Miami University is home to the largest Huge Immersive Virtual Environment (HIVE) facility in the world.
The 1,000-square meter, full-body tracking, research environment is located in Phillips Hall gymnasium on Miami’s Oxford campus.
The facility is set to become even more advanced, as the National Science Foundation (NSF) has presented David Waller and Eric Bachmann, the directors and founders of HIVE, with two new research grants to further their study of human spatial cognition.
Although only one grant has been officially announced, Bachman, who is an associate professor of computer science and software engineering, and Eric Hodgson, manager and director of the Smale Interactive Visualization Center of HIVE operations, said the other is on its way and plans for using both are already being implemented.
“The idea is to make a portable HIVE,” Bachman said. “Right now, if you really want to experience virtual reality, you need to travel to a special facility. We’re trying to make a portable, low-cost, virtual environment.”
Portable HIVE technology, according to Bachmann, will allow for conceivably infinite types and sizes of environments, eliminating the limitations of the current research field.
“The gymnasium is big, but still, you can only walk so far until you run into a wall,” Bachmann said.
Some of the work to make these technological upgrades a reality has already begun. Bachmann said the HIVE position tracking system was upgraded over spring break.
Hodgson said these updates will expand the fleet of HIVE equipment, which currently consists of two sets of HIVE backpacks, and in turn make the gear more accessible for class curriculum.
“One of the big things the (first) grant does is it will allow us to get five additional backpacks,” Hodgson said. “We could have a professor and six students, for example, so up to seven users, experiencing the same environment. And that’s something we could never do without this grant.”
Hodgson said the type of technology that is being developed with the money from this grant will allow HIVE equipment to be used portably.
“Instead of having a camera system that is permanently mounted to the walls, we are developing these foot trackers that you can just wear out in a large space, like Cook Field,” Hodgson said.
The significance of this groundbreaking technology expands beyond Miami. HIVE has very useful, real world, applications that integrate the study of spatial cognition into numerous fields, Hodgson said.
“A military application, for example, is that they could go out into the desert in Iraq and train on the actual layout of a city before entering it for real,” Hodgson said.
Senior Grace Hamelberg, a psychology major, finds the HIVE technology fascinating even though over the course of her Miami career she had heard little about it.
“I think it is really special we have technology to that extent here on campus,” Hamelberg said. “What would make this even better (for Miami) is if more people knew about it.”
Hodgson said it is probable that few students know about HIVE, but anticipates that this will change with the help of these grants.
“We’re hoping that as we expand the technology, we can get into the curriculum more and get into the community more,” Hodgson said.