The Information Science Colloquium speaker for Wednesday, February 21, 2018 is Misha Sra, a PhD student working with Prof. Pattie Maes in the Fluid Interfaces Group at the MIT Media Lab. Her research involves development of novel virtual and mixed reality experiences that integrate elements from the user's real world environment with the goal of enhancing the user's sense of presence. She is interested in applications of virtual and mixed reality in learning, healthcare, collaboration, and entertainment and is more broadly interested in data-driven design of immersive environments. Misha has published at the most selective HCI and VR venues such as CHI, UIST, IEEE VR, and VRST where she received a best paper award. From 2014-2015, she was a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation wellbeing research fellow at the MIT Media Lab. In spring 2016, she received the Silver Award in the annual Edison Awards global competition that honors excellence in human-centered design and innovation. 

Talk: A Boundless, Fluid and Programmable Reality

Abstract: Virtual reality, in the form we recognize it today, dates all the way back to 1968 when Ivan Sutherland created the first head-mounted display. Half a century later, we’ve only just begun to explore what VR might ultimately become. Imagine standing at the edge of a virtual cliff -- your heart racing and knees shaking. Cognitively, you know the edge is not there, and yet your unconscious responses say otherwise. This paradox is the root of the concept of presence. Extend this to walking, using virtual objects, and interacting with anyone, anywhere, and the power of VR starts to emerge. VR has already shown great potential across an extensive array of application domains like therapy, education, journalism, architecture, data visualization, remote collaboration, and entertainment.

My doctoral research explores novel ways of enhancing presence by incorporating spatial and sensory affordances from the physical world for single and multiuser applications. The challenge of integrating the real world with the virtual one while simultaneously trying to prevent the couch or the wall from disrupting presence can be surprisingly complex. But doing so successfully can provide a magical experience where the real and virtual worlds blend seamlessly to create something new.

In this talk, I will show different methods of integrating key elements from the user’s physical environment into the virtual experience that lead to an enhanced sense of presence. The goal is to invent a new language of “interactive experience design” based on managing perception and attention, a language as rich and varied as that of cinema. The methods aim to maintain an unbroken sense of presence despite the constraints of the physical world and the disruptions imposed by interacting with the system. I will conclude with a few research challenges and opportunities in virtual and mixed reality that I am excited about and hope to work on in the future.

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