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Georgia Technology Professor Utilises VR to Shift Key Conference Online

About 1800 engineers, scientists, designers and many other professionals are coming together for the IEEE Conference on Virtual Reality and 3D User Interfaces (IEEE VR). It is an event that encourages the participation of individuals from across the world to evaluate the most current research and developments in the domain of virtual reality.

The conference attendees, tuning in from all parts of the world, will be able to watch presentations and talks they have been invited to. They will participate in demonstration sessions and poster sessions. The conference is a conventional academic meet considering all aspects. But, this year, the conference is going to go online completely, with all its social events set to be held within virtual environments.

Blair MacIntyre, the IEEE VR conference co-chair, and Georgia Tech’s School of Interactive Computing professor laid forth the concept of shifting this year’s event to a virtual setting, in light of the prevalent necessity for COVID-19 pandemic-related social distancing concerns. According to MacIntyre, the plan was to conduct a minor experiment in the presence of online attendees to evaluate VR use to make future conferences more sustainable and accessible. He acknowledged the need to scale up the virtual infrastructure to accommodate a large number of participants.

Georgia technology professor created the VR environment. Image source: georgia

The event, which is set to run over five days, is going to be held in Mozilla Hubs, a virtual platform for remote experiences. IEEE VR is the very first time a major academic meet of such a massive scale is being held online, exclusively. It is the first event to rely entirely on a virtual platform, along with all the social networking sessions that these conferences are usually marked by.

The experience is an amalgamation of video streaming, video conferencing, online chat platforms, complete with a custom edition of Mozilla Hubs. The platform is compatible with most popular web browsers and enables the participants to join in from anywhere, with or without a VR device. Similar to any conventional, real-life conference, participants of the virtual event can observe talks, hold discussions, network one-on-one whilst performing avatar interactions, and partake in parallel sessions.

The virtual conference is set to take place on Eastern Standard Time. It is a given that tuning in at the same time can be cumbersome, and this is something that the organizers did admit. However, they did highlight the optimal work-life balance facilitated by the virtual conference as a major advantage.

Kyle Johnsen, an associate professor at College of Engineering, University of Georgia, and IEEE VR co-chair, remarked that one of the key challenges related to the virtual format was keeping a focus on the content. He elaborated, explaining that if someone was taking part in a virtual conference, they should treat it in the same way as an in-person conference. Johnsen also highlighted the benefit, saying that virtual meets gave participants the opportunity for personal tasks like putting their children to sleep, and maintaining a healthy balance in life, all over.

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