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Lethbridge College announces virtual reality research chair

The virtual reality research program at Lethbridge College announced its first chair this week. Mike McCready is stepping into the role of President’s Applied Research Chair in Virtual and Augmented Reality.McCready will continue to be an instructor in the virtual reality program at the college, and he says he is excited about the opportunities the research will provide for graduates.

“We’ll be working with industry not only to identify solutions but to show them what this technology can do,” McCready said.

“A lot of people don’t realize that virtual and augmented reality can save money and save lives.”

Lethbridge College is leading the charge of virtual reality studies in the province. The virtual reality program is the first in Alberta and only the second in Western Canada.McCready says it’s putting Lethbridge on the map and it’s more than just fun and games.

“Without going into too much detail, we’re partnering with businesses and also with first responders to amp up training and life-saving instruction,” he said.

“We know VR has capabilities beyond what it’s currently used for and we are excited to introduce that into different industries and really help them see how it can work for them.”

Nintendo’s Virtual Boy 3D Gaming Console. Similar to SEGA, Nintendo also had the vision of putting out a Virtual Reality headset for the gaming market. They even went as far as putting a VR headset on the market, but unfortunately it didn’t make it far. Released in the mid 1990s and known as the Virtual Boy, the device was a 3D gaming console that had a 3D viewing system rigged out to look like virtual reality. While it was way cheaper than the other options on the market at the time, the device also didn’t manage to truly spark the VR movement, simply because it lacked head-tracking and quality graphics and only offered stereoscopic 3D display.

The program is already partnering with the Justice Studies program to create virtual training for police officers.Virtually simulated incidents like domestic disturbances and traffic stops are filmed with actors and 360-degree cameras to give students a chance to test their real-time responses.School of Justice Studies chair, Dave Maze, says it’s an opportunity to help students understand how to verbally navigate stressful interactions without immediately resorting to force.

“We want to teach these students how to communicate,” Maze said

“We want them to understand how you can actually gain verbal compliance without having to use handcuffs, without having to get into a physical altercation, or at the extreme end of the spectrum, without having to use force that could result in somebody’s death.

“We really believe this type of training will make things safer for everyone.”

The scenarios rely on students recalling what they’ve learned and applying it appropriately in the virtual situations. It is mapped out like a choose-your-own-adventure game and offers a restart for any false steps.

Scientists with NASA can use virtual reality to enable robot arms in space to perform gestures that are being done on earth with an operator.

“Nobody else in the province is doing this right now,” instructor George Gallant said.“The fact that we’ve kind of jumped ahead of the pack really says a lot about Lethbridge College’s vision for the future, especially since we just started a new VR program as well. Everyone is just going to be catching up to us.”

The VR program at Lethbridge College is currently at full enrollment capacity for the fall, with a wait list of 15 people.

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