WKU XR Lab students honored at Mid-South ACM Conference

Students from the WKU XR Lab received awards for their research presentations Friday (Nov. 11) at the Mid-South ACM (Association of Computing Machinery) Conference in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

An interdisciplinary team of 15 students representing Ogden College of Science and Engineering, Potter College of Arts & Letters, and The Gatton Academy attended the conference. The five supporting XR Lab faculty in attendance were Professors Greg Arbuckle and Michael Galloway from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Professors Kristina Arnold, Mark Simpson, and Truth Tran from the Department of Art & Design.

Every XR Lab student presenting received awards for their research, with student teams placing first in undergraduate paper presentations, and first, second, and third in poster presentations.

First place for an undergraduate paper was awarded to the “Eclipse Totality Megamovie Application” research presented by Joey Jackson, Travis Pedenand Lance Warfelwith application prototype development by madison whittle. This project aims to test the bounds of citizen science, or the practice of public participation and collaboration in scientific research to increase scientific knowledge, by involving over a million members of the public in capturing data on the total solar eclipse occurring on April 8, 2024 , spanning from Texas to Maine. This project seeks to expand upon a similar one conducted in 2017, which used 1,000 citizen scientists, to a significantly larger scale, by developing an incentivized, user-friendly application for smartphones that will utilize camera tech to take a series of photos and videos of the eclipse.

First place for posters was awarded to the team of Nicholas Clayton, Austin Costello, Will Herring, Cole Johnson, Zachary Mers, Alyssa Putman, Michael Putmanand Emma Young for their project on “UAV Cave Mapping and VR Experience.” This team has been working to build and use an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) drone to map the inside of caves and use the data to “rebuild” these caves in virtual reality, thus eliminating the need to physically enter them. The expected result of the project is to create a virtual environment that accurately represents the geographical data collected by the drone using a LIDAR sensor, overlaid with more detailed texture and image information. This project hopes to develop applications for LIDAR data and the use of Unity in creating experiences in virtual reality to allow for educational and research projects such as cave exploration.

The Gatton Academy student team of Ivy Bowers, Jonathon Reillyand Carolina Wheeler placed second in poster presentations with their project on creating a “Virtual Reality Campus Tour Using 3D Modeling and Scanning.” Their project investigates the use of 3D modeling and scanning in the construction of enhanced lifelike virtual reality tour experiences. While many virtual reality tours use 360-degree camera imagery because of its relative ease, these tours do not allow the user to interact with the environment and explore freely, nor do they allow for the reconstruction of past sites where imagery no longer exists. This VR project, created using the Unity game engine, produces a realistic and interactive virtual tour of some of Western Kentucky University’s oldest buildings, both in their present state and at the time of their construction. This work serves as a proof of concept for larger scale projects involving true-to-life interactive virtual reality environments, especially those concerning the reconstruction of past sites, an important development because of their potential for use in educational settings and in the community recognition of past events.

madison whittle presented the third-place poster on her research “Utilizing Innovative Technology to Bring Specialized Museum Exhibits and Tech Optimism to Rural Communities in South Central Kentucky.” Her team seeks to combat the relative lack of access those living in South Central Kentucky have to museum experiences through using the WKU Extended Reality Lab to bring historical and cultural experiences to SoKY, introduce innovative technology to rural communities, and promote tech optimism. Whittle and her team developed an interactive virtual museum experience targeting SoKY-specific culture and history, with the primary impact of the project serving to make education, cultural experiences, and innovative tech processes more accessible in rural communities. Featured exhibits include an interactive blues theater experience through the Jack Dappa Blues Foundation; a virtual comparison between our modern campus and the Civil War fort that once resided there; and a reflective auditory experience that celebrates a local African American community and the resulting diaspora after WKU’s expansion in the 1960s.

Additional information about the lab and its projects can be found on its website, also developed by student Madison Whittle, at www.wkuxr.com.

Contact: Kristina Arnold, (270) 745-6566

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