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Guest Editor's Introduction: Special Section on the IEEE Virtual Reality Conference (VR)

Ming C. Lin
Anthony Steed

Pages: pp. 353-354

The IEEE Virtual Reality (VR) Conference is the leading forum for the dissemination of cutting-edge technical advances in VR. This special section features significantly expanded versions of the three best papers from the IEEE VR 2008 proceedings. We would like to express our sincere gratitude to the anonymous reviewers who have diligently assisted us in attaining the highest quality for this special section.

As the need for mobility is growing, computing devices continue to shrink in size and gain acceptance beyond an audience of tech-savvy specialists. With the help of enhanced computing power, small devices now have sufficient computational capability to process complex visual computations. Emerging wearable computers are also excellent platforms for enabling "augmented reality" (AR) anywhere users may go. The paper "Multi-Threaded Hybrid Feature Tracking for Markerless Augmented Reality" by T. Lee and T. Höllerer introduces a methodology to support inexpensive AR in unprepared environments. It presents and evaluates new techniques for markerless computer vision-based tracking in arbitrary physical tabletop environments. It describes the use of this tracking technology for implementing the idea of an augmented desktop without the need for fiducial markers. Three-dimensional coordinate systems can be established on a tabletop surface at will. The system uses distinctive features to recognize a scene, providing a scheme to resume a stabilized AR experience after tracking failure, or in a new, previously viewed environment.

Interpersonal simulation allows users to practice their interpersonal skills by communicating with a virtual human (VH). Use of VHs and interpersonal simulation is rapidly expanding to educate end-users in many domains, including law enforcement, military training, medicine, etc. In current interpersonal simulators, the communication between a user and the VH takes the form of a conversation consisting of bidirectional speech and simple gestures. Many scenarios exist in which interpersonal touch plays a crucial role (e.g., medical physical examinations). The next paper focuses on mixed reality humans (MRH), a new type of embodied agent enabling touch-driven communication. The paper "Mixed Reality Humans: Evaluating Behavior, Usability, and Acceptability" by A. Kotranza and B. Lok presents the implementation of an MRH patient and explores the potential of MRHs for practicing of interpersonal and physical exam skills in medical education. The paper also describes two user studies. Study I makes observations of medical students' behavior with MRH, virtual human, and human patients; Study II evaluates the usability and acceptability of MRHs for practice and evaluation of medical students' clinical examination skills. The acceptability of the MRH patient for practicing exam skills was high as students rated the experience as believable and educationally beneficial. Acceptability was improved from Study I to Study II due to an increase in the MRH's visual realism, demonstrating that visual realism is critical for simulation of specific interpersonal scenarios.

An important factor influencing the sense of immersion is walking or traveling in virtual environments. Real walking in VEs is more natural and produces a higher sense of presence than other locomotion techniques such as walking-in-place, moving by joystick interfaces, walking-on-treadmill, etc. VEs using a real-walking locomotion interface have typically been restricted in size to the area of the tracked walk space. Techniques have been proposed to lift this size constraint, enabling real walking in VEs that are larger than the tracked space—all it requires is a reorientation technique (ROT) to handle the case when the technique fails and the user is close to walking out of the tracked space. The paper entitled "Evaluation of Reorientation Techniques and Distrators for Walking in Large Virtual Environments" by T. Peck, H. Fuchs, and M. Whitton proposes a new ROT using visual and audio distracters: objects in the VE that the user focuses on while the VE rotates. It also compares this method to current ROTs through three user studies. ROTs using distractors were preferred and ranked more natural by users. The findings in this paper also suggest that improving visual realism and adding sound increased a user's feeling of presence. Users were also less aware of the rotating VE when ROTs with distractors were used.

VR extends the frontier of human communication by enabling communication with or through virtual agents. This special section highlights exciting novel contributions to VR which we hope will serve as an inspiration for future research and applications.

About the Authors

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Ming C. Lin received the PhD degree in electrical engineering and computer science from the University of California, Berkeley. She is the Beverly W. Long Distinguished Professor of Computer Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). Her research interests include physically-based modeling, haptics, real-time 3D graphics for virtual environments, robotics, and geometric computing. She's the Associate Editor-in-Chief of the IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics. She has received the US National Science Foundation (NSF) Young Faculty Career Award, the Honda Research Initiation Award, the UNC/IBM Junior Faculty Development Award, and the UNC Hettleman Award for Scholarly Achievements.
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Anthony Steed received the PhD degree from the University of London in 1996 for work on languages for specifying interaction in 3D environments. He is a reader (associate professor) in the Department of Computer Science, University College London. His current research interests include networked virtual environments, virtual environment system design, immersion and presence, and 3D interaction. He is on the editorial boards of Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments and the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies.
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Carolina Cruz-Neira received the PhD degree in electrical engineering and computer science from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1995. She is the Chief Scientist of LITE and the W. Hansen Hall and Mary Officer Hall/BORSF Endowed Super Chair in Telecommunications at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Her research interests include software architectures for virtual environments, practical applications of virtual reality, and collaborative immersive environments. She is known for being the cocreator of the CAVE and also known for being the lead of the VRJuggler Open Source project. Among many awards, she has received the IEEE VGTC Virtual Reality Technical Achievement Award, the A.D. Welliver Award from The Boeing Company, and has been inducted as Eminent Engineer by the Tau Beta Pi Honors Society.
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