Imagine RIT exhibit will enable attendees to experience virtual reality firsthand

Multidisciplinary project will ‘transport’ festival goers to make-believe environments

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A multidisciplinary team of RIT students and professors is collaborating on a high-quality camera system designed to produce 3D and truly spherical virtual reality footage that will “transport” Imagine RIT visitors to make-believe environments.

A multidisciplinary team of RIT students and professors is collaborating on a high-quality camera system designed to produce spectacular 3D and 360-degree virtual reality (VR) footage that will “transport” Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival visitors to make-believe environments.

The Facebook Surround 360 project on display in the Recreation Zone inside RIT’s Gordon Field House on May 6 has drawn the interest—and thousands of dollars in funding—from the Menlo Park, Calif.-based social media giant.

Nitin Sampat, associate professor of imaging and photographic technology in RIT’s College of Imaging Arts and Sciences, reached out to Facebook last summer while attending an international conference. He proposed building the camera system to the social network’s specifications, and the research project has evolved into a senior capstone for his students.

“I’m serving as principal investigator, but this project has drawn massive interest across all corners of the campus,” Sampat said. “There is a community of people anxious to deploy this camera in a wide range of applications.”

VR typically refers to computer technologies that use headsets to generate realistic images, sounds and other sensations that can replicate a real environment or create an imaginary setting. It also simulates a user’s physical presence in this environment.

The RIT team—including students and professors from photography and industrial design in CIAS as well as engineering students in the College of Applied Science and Technology—started meeting in the fall to discuss how to build the device and test how the systems will make 3D-360 capture possible.

They also, appropriately, started a Facebook group to monitor the status of progress on the project virtually. The team anticipated encountering myriad challenges during the process of building and testing equipment, particularly given the rapidly changing software environment and other meticulous equipment needs necessary to stitch together such an intricate system.

“We’re trying to make one unified effort out of all the ideas and excitement that everyone involved has brought to this project,” said Kirsten Martin, a fourth-year photographic sciences major from Enola, Pa. “We’ve been doing our best working around the hiccups that we don’t always have control over. It’s been a big exercise in creative problem-solving really.”

“We want to show everyone the future of video and imaging,” added Nick Franco of White Plains, N.Y., also a fourth-year photo sciences major. “We want to demonstrate a new method of viewing and making content.”

Sampat said the project’s wide range of applications are evolving all the time, including deploying it for education and content generation in nonfiction documentary storytelling, commercial applications, VR storytelling, and even engendering immersive experiences to a museum’s visitors.

For Martin and Franco, the VR camera system is an opportunity to give festival attendees a neat look into one of photography’s most intriguing technologies.

“For us, Imagine RIT is a natural extension of wanting to share our capstone project to the wider community,” Martin said.

“VR is a new medium and for people to understand the impact it can have it has to be shown effectively,” Franco added. “The first few experiences with VR often determine someone’s feelings about the medium, so we want to give them the best experience possible.”