Exploring Extended Reality in the Libraries with Studio X

Senior Creative Writing major and Karp Library Fellow Ayiana Crabtree '22 was featured in this post for the UR admissions blog! Link to original post at the end.

Located on the first floor of Carlson Library, as the hub for extended reality at the University of Rochester, Studio X fosters a community of cross-disciplinary collaboration, exploration, and peer-to-peer learning that lowers barriers to entry, inspires experimentation, and drives innovative research and teaching in immersive technologies.

Studio X runs tons of fun workshops and events that aim to make XR fun and easier to understand. For example, I run an Intro to XR workshop every semester that teaches participants, no matter their skill level, all about the basics of XR with a fun hands-on learning experience. There are other workshops too, like Blender and Unity tutorials to teach you the basics of 3D modeling and game development. If workshops aren’t your thing, we also have events like our Beat Saber competition and a speaker series called Voices of XR, where you can learn about XR directly from professionals in the field.

Studio X has a wide range of XR technologies that students, faculty, and staff have access to using both inside and out of the space. Our most popular attractions are the Meta Quest 2 VR headsets, which can be borrowed and taken back to your dorm for up to three days at a time. On our VR headsets, there are a bunch of fun pre-downloaded games and experiences for you to play, like Beat Saber, Walkabout Minigolf, Job Simulator, and more! In addition to the VR headsets, we have 360 cameras and 360 audio recorders which can also be taken back to your dorm for a three-day period. If you don’t mind staying in the space, you can ask to try one of our Microsoft HoloLens 2’s (MR headsets) or use one of our high-end workstations for homework. You can also use any of the aforementioned technology in the space if you don’t want to take it back to your room.

Studio X’s main goal is to break down any barriers that may be preventing students from getting into XR technologies. Whether that be making resources readily available, or giving introductory tutorials, Studio X is here to help!

Read the full article here!

Accessibilities and XR: A Semester of Research

Karp Library Fellow, Ayiana Crabtree ’22 joined the Studio X team in February 2021 as our inaugural XR Research Fellow. For her final research project, we asked Ayiana to focus on XR and accessibility. Technology in general creates many barriers for disabled users. As XR technologies are rapidly growing in popularity, they exacerbate these challenges. When creating an XR product, whether that be a VR (virtual reality) headset or an AR (augmented reality) game, etc., people tend to think more about their product’s aesthetic or its usability for the average user. What people fail to remember is that not every user will be “the average user.” The world is a diverse place, with people of all ages, genders, races, and abilities, and when creating XR, it is important to keep in mind this diversity. XR and accessibility is itself a new area that is a moving target.

The goal of this topic of research was to ensure that Studio X would be prepared to accommodate any person that walks into the space to try out technologies. While this is a long-term goal, the research done this semester is a good first step to making Studio X accessibility-friendly.

In order to make Studio X more accessible for the future, Ayiana conducted research to find ways in which accessibility is already being incorporated with immersive technologies. This involved putting together a resource guide, meeting with the director of the Office of Disability Resources on campus, and running a student survey through the Office of Disability Resources mailing list. View her findings and more in the semester of research recap presentation below!


XR and Accessibility Resources

Person in a VR headset using assistive VR hardware.

Summary: This post reviews resources on XR (extended reality) and accessibility and summarizes best practices for centering accessibility when engaging with these technologies.

Technology in general creates many barriers for disabled users. As XR technologies are rapidly growing in popularity, they exacerbate these challenges. When creating an XR product, whether that be a VR (virtual reality) headset or an AR (augmented reality) game, etc., people tend to think more about their product’s aesthetic or its usability for the average user. What people fail to remember is that not every user will be “the average user.” The world is a diverse place, with people of all ages, genders, races, and abilities, and when creating XR, it is important to keep in mind this diversity. XR and accessibility is itself a new area that is a moving target. Because of this, many new developments are in the works, so these resources may be outdated in just a year’s time.

Before we dive into XR, let’s first define some terms:  What are Accessibility and Universal Design? 

Accessibility is the ability to access something and be able to benefit from its intended purpose. It sometimes refers to specific characteristics that products, services, and facilities have that can be used by people with a variety of disabilities.

Accessible Design is a design process that specifically considers the needs of people with disabilities.

Universal Design is the process of creating products that are accessible to people with a wide range of abilities, disabilities, and other unique circumstances.

Resources:
Usability, Accessibility, and Ethical Design from San Diego State University
What is the difference between accessible, usable, and universal design? from University of Washington

The following resources are divided into 5 categories:
Education
Design, UI/UX
Development
Software
Hardware


Education

XR Access

woman showing a man how to use a vr headset while an audience watches

Link to Webpage
Education, Teaching, Research, Organization, Conferences, Resources

XR Access is a community committed to making virtual, augmented, and mixed reality accessible to people with disabilities. Their mission is to modernize, innovate, and expand XR technologies, products, content and assistive technologies by promoting inclusive design in a diverse community that connects stakeholders, catalyzes shared and sustained action, and provides valuable, informative resources. 

The site provides a plethora of materials for those interested in their efforts. Their research network provides valuable information regarding accessibility research that’s happening across the XR access research network. They have workstreams, which are community-led efforts to inform the design, development, and production of accessible XR. In addition to these, they also have a wide variety of other resources that are there to aid people in their own research, some of which are their annual XR Access Symposium reports (see below for more about the symposium). XR Access also curates stories of disabled folks who have used technology both successfully and unsuccessfully to help advocate for accessible XR technology. Those interested can sign up for their newsletter or join their robust Slack community. 

Accessibility Needs of Extended Reality Hardware: A Mixed Academic-Industry Reflection

a man looking at his hands while wearing a vr headset with a tv screen behind him

Link to Article
Education, Hardware

This journal publication walks the reader through the process of and reasoning behind the need for accessible XR hardware and software. By starting out with an explanation of the benefits of XR, they then move on to show why the accessibility movement should start with hardware. If a user cannot wear a headset, then they cannot experience its software. The XR Access Symposium of 2019 allowed many people to connect and expand upon their individual ideas, which allowed them to establish their goals for XR hardware accessibility. They established a need to: understand related fields’ accessibility guidelines, determine the most pressing obstacles, consider industry guidelines, and increase public awareness of the issues at hand. With those needs in mind and a focus on a community-centered approach, they believe it is easily possible to succeed in overcoming the lack of accessible XR hardware.

Barriers to Supporting Accessible VR in Academic Libraries

Link to Article
Education, Libraries

Although XR technologies offer new opportunities to engage students, they also present more challenges for disabled students. Technology, in general, already tends to exclude these users, and XR’s rapid rate of development further complicates things. The article shares statistics as of 2019 from the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education: “19.4% of undergraduates and 11.9% of graduate students have some form of disability.” The authors argue that academic libraries, as leaders in supporting and sharing new technologies, are well poised to address accessibility challenges for XR and must create clear policies and service models that support all users. While no clear accessibility guidelines currently exist, there are several promising initiatives such as XR Access Symposium that are working towards this goal. They detail two accessibility initiatives occurring at Temple University and at the University of Oklahoma. The authors then conclude with a list of key takeaways:

Plan for Accessibility from the Beginning: Libraries can save time and resources by thinking about accessibility issues at the start of a program or project.

Lack of Standards: As of 2020, there are no standards for accessible VR design, but there are related standards that could lay the groundwork for their development.

Developer Support is Essential: Libraries that intend to develop VR experiences need to have sufficient developer support with accessibility expertise.

Importance of Auditing and Reporting: Out-of-the-box VR experiences will pose different accessibility challenges from one person to the next and should be audited to better understand these barriers to access. If a library lacks a developer to modify software or create new software, at the very least, available software needs to be audited and have a corresponding accessibility report produced.

VR is Not the Pedagogy: VR should be another tool in an educator’s arsenal, not the sole focus of a class (unless VR is the course subject). As Fabris et al. (2019) suggest “Having VR for the sake of having VR won’t fly; the VR learning resources need to be built with learning outcomes in mind and the appropriate scaffolds in place to support the learning experience” (74).

Acknowledge the Limits of VR Accessibility: There are limits to making VR accessible. The reality is that there will be students who are unable to use VR for a variety of reasons. Therefore, there should always be an alternative access plan developed so that students have access to non-VR learning methods as well.

XR Accessibility Initiatives in Academic Libraries

cover of the asis&t proceedings booklet

Link to Article
Education, Survey, Libraries

As libraries traditionally take the lead in accessibility initiatives, a survey was done to examine the accessibility of their digital resources. Three questions were asked and sent to various academic libraries, and they received responses from 30 universities:

  • Question 1: What is the level of development of accessibility support for XR technologies in academic libraries?
  • The majority of institutions surveyed did not have policies or dedicated staff to support the accessibility for XR resources
  • Question 2: What XR accessibility knowledge do library staff and administrators currently have?
  • Nearly all participating spaces had some awareness of the challenges that XR provides and are able to find resources to assist when needed.
  • Question 3: What are the main barriers to developing accessibility support for XR technologies in academic libraries?

The top three barriers to developing accessibility policies and processes were lack of staff knowledge, lack of funding, and lack of time. 

The concluding result was that XR and accessibility in academic libraries is still developing, so policies and staff are not yet in place. It is also noted that many institutions have plans to begin progressing towards implementing strategies soon.

DLFteach Toolkit: Lesson Plans on Immersive Pedagogy

man in a wheelchair with his hands in the air wearing a vr headset

Link to Toolkit
Education, Libraries, Teaching

The digital library foundation (DLF) has put together a toolkit of lesson plans that facilitate interdisciplinary work engaged with XR technologies. The toolkit is focused on a decolonial, anti-ableist, and feminist pedagogical framework for collaboratively developing and curating humanities content for emerging technologies. 

Located in the introductory materials section of the toolkit, there are three particularly useful resources. Recommendations for accessible pedagogy with immersive technology, an immersive technology auditing checklist, and instructions on how to create an equally effective alternate action plan for immersive technologies.

Recommendations for Accessible Pedagogy with Immersive Technology – serves to provide a background for the increasing need for creating educational resources for disabled learners. The list of materials provided are intended to guide educators on how to incorporate immersive technologies into their teaching while also keeping disabled learners in mind. It is split into three sections: accessibility and disability, readings on the accessibility of immersive technologies, and recommended administrative considerations. It ends with a series of questions to keep in mind when teaching.

Immersive Technology Auditing Checklist – serves to identify and document the various challenges of making immersive technologies accessible. It divides the workflow into three steps: purchasing software and hardware, providing technical support for software and hardware, and ensuring user access to software and hardware. The checklist then walks you through a series of important questions when considering each phase of the process, posing questions such as “What hardware is required?” and “Is there an accessibility page for the software?” It also dives into questions about ease of operation and perception, asks about the robustness of the technology, and asks about any documentation about the technology. 

Creating and Equally Effective Alternative Action Plan for Immersive Technologies – serves to instruct the reader on how to create an Equally Effective Alternative Action Plan (EEAAP). An EEAAP is a document that is used when there is an accessibility barrier in a technology (i.e. when a technology is unable to be used by a person or group with a disability). The components of an EEAAP are a description of the issue, the person or group affected, the responsible faculty, how the EEAA will be provided, the additional EEAA resources required, repair information, and a timeline for unforeseen events. Some examples of EEAAP’s are listed at the end of the resource. 

Exploring Virtual Reality Through the Lens of Disability

young girl wearing a vr headset with her hands in the air

Link to Article
Education. Teaching Resource

This resource comes directly from the DLF Toolkit. It provides a lesson in an interdisciplinary approach to introducing VR immersions through the lens of disability studies. They are not aiming to represent how all people experience disability, rather they are trying to create an activity that includes discipline–specific theory and criticism. They then talk about the different types of VR: cinematic VR uses filmmaking techniques; simulation VR simulates the real and fictional, while the user is an active participant; representational VR creates immersive experiences through sensory embodiment; and therapeutic VR is designed for various treatments. 

The resource then becomes an instructional guide on how to try several disability-related experiences. They recommend the audience, curricular context, learning outcomes, materials needed, how to prepare for the experiences, and provide a long list of sample instructions. Following this, they list several important applications they recommend trying: Notes on Blindness, The Party, and InMind VR. Each experience is paired with a plethora of questions and other external resources they found to be relevant.

  • Notes on Blindness – This experience tells the story of a man who lost his sight and how he coped by keeping an audio diary. For three years, he recorded over sixteen hours of material.
  • The Party – A VR film by The Guardian that allows you to enter the world of an autistc teenager who is at a surprise birthday party. You will hear internal thoughts about how the experience affects her and share the sensory overload that leads to a meltdown.
  • InMind VR – A short adventure that allows the user to journey into a patient’s brain and search for the neurons that cause mental disorder.

Design, UI/UX

Designing XR for Accessibility and Inclusion

diagram of a vr application called SeeingVR

Link to Article
Design, UI/UX 

When you are in the beginning stages of creating something in an XR medium, whether that be a device or an experience, it is important to keep in mind the various factors that might make something less accessible. Accessibility could mean anything from being differently abled than those around you in terms of motor function, sensory deprivation, or wealth and societal standing. 

VR has a plethora of positive features that could be beneficial to differently abled users such as the ability to enhance spatial sound on one side of the body,  render visuals with higher contrast, and enable those in wheelchairs to experience what it would feel like to “walk around” in VR. However, like with any technology, VR also presents many accessibility challenges such as the heavy emphasis on motion controls, the use of the body to control many experiences, and the requirement to stand during some VR experiences.  

Considering these and other challenges, here are some things to keep in mind while trying to make XR design more inclusive: 

  • Hardware – What equipment do people need to participate in a VR environment? Is a standalone headset and controllers all that’s required? Or is there some form of special equipment or a computer to run the experiences also needed?
  • Navigation and Interfaces – How understandable is the XR environment? If a user had no context or guidebook upon entering the space, would they know what to do and how to interact? Make things either clearly labeled or have a guide or some form of instructions available. This could involve an avatar that appears to give instructions along the way, an instruction dialog box, or a guidebook with your product.
  • Communication – How are speech and body language communicated? Do you have an avatar that represents you in an environment? Is there full body tracking, or does your avatar just float from place to place? Do you speak using a microphone, or are there pre-written text options to choose from? Is captioning available? 
  • Customization and Interoperability – Allow users to customize the XR environment to their needs. Can you enable color contrast? Can you toggle on and off captioning when needed? Are there a variety of sound options? 
  • Avatars and Embodiment – Make sure that there are a wide range of options so people can feel accurately represented. Is there a wide range of skin tones, hair colors, hairstyles, clothing, etc. that will enable any person from anywhere in the world to feel as if they are properly represented in the VR space?

Try out the space yourself and see if it works from several perspectives of ability, seated, standing, sound, no sound, etc. Think about the users that you want to be able to access the device and try to see it from their perspective. Another way to do this might be having testing where you have differently-abled people come to try out your device/program and offer feedback.

An Accessible Future – XR: Considerations for Virtual, Mixed, and Augmented Reality

woman wearing a vr headset with her arms in the air

Link to Article
UI/UX, Metaverse, Conferences

There are many XR applications for the workplace, such as virtual orientation events and training sessions. Imagine being able to attend a conference with people from all over the world using VR: you could still get the experience of being among professionals in your field without ever having to leave your home or office. For example, the XR Access Initiative used VR during its annual symposium to foster engagement. They created virtual rooms that conference participants could explore and interact with their surroundings, held virtual demonstrations, and provided captioned rooms and rooms with ASL interpreters. 

The XR Access Initiative emphasizes three key accessibility factors for virtual conferences: captions, sign language communication, and keyboard and screen reader usage. 

  • Captions – Captions should follow a user and be legible regardless of what angle from which they view the environment. 
  • Sign Language – Sign language interpreters should be located in high visibility areas, and those who need interpreters should be able to get easy access to them. 
  • Screen Reader/Keyboard – For those who are unable to or do not wish to use VR to attend, they should be able to interact with the space in the same way a person in VR could, though with simplified controls. Having cross-platform capabilities is important.

This virtual symposium showcases how VR can make conferences and other virtual events accessible to many people.

Why VR/AR Developers Should Prioritize Accessibility in UX/UI Design

image of a man's hands holding vr controllers

Link to Article
UI/UX, Development, Inclusive Design, Accessibility Settings

An important thing that this article touches on is how a lack of accessibility in VR can make people feel left out or ignored. For example, the easier it is for people to understand a game, the more likely they are to play it. Some things that you might not think about for inclusive design are different hair types or people who experience arthritis. If you have long hair that’s in a ponytail or buns or even fluffy hair, putting on a headset might become difficult as you will have to rearrange your hair into a new position to get the headset on. People with arthritis may need to sit down in the middle of a game, or their fingers or hands get sore after a time. Making controls easier to change in the middle of a game or experience would be very helpful in these cases. Some ways to make VR more accessible for glasses wearers could include the ability to change vision settings or the creation of better glasses adapters for current headsets. 

There is a huge importance in having a diverse group of people in your testing groups to ensure that people of all genders, ethnicities, abilities, socio-economic backgrounds, and other identities are able to interact with your product with ease. It may be impossible to accommodate every unique circumstance but taking the diverse voices of others into consideration while making your product will ensure a better end result. While it may take a little more time to try to make sure everyone is included, the end design will be more profitable and beneficial to a larger community, which is most important.

Computers Helping People with Special Needs

Link to Resource
Conference, Resource

This link is to the proceedings of the International Conference on Computers Helping People with Special Needs (ICCHP). The 2020 ICCHP conference proceedings has a section on XR and accessibility. It has several articles on this topic that cover a wide range of subjects from vocational training for students with disabilities, AR for people with low vision, guidelines for inclusive avatars, and more.

Unity UI Accessibility Plugin

image with the following text: UAP make your game accessible to visually impaired players

Link to Store
Development, UX/UI 

This is a plugin offered on the Unity Asset Store that makes the UI for a Unity project accessible to blind and visually impaired players with just a few clicks.


Development

Introducing the Accessibility VRCs

Link to Article
Developers, Oculus, Game Development

This is Oculus’ guide for developers on how to create with accessibility in mind. The Accessibility VRCs (Virtual Reality Check Guidelines) focus on audio, visuals, interactions, locomotion/movement, and other aspects of accessible design. By deploying these guidelines, they ensure that every application officially available on their platform will meet certain accessibility requirements–something that might make their platform usable for more people. 
Link to the VRC Webpage: https://developer.oculus.com/resources/publish-quest-req/

Initiative aims to make virtual, augmented, and mixed reality accessible

Link to Article
Development

This article links to a webinar about a new initiative to make XR accessible to more people. Larry Goldberg, Senior Director and Head of Accessibility at Verizon Media, discusses emerging technologies and how his company deals with this technological growth. The webinar highlights the importance of how we can use existing technologies as a jumping off point to create new accessible technologies from the beginning, or as Larry Goldberg says, have the technologies be “Born accessible.”

W3C Accessibility User Requirements

Link to W3C
Development, UI/UX

This guide from the World Wide Web Consortium provides a plethora of technical guidelines and considerations for developing accessible products.

XRA’s Developer Guide: Accessibility & Inclusive Design in Immersive Experiences

XRA’S DEVELOPERS GUIDE, CHAPTER THREE: Accessibility & Inclusive Design in Immersive Experiences

Link to Guide
Development, UI/UX

The XRA’s (XR Association’s) developer guide serves as a starter resource for developers looking to create XR experiences. The guide offers a series of industry-backed best practices to developing accessible platforms.

Oculus’ Designing Accessible VR

Link to Guide
Development, Production

This is Oculus’ guide for those wishing to develop accessible content for their platform. They note the importance of accessibility as it pertains to widening the potential customer base.

Accessible Mixed Reality

Link to Webpage
Development, News

This is Microsoft’s project that considers how to design mixed reality technologies in a way that makes them usable and useful to people of all abilities. This webpage links to those involved with the project, publications, and other news surrounding their efforts.


Software

WalkinVR Add-on Makes VR More Accessible to Disabled Gamers

image of a woman in a wheelchair using a vr headset with her arm outstretched

Link to Article
Software, Gaming, Accessibility Settings

A custom locomotion driver for Steam VR applications introduces four new features for those with disabilities. The four features – virtual move, motion range boost, hand tracking, and Xbox controller move – can be adjusted to an individual user’s needs on the fly. 

  • Virtual move allows players to use their controllers’ joystick to move, rather than having to physically move their arms.
  • Motion range boost changes the origin point of motion controllers to amplify movement. It translates a small movement into a large one. 
  • Hand tracking allows the position of motion controllers to be emulated based on hand movements rather than having to use actual controllers. 
  • Xbox controller move allows users to use a gamepad to emulate VR controller inputs. 

This driver is free to download and is only available to users who use SteamVR headsets and applications. You must also have a Steam account to download the application.
Link to the Steam store: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1248360/WalkinVR/

Using AI, people who are blind are able to find familiar faces in a room

man holding a laptop with a camera attached pointing at a woman

Link to Article
Microsoft, Developers, Software, HoloLens, AI

Project Tokyo is a Microsoft initiative that aims to help members of the blind and low-vision community with intelligent personal agent technology that leverages AI to extend their capabilities. The long-term goal of the project is to show that this XR technology can be used by anyone and even assist those with disabilities. Their focus is to create a way for those who are blind or have low vision to see the world or at least perceive it in a similar way to which sighted people do.

They provide several examples throughout the article. For example, they demonstrate the device’s AI ability to notify a user that someone is looking at them. If the wearer turns in the direction of another person, the AI is able to identify the other person’s name for the wearer. An individual working on the project states, “Whenever I am in a situation with more than two or three people, especially if I don’t know some of them, it becomes exponentially more difficult to deal with because people use more and more eye contact and body language to signal that they want to talk to such-and-such a person, that they want to speak now,” he said. “It is really very difficult as a blind person.” Social cues, whether conveyed verbally or physically, are so important for interaction. Rather than starting from scratch, the team is using a modified Microsoft HoloLens, as the HoloLens provides essential information to the AI for reading the environment.


Hardware

Accessibility, Disabilities, and Virtual Reality Solutions

an image of the Microsoft canetroller with its parts labeled: brake, slider, tracker, voice coil, controller

Link to Article
Education, Healthcare, Assistive Hardware

Accessibility is a major priority for those in education fields. Approximately 15% of the world’s population has some form of disability, and one in four adults in the US have a disability that affects “major life activities.” As VR evolves, it provides a whole new range of opportunities and experiences for many people. For example, many visually impaired users can actually see better in VR due to the depth perception headsets provide. Moving forward, VR creators should consider the wide-ranging needs of users from the beginning of the development process.

Microsoft has developed several XR products with accessibility in mind:

  • Canetroller [Link] – The Canetroller, a Microsoft patented haptic device, works as a white cane that visually impaired people can use to experience a virtual environment. 
  • Seeing VR [Link] – SeeingVR is a series of tools to make VR more accessible to those with low vision. The tools include a magnification lens, a bifocal lens, a brightness lens, a contrast lens, edge enhancement, peripheral remapping, text augmentation, text to speech, depth measurement, and more.
  • Braille Controller [Link] – The Microsoft-patented, braille-displaying controller attaches to the back of an Xbox controller, allowing for an alternative way for the visually impaired to experience games. The inspiration for this particular project was to make text-heavy video games more accessible to the visually impaired.

Hospitals are beginning to use VR to find new ways of relieving pain and offer palliative care to patients. While there is no technology currently in existence that would be able to restore someone’s sight, tools such as the IrisVision [https://irisvision.com/] can assist those living with such impairments by providing vision-aid features, a personal voice command assistant, a text-to-speech reader, and high contrast fonts. AR is also being studied to determine if such devices could be helpful with those who suffer from age-related macular degeneration.

The article also links to a variety of informational videos and links to accessibility groups and associations.

Inclusivity of VR and AR Accessibility for the Visually and Hearing Impaired

image from the London National Theatre with the following text: Just Enjoy Cinema: diverse audio versions and subtitles absolutely wherever you want - simply from your own smart device

Link to Article
Assistive Hardware

There are a plethora of companies working on creating applications for enhancing the experiences of differently abled users, and this article highlights a small sample of those projects. Microsoft has created the “canetroller,” which allows a blind or visually impaired person to access virtual reality through a controller that resembles a white cane that uses haptic and audio feedback. Nearsighted VR Augmented Aid is an Android application that uses a mobile device’s camera to display images in stereoscopic view. London’s National Theater did something similar with the help of Epsom’s latest smart glasses to display subtitles in the user’s field of vision, so even if a viewer looked away, they would still be able to see the subtitles. There are many more projects linked in the article. 

Ayiana Crabtree
Ayiana Crabtree

Karp Library Fellow, XR Research

Intro to XR

person in a VR headset with overlaying text that says, "Intro to XR"

AR? VR? MR? What now? Want to learn more about immersive technologies or extended reality (XR) but don’t know where to start? This workshop will demystify these technologies, explain their history, and demonstrate use cases across disciplines all while showing you the newest applications in a fun-hands-on experience for any level of expertise!

person in a VR headset with overlaying text that says, "Intro to XR"

Join Studio X, UR’s hub for immersive technologies, and learn more about the digital world of extended reality (XR). All levels welcome. No experience necessary!

Instructor: Waleed Nadeem
Where: Studio X, First Floor Carlson Library
When: September 13th from 6 to 7:30pm
Register: https://libcal.lib.rochester.edu/event/9637162

Blender 101: Valentine’s Day Edition

Blender workshop promotional image. Shows three teddy bears with the text: "Blender 101: Valentine's Day Edition. Model a Teddy Bear."

Join us while we create cute and unique teddy bears for Valentine’s Day! This workshop focuses on asset creation with the 3D modeling software, Blender. This open-source and free software has become the industry standard over the last couple of years. Learn how to navigate its workspace, tools, and hotkeys and become familiar with one of the most popular platforms of the industry. You will create a low-polygon model using provided reference images. Your model can then potentially be used as avatars in other XR projects or 3D workspaces such as Unity.

Join Studio X, UR’s hub for immersive technologies, and learn more about the digital world of extended reality (XR). All levels welcome. No experience necessary!

Note: Workshop attendees must bring a laptop with Blender installed. Please download this ahead of time.

Instructor: Nefle Nesli Oruç & Koshala Mathuranayagam
Where: Learning Hub, Studio X, First Floor Carlson Library
When: Thursday, February 10th from 6 to 7:30pm
Register: tinyurl.com/blender-valentines

AR Basics with Unity

person holding a tablet displaying an augmented reality experience.

Like Pokémon Go or Angry Birds AR? Learn the basics of working with AR (augmented reality) in Unity, a real-time creation platform! Unity is the engine behind all kinds of experiences such as Pokémon Go, Beat Saber, and the new Lion King movie. We’ll discuss how AR apps track objects and images in the real world and show you step-by-step how to create your very own AR experience on a device.

Join Studio X, UR’s hub for immersive technologies, and learn more about the digital world of extended reality (XR). All levels welcome. No experience necessary!

a person holding a tablet that displays an augmented reality experience.

Note: In order to participate, you will need to complete the following pre-workshop instructions. Need assistance with this process? Join us on the Studio X Discord.

Where: Learning Hub, Studio X, First Floor Carlson Library
When: Wednesday, 11/17/2021 from 4 to 5:30pm
Register: https://libcal.lib.rochester.edu/event/8274041

This is the final workshop in our three-part Unity workshop series.

This Month in XR: August Summary Post

This Month in XR is Studio X’s YouTube channel. One episode will be uploaded at the end of each month to give you a closer look into some of the cool things that are going on in the world of XR. The findings we share will be different each month and can range from exciting XR developments in higher ed to new VR games to information about software updates.

This post is a summary of July’s This Month in XR vlog. For full content, see the video here!

Facebook Researchers Show “Reverse Passthrough” VR Prototype for Eye-Contact Outside the Headset
Link to Original Article

When you put yourself into a VR headset, you are separating yourself from the world around you. Those around you no longer know who or what you are looking at. Facebook took initiative from this problem and is now in the process of creating their all-new “Reverse Passthrough” VR prototype that would allow people to see the users’ eyes while they are in the headset. By making use of light-field displays mounted on the outside of a VR headset, the system aims to show a representation of the users’ eyes that is both depth and direction accurate.

An additional article by facebook is linked below for more detail about their research. https://research.fb.com/blog/2021/08/display-systems-research-reverse-passthrough-vr/

As of right now, this is all still very experimental and there is no word on a release date.

Niantic Acquires 3D Scanning App Scaniverse
Link to Original Article

Niantic announced that they acquired Scaniverse, an app for iPhones and iPads that can scan objects and environments in high-resolution 3D. The app will not be removed from the App Store and will continue to function as a standalone app. Niantic removed the yearly subscription feature to make some of the features, such as higher-resolution processing and exporting models to 3D software free.

How HTC Vive Accidentally Created Mo-Cap Tech 10 Times Cheaper Than the Industry Standard
Link to Original Article

When the HTC Vive was initially released, motion capture trackers only existed in the controllers to capture basic hand movements, as is standard in most VR headsets. In March of 2021, they released the third edition of the Vive Tracker ecosystem and the Vive Facial Tracker. The film industry has been looking at and using these technologies for their production, as the trackers can be placed to hands, feet, and the waist to fully encapsulate the range of human motion. Another fun usage of the Technology was by the newly created International Dance Association, the first-ever VR Dance community, who use the technology to hold dance battles in VR Chat.

Full Body VR Controller AXIS Launches Kickstarter
Link to Original Article

The concept of virtual Taekwondo was introduced several months ago, using Singapore-based tech company Refract Technologies’ full-body motion capture system AXIS. AXIS Stands for Active XR Interface System. On August 18th, the Company launched an official Kickstarter campaign for its wireless full-body controller. The technology is so realistic that it even gained the attention of the World Taekwondo Federation who is now working alongside the company to organize an official virtual sports program.

INSIDE FACEBOOK’S METAVERSE FOR WORK
Link to Orignal Article

Facebook is in the process of creating a new app for the Oculus Quest called Horizon Workrooms. Its features allow up to 16 people in VR and 34 people over video call to interact in the same space. A desktop companion app can allow you to share your computer screen while you are in VR and allow it to appear in the Virtual Space. A concern states that some of the processes are clunky, such as getting into the workroom, and even some of its features like the whiteboard and personal drawing pad. Workrooms is still under development, however, so keep a lookout for it on the Horizon.

XR@UR

Studio X Space Opening Soon!

Studio X, the University of Rochester’s Hub for Extended Reality Technology will be opening later this month! The space will be located on the first floor of Carlson Library. Studio X will foster a community of cross-disciplinary collaboration, exploration, and peer-to-peer learning that lowers barriers to entry, inspires experimentation, and drives innovative research and teaching in immersive technologies.

Once the space opens, students will have access to a wide range of XR technologies such as the Oculus Quest 2, Microsoft HoloLens, 360 Cameras, 360 Audio Recorders, High-end computers, and more. Most of the technologies the space has to offer can either be used in the space or rented out for several days at a time. In addition to technologies, we will also begin running a variety of workshops to teach the University community about XR technologies. These workshops will include things like an Introduction to XR as a whole, Intro to Blender, Intro to Unity, and more to help people get started on their innovative journeys.

Ayiana Crabtree
Ayiana Crabtree

Karp Library Fellow, XR Research

Unity Workshop Series

person playing Beat Saber in a virtual reality headset.
person playing Beat Saber in a virtual reality headset.

Interested in building virtual worlds, VR simulations, AR applications, and more? Meet Unity, an industry-standard, real-time creation platform used for video games, animations, and XR projects! In this Unity crash course, you will learn about its user interface, the basics of coding, its physics engine, and AR basics. Leveraging this knowledge, you will explore a zombie-infested campus, create your own AR application, and more! Join the Studio X team for this fun and informative 3-week workshop series. All learning levels are welcome. No experience necessary! While we recommend signing up for all four workshops, you are also welcome to attend as many or as few as you can.

AR Basics with Unity
11/17/2021 @4PM



Note: In order to participate, you will need to complete the following pre-workshop instructions. Need assistance with this process? Join us on the Studio X Discord.

Where: Learning Hub, Studio X, First Floor Carlson Library
When: Wednesdays, 10/27/21 – 11/17/21 from 4 to 5:30pm
Register: Full Series

This Month in XR: July Summary Post

This Month in XR is Studio X’s YouTube channel. One episode will be uploaded at the end of each month to give you a closer look into some of the cool things that are going on in the world of XR. The findings we share will be different each month and can range from exciting XR developments in higher ed to new VR games to information about software updates.

This post is a summary of July’s This Month in XR vlog. For full content, see the video here!

T-REX snags grant to launch new ‘extended reality’ facility
Link to Original Article

An innovative and entrepreneur development facility in St. Louis Missouri, T-REX, received a grant to launch a new facility that focuses primarily on advancing innovation in the field of XR technologies.
The assistant secretary of commerce for economic development said that the grant will allow their company to “align academic, government and industry partners to develop new XR technologies, foster remote learning, and create opportunities for business events designed to spur economic growth in the industry.”
The new lab will provide technological equipment, resources, and expertise to those wanting to innovate in the AR and VR fields.

GIGXR Awarded Phase II SBIR Contract to Develop Extended Reality (XR) Simulation Training for Air Force Academy
Link to Original Article

GIGXR, a provider of immersive learning solutions for leading universities and medical systems around the world, received a Phase 2 Small Business Innovative Research contract to develop XR simulations for the Air Force Academy.
The application, dubbed HoloChem, will use mixed reality to engage students while also taking them through the base principles of learning in a true chemistry lab.

How Astronauts Are Using VR & AR Aboard The ISS
Link to Original Article

Astronauts are using a  variety of XR technologies to help assist in a range of tasks such as maintenance, science experiments, and other various jobs on the ISS. One flight engineer used AR technology through a modified version of the Microsoft HoloLens to research “fundamental and quantum physics at extremely low temperatures.”
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency utilizes VR technology to conduct physics tests to see how astronauts visually translate motion in microgravity.

Oculus’ New Experimental API Blends Virtual Reality With Your Real-World Surroundings
Link to Original Article

Facebook has begun working with a new application called Passthrough API that will allow Oculus Quest 2 users to play some MR games. The software allows applications on the headset to blend reality with the games, while also allowing the player to toggle the opacity of the MR they are experiencing.
Facebook has made it clear that the Passthrough API will not have access, view, or store any images of your physical environment, for the safety of the user.

Immersive Tech Brings the Tokyo Olympics To Life At Home
Link to Original Article

As we are still seeing effects of the pandemic, most people were unable to travel to see the Olympics. the NBC Olympics VR app will be broadcasting several events live using stereoscopic 360 to make people feel as if they are really there.
Event organizers are also working with True View from Intel to allow viewers to experience events from any angle they wish. Those who are able to attend in person have the option of AR headsets for the swimming events that broadcast detailed race information during certain competitions.

Virtual Reality Game Improves Patient Stillness for MRI
Link to Original Article

Matthew David Hall and the Reimagine Well team creates a pre-MRI VR game that is used to get patients used to the stimuli that an MRI presents. The three levels get progressively harder and longer, progressing from black and white to color images. The patient’s goal is to keep the crosshairs within the bounds of the circle.
The game not only helps patients get accustomed to the noises of the MRI, but also allows the doctors to gauge how long a patient will be able to stay still for during the exam.

Ayiana Crabtree
Ayiana Crabtree

Karp Library Fellow, XR Research

My Journey With Blender and Some Tutorials to Get You Started!

3D model of a UR quad fox.

3D modeling can seem like something for just the professionals with fancy equipment, expensive programs, and hours upon hours of time. What if I told you that you could do 3D modeling using Blender on your own laptop, for free, and create a starter project in under an hour? Blender is a free and open-source 3D computer graphics software tool set used for creating a wide variety of things. With the models you create in Blender, you could go on to create animated films, 3D printed models, computer games, and even things in virtual reality.

I started learning Blender in Fall of 2020 through a class offered at the University. As a Creative Writing major, I never would have guessed that I would one day learn to use a 3D modeling software. After being so used to creating things with words on paper and making the occasional doodle with pen on paper, the idea of creating in 3D seemed so foreign to me. I was initially taking the class to fill a requirement but realized that I enjoyed using Blender and 3D modeling quite a bit. I already enjoyed drawing and doing other forms of digital art, so Blender soon began to feel like the next natural progression for me once I was introduced to the software.

After taking the class and getting the hang of things, I proceeded to remove it from my computer’s home screen and didn’t think about it again. The class had been stressful, and I thought that I would never need to use the program again. When the Spring rolled around, however, I got my position at Studio X. As part of my training, I was asked to attend one of Studio X’s workshops to better understand our programming goals and approach to engaging new XR users. I chose to attend one on Blender, since I was at least familiar with the software. During this workshop, I created a frog:

This frog helped me become reinterested in Blender, and before I knew it, I was making all sorts of little projects in my free time. I realized that Blender was more fun than the class had let me realize, as in Blender, you can create anything you can imagine! Now I hope to inspire others to introduce themselves to the software so they can get creative in their free time.

If you are interested in getting started with Blender, you’re in the right place. This article provides 6 beginner blender tutorials ranging from easy difficulty for those getting started for the very first time, to a harder difficulty for those who want a challenge or are working their way through this list!

Tips to keep in mind as we go:

  • When rendering your final projects, most of the tutorials recommend that you use Cycles. If you are doing this tutorial on a high-end desktop computer or at an innovation station in Studio X, that should be ok. If you are working from your own laptop, however, I would recommend sticking to Eevee, unless you have a super amazing laptop, otherwise you’ll be sitting there for hours waiting for it to render!
  • Most but not all of these tutorials have varying versions of shortcut viewer in either the left- or right-hand bottom corner of the blender viewport. Shortcut viewer allows you to see which buttons the instructor is pressing in case they forget to mention it.
  • The software may feel overwhelming, but as long as you remember to pause the video to follow along with the steps, it becomes quite manageable!

Easy

Blender 3D – Easy Lowpoly Car – Beginners Tutorial

This tutorial is great for people who are wanting to get an easy start in Blender. I was able to complete this tutorial in under an hour, and this does include all the times I paused to follow along. A few things that you might find a little hard to follow along with are the many shortcuts he uses but doesn’t take all that long to explain.

Adding Objects to the scene. He uses the shortcut Shift + A. If you find yourself forgetting this or would rather do it the long-handed way, you can instead go to the top left-hand corner of the screen where you will find the “Add” button. Hover over this and you will see the same menu.

Moving objects along an axis after duplication. This happened first when he is duplicating the wheels, and the command is Shift + D to duplicate. I was initially struggling with the “then press Y to move along the Y-axis, as what he doesn’t mention is that you release the “Shift + D” before hitting “Y.”

Other Notes to keep in mind:
I was having a little trouble with my Blender not showing me the colours that I was applying to my car, so to check, you can render out the image by going to the top left-hand corner and hovering over “Render” then selecting “Render image.” You may have to reposition the camera before this, though, as the rendering comes from what the camera sees [he explains cameras and positioning starting around 19:50]. The shortcut for rendering is F12.

The first part of the video [0:00-14:00] is all about the modeling, from [14:00-18:51] is all about the coloration of the car. From [18:51-end] he is playing around with the scene and lighting.

Here is the outcome I got when following along with the tutorial!

[2.8] Blender Tutorial: Simple Animation For Beginners

This tutorial provides the simplest introduction to animation that I’ve seen, and I think that it’s perfect for those just getting started. The instructor keeps to using very simple shapes, nothing more than several cubes and a plane. He doesn’t have the shortcut viewer on, but he explains everything step-by-step in a super easy-to-follow fashion. When something might be a little confusing, text appears on the screen with the instructions of what buttons to click. There were only a few instances in which I had to pause and squint at the screen to see which tab he’d clicked into. I was able to complete this tutorial in under 30 minutes, so it’s great if you only have a little bit of time!

Here is my animation result!


Medium

Rig your Own Ghost in Blender 3D for Halloween – EASY

This tutorial leans a little more to the medium-easy side. I would say that it’s pretty good overall, though the instructor goes through the steps quite fast and I found myself pausing a lot more often than I was in the “easy” tutorials. There are a few things he neglects to explain, so here are some of the things that stuck out to me the most!

[5:57] He magically transitions from Edit Mode to having the object be a pretty rainbow gradient. What he actually does is switch from Edit Mode to Weight Paint mode. He was able to tab into the mode due to his own personal settings, but here’s how you can do it: Go to the Upper left-hand corner of the screen to where you will likely see either “Object” or “Edit” mode. If you click this drop-down menu, you will see “Weight Paint” as an option.

[6:59] When pinning the ghost to the circle, make sure you click the ghost, then the circle, then ctrl +P (Order matters for a lot of things in blender!)

[7:10] When he says he’s going to grab the keyframe, there’s a small bar at the bottom of the screen in the center that has a little circle button (next to the play buttons). That button will grab a keyframe. You can also use the shortcut “I” which will prompt you to select which type of keyframe. For the purposes of this tutorial, just select “Location” in addition. When he moves the ghost over to pin a second keyframe, notice that you have to move the time bar across the bottom first, before moving the circle, otherwise it will just override the previous keyframe.

Note! At around timestamp 10:17,  I the video gets a little harder. You have completed the ghost’s body at this point, but the video then moves onto texture painting. Though the video itself has only run for about 10 minutes by this point, a beginner should stop here as this part took me about 40ish minutes to complete.

Here is the outcome of my ghost! (I chose to simply colour in two squares for the eyes):


Hard

Low Poly Island | Beginner | Blender 2.8 Tutorial

Note: Studio X does not endorse the sponsor of the video!

This tutorial does a good job of explaining each step of the process. the reason I would rate it a bit harder is because of the use of Nodes for textures, which can be tricky to follow along with at times. If you want the tutorial to remain at more of a beginner level, I would recommend stopping around timestamp 19:30, as at this point you have an island with the water and everything is already shaded. From 19:30 onwards, he begins to add more details like trees to the island. Going past 19:30 would also probably put you well past an hour for time of work. I looked at the comment section below the video and saw many people saying that the entire tutorial took them between 4-5 hours. I was able to do the island and the water alone  (with shading) in about 1 hour.

Things that might be confusing explained:

If you have the latest version of blender, set the resolution in the Dynotypo to 0.5 instead of 6! This is the new setting for low poly. If you put it to 6, it will be way too smooth!

10:34- Make sure you set the sun strength to something around 5-10! This is equivalent to the energy.

13:15 – He says to look at the blend settings. If you have a more up to date version of Blender, you will have to open the settings tab on the node editor.

14:21 – After you’ve selected “vertex paint” go to the shader editor window (where the nodes are). You should have already added a base material. Click Shift + A and then search for “Vertex colors” and add that. Connect the Yellow color dot to the base color yellow dot (that’s on the large green material node). Then change the color to the color name (default is Col, so select that). Then your color should start appearing. NOTE: He explains this later around 15:50, but you will have already completed it as the different versions work slightly different.

Here is my result!

Create Satisfying 3D Animations | Easy Blender Tutorial

Studio X does not endorse the sponsor of the video!

This tutorial is simple, though a little confusing to follow along. There are some times at which I struggled a bit to follow along with what he was saying (there was a lot of pausing and restarting). Up until he starts adding the textures, a strong-willed beginner could complete this tutorial. Once he gets to the textures around timestamp 8:00, however, I might wait until you know a little more about Blender before you tackle that part! The only instance I was completely baffled was at timestamp 3:25. In order to extrude in the way he does, you have to hit “E” and then “S” for the scaled extrusion.

Here is my result!


Conclusion

My journey through learning Blender may be different from yours, but there’s no doubt that you’ll be able to get the hang of it in no time! You don’t need an entire semester-long class to learn to master the basics of Blender thanks to the many resources available on the internet. As long as you have a computer, at least an hour of time, and the motivation to create, I’m sure you will power through these beginner instructions.

As I followed through these tutorials for myself, I began relearning the things I had forgotten from the class that seemed to have happened so long ago. Now, I’m working to improve my skills a little bit every week. With my increasing experience with the software, I am hoping to lead an Advanced Blender workshop for those daring to take on the challenge! I definitely wouldn’t call myself an expert at the software, but I’m certainly more confident than I was when I started. You too could learn these skills, and maybe even one day become a Blender master!

To download Blender for yourself, visit their website! https://www.blender.org/download/

Ayiana Crabtree
Ayiana Crabtree

Karp Library Fellow, XR Research