Udacity VR Nanodegree has been a wonderful experience so far. Every project that we are expected to work on has its unique characteristics and a lot to learn. As part of this project, we had to do some research to understand how Virtual Reality is being used in various domains. Then create a project with at least five viewing stations outlining the topic of our research.
Back to College in VR
This amazing technology has always fascinated me and motivated to get deep into it. When I decided to take up this Nanodegree, I also picked up a very informative book by Stanford Professor Jeremy Bailenson, who is also the founding director of Stanford University's Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL). The book named “Experience On Demand: What Virtual Reality Is, How It Works and What It Can Do”, not only helped understand VR in depth but also introduced me to the various research projects that have been conducted in VHIL. It was truly incredible to understand the dynamics and implications of interactions among people in immersive virtual reality simulations (VR).
Having learnt about the applications of VR, I was really excited to work on this project. The main challenge was to think of a concept that can be used to demonstrate the findings of research.
The initial thought that came to my mind was to go back to my college days in VR and showcase how college students can be introduced to this fascinating technology and its applications. I liked this idea and decided to pick it up for my project.
Here is the glimpse of my final project.
Breakdown of final piece
Meeting another person is one of the most amazing experiences one can have in Virtual Reality. The book mentioned above introduced me to two types of virtual characters — AVATARS (player character) and AGENTS(computer algorithm driven virtual character) in VR. Excited to learn how to include them in VR applications, I decided to have these characters in my project. Some of the characters have animations that show their teaching domain and then they come to an idle state. In idle state, the characters have some text written besides them that introduces them to the user and then explain a little about VR. Relevant VR videos are then displayed on the screen.
When the application starts, a virtual character named Pearl, who is a college student, greets the user and takes him to the entrance of her college. She suggests the user to meet the Principal before visiting the classes to know his views about VR.
Control is then moved to the Principal’s office where he tells the user that he believes in the potential of the technology and also shows him a video that mark Zuckerberg had shown in Oculus Connect 3 to demonstrate their social initiative in VR. This video shows how VR can be used to interact with your friends.
All the rooms have a home icon at the floor that user can click to go the main menu. This menu has the following sections:
- Principal’s Office
- Dance Class
- Sports Class
- Psychology Class
- Science Class
The user can then go to any of these rooms by clicking on their respective buttons in the menu and see the videos on the usage of VR in the respective domains.
The idea of creating college experience was the first that came to my mind and I liked it. Here is the initial sketch that I had created.
I conducted a series of user tests for the main scene and for each room. There was no major feedback in terms of improvement except for few minor UI issues that I worked upon. But, even after instructing the user at the college entrance to click on home icon on the floor of each room to go to the main menu, the users were not clear on how to navigate between the scenes. So, I added the instruction at top right corner of each room and provided an OK button to make sure that the user sees that instruction. The users were happy to meet the characters throughout and told me that they are curious to see the other characters and their animations as well.
The best animation as per them was the Samba dance that the teacher does when user enters the dance class.
Characters and animations — Mixamo.com
Font — dafont.com
Textures — Textures.com
School Teaching Building — blendswap.com
My room by Neo_minigan — Sketchfab.com
Chinese pottery vase by manrajdeol17 — Sketchfab.com
Big Furniture Pack by Vertex Studio — Unity Asset Store
Free Laptop by Vertex Studio — Unity Asset Store
Clock by VIS Games — Unity Asset Store
Wall TVset by 3d.rina (this has been used in all the scenes except main scene and principal’s office) — Unity Asset Store
Dance Class Scene:
Room by admone — Sketchfab.com
Sports Class Scene:
Basketball Court Outdoor by GrisAzura — Sketchfab.com
Psychology and Science Classes:
I used the lecture theatre found at https://www.blendswap.com/blends/view/74065 made by Danan (https://www.blendswap.com/user/danan)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YuIgyKLPt3s — Facebook’s Social Initiative Demo
Dance Virtual (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V7_Qi-rMjRM)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bj814CuE7Ic — Dancing In Virtual Reality
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZK_mrQXYhRU — Virtual Sports — VR Tennis & Ping Pong
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QSJVU7PK660 — STRIVR: Virtual Reality Sports Simulator
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIGFGF1hQmw — Stanford researchers examine the psychology of virtual reality
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-FyN5_-njAU — What Happens Inside Your Body? — VR 360°
Conclusion and Next Steps
There’s a lot more that could have been done in this project. I wanted the characters to speak their dialogues instead of having a text panel besides them. I spent 2–3 days to figure out how these characters can speak, but could not create anything tangible and considering the project deadline that was approaching fast, I decided to drop that idea and take it up sometime in the future.
As the next step, I would definitely want to learn how to make these characters speak and interact with the users in real time. There’s a long way to go in VR!
Other projects and links