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Research in a Virtual World


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Improvements in VR equipment have helped researchers provide more realistic scenarios.

A growing number of projects from disciplines across the University of Alabama are using virtual reality technology.

Credit: Zach Riggins

A growing number of projects from disciplines across the University of Alabama (UA) are using virtual reality (VR) technology.

UA researchers Rick Houser and Brandon Dixon are using VR technology to simulate high-thrill activities such as driving a Formula-1 race car to test a theory. They believe people who score high in sensation-seeking activities, such as driving fast or riding a roller coaster, have different neural processes than low sensation-seekers.

Amy Traylor with UA's School of Social Work has partnered with the College of Engineering to develop and test virtual environments aimed at providing a novel intervention component for adolescents receiving treatment for marijuana use. She also will work with social scientist Laura Myers and use VR to help storm survivors manage the anxiety they feel. "Virtual reality is a non-invasive way to desensitize you to what scares you--in this case, a severe weather situation," Myers says.

The university is building a VR and visualization lab on campus designed to spur research.

"This opens up some very interesting interdisciplinary projects," Dixon says. "The applications are going to grow, and the number of projects is only going to increase."

From UA News (AL)
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