Envision Center projects showcased for President Daniels

President Daniels trying a virtual reality sports training application.Purdue President Mitch Daniels’ job certainly offers diverse experiences, like stepping inside the human body and docking drug molecules to proteins.

That’s one thing President Daniels experienced when he visited ITaP’s Envision Center on Feb. 1 for a tour and introduction to Purdue’s work in virtual reality and data visualization. Faculty demonstrated research and educational projects they’ve been working on, including some built in collaboration with the center.

Many of the projects highlighted take advantage of the Envision Center’s access to the latest virtual reality technology, including the Google Cardboard 3-D viewer, which turns an ordinary smartphone into a virtual reality device, and the HTC VIVE, a virtual reality headset with wireless hand controls that lets a user completely immerse themselves in the virtual environment.

Hong Tan, a professor of electrical and computer engineering and founder and director of Purdue’s Haptic Interface Research Laboratory, has been using virtual reality to build applications that allow student athletes to train from anywhere. Tan and Nathan Chow, a junior in electrical and computer engineering, demonstrated an application they have developed that simulates the experience of catching a football and has been used by Purdue Athletics to train players. Not only does the application mimic the visual experience of being on the playing field and having a football thrown at you, it also vibrates when you make a catch, to mimic the physical feeling of a ball hitting your hand.

President Daniels also tested out an interactive drug discovery game, developed by the Envision Center and Assistant Professor of Chemistry Gaurav Chopra, which allows the user to virtually step inside the body and explore different ways of docking drug molecules to target proteins. Chopra and his team see the tool as a way of crowd-sourcing drug discovery, one of the areas emphasized by Daniels’ Purdue Moves initiative. A score is loaded into the game representing Chopra’s best computational prediction for how the drug will fit in the protein target’s binding pocket. Users who beat the pre-loaded score have theoretically come up with a better solution, which will then be tested in Chopra’s experimental wet lab to determine its effectiveness. Chopra also plans to use the virtual reality technology behind the game in chemistry education – for example, by letting students feel the attraction or repulsion between certain molecules rather than simply telling them how the molecules interact. 

President Daniels trying an interactive drug discovery video game.Voicu Popescu, associate professor of computer science, Juan Wachs, associate professor of industrial engineering, and Christoph Hoffmann, professor of computer science, demonstrated their surgical telementoring (STAR) visualization application, which allows an expert surgeon to remotely guide a trainee using augmented reality. Unlike virtual reality, in which the virtual environment completely takes over the user’s field of vision, augmented reality mixes the real and virtual environments and places digital objects in the user’s real world view. This allows the mentor surgeon to not only verbally guide the trainee surgeon, but also to visually guide them as well, for example by drawing a line for an incision.

In addition, Carlos Morales, associate professor of computer graphics technology, demonstrated 360-degree video streaming using the Google Cardboard device; Gustavo Rodriguez-Rivera, associate professor of computer science, and his students showcased projects created in his virtual reality applications course; and David Whittinghill, associate professor in computer graphics technology and computer and information technology, provided an introduction to his Games Innovation Laboratory and highlighted some experimental game design work his students have done.

President Daniels using the STAR surgical telementoring application.The Envision Center was founded in 2004 to help researchers visualize scientific data in a more intuitive and immersive way. The center’s staff and student employees work with faculty partners and external clients to create virtual reality and data visualization tools for research and educational use, collaborate on grant proposals and develop promotional media such as animated videos.

For more information about the Envision Center, contact Laura Theademan, the center’s program manager, ltheadem@purdue.edu, or George Takahashi, the center’s technical lead, gtakahas@purdue.edu.

Image captions: 

President Daniels trying a virtual reality sports training application.

President Daniels trying an interactive drug discovery video game.

President Daniels using the STAR surgical telementoring application.

Writer:  Adrienne Miller, science and technology writer, Information Technology at Purdue (ITaP), 765-496-8204, mill2027@purdue.edu

Last updated: March 3, 2017

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