighter that immediately slips from his grasp and lands on a well-polished floor.

Not to worry, though. The model is undamaged. The museum is not aghast. Chad Brocker isn’t in any trouble. In fact, there is no model, no museum, and that’s not the real Chad Brocker. All of what’s just transpired has occurred in a virtual reality that beams with uncanny precision from Brocker’s office computer screen at the Creighton University Radlab where he serves as a digital experience designer tasked with creating virtual worlds in many different settings.

“The advances made in virtual reality have been amazing,” said Brocker, also an experienced 3-D artist presently at work on creating several virtual environments for classes at Creighton. “There’s been a lot of research that has gone into it, tips and tricks that are helping us to create assets, texture maps, other resources that are opening up new possibilities.”

Recently, the Radlab created space for four virtual reality stations. A gift from Hans Hartmann, former chief operations officer at Fitbit and the groundbreaking virtual reality company Oculus Rift, and a parent of a Creighton student, donated 12 Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets and a gift to fund a Radlab intern dedicated to virtual reality pursuits.

Faculty are also reaching out, asking the Radlab how virtual reality could be integrated into their classes. Could students walk on the Moon or Mars? Could they explore the recently discovered black hole?

And it’s not just the sciences. Professors in philosophy and literature are asking about building worlds for their students to explore, too. Radlab staffers are at work on creating a virtual environment of the levels of the underworld described in Dante’s Inferno.

“You never know until you try,” said Kathy Craig, director of innovation, research and development at the Radlab. “There are so many possibilities out there and this is what the Radlab exists to do — to innovate and to think about what faculty members bring to us to improve experiences for students and to think what creative experiences we could have.”

Building the virtual reality environments has been a new experience for most in the Radlab and has afforded the innovators opportunities to work with the latest in cutting edge technology, including 360-degree cameras with resolution so fine the images produced are indistinguishable from lived reality.

Brocker has been using the technology to experiment in Sansar, a game that feels a bit like Second Life, the massive multiplayer online game that was introduced in 2003 and allows players to create avatars which then navigate an online world.

“But it’s so much better than Second Life,” Brocker said. “It’s so much more accessible, interactive, and, when you’re in virtual reality and you want as high a resolution as possible in the environment, you pop in some ear buds and you’re a part of it.”

The game is where Brocker visited the Star Wars museum and where he’s also experimenting with other virtual worlds, including building the ones for courses.

Very soon, Creighton faculty could be lecturing about the surface of Mars, while standing on the surface of Mars, or talking about Leopold Bloom’s exploits in James Joyce’s novel Ulysses, while walking the streets of 1904 Dublin.

“Online or blended courses will best support this technology,” Brocker said.

The Radlab’s experimentation and development in the area of virtual reality, including the creation of the spaces for use of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets and the means for building virtual environments is another hallmark of the lab at Creighton.

“It’s the way a lot of education is heading,” Craig said. “It’s obviously a big area for us to get into and to incorporate the involvement of a number of different disciplines. It’s a very cool experience. We hope more people will come and check it out and tell us how virtual reality could work in their classroom.”

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