Virtual lab in Building 120 gets second life

Nov. 19, 2010, 2:59 a.m.

Last month, a large, tarp-like material greeted students and faculty as they stepped off the elevator on the fourth floor of the Communication Department in Building 120—a sign that construction for the new state-of-the-art Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL) that began in September was on track.

Virtual lab in Building 120 gets second life
One of the biggest projects set for the opening of the new Virtual Human Interaction Lab will examine how individuals are affected by the visceral perception of their environmental behavior. (JENNY CHEN/The Stanford Daily)

Jeremy Bailenson, an associate professor in communication who heads the lab, began the planning stage during his eight-month sabbatical last year, meeting once a week with a team of 15—architects, programmers and WorldViz, LLC, the leading virtual reality creators—to design a new lab that will provide high-quality multisensory stimulation.

The 1,100-square-foot room, twice the size of the old lab that opened seven years ago, will allow the simultaneous stimulation of three different senses: spatialized sound, touch and 3-D imagery. The feat will be accomplished by new equipment such as floor shakers, which allow researchers to simulate earthquakes; a 24-speaker surround sound so that “sounds can move around you for a very compelling virtual experience”; and a screen that allows participants to see in 3-D without the use of glasses.

The new lab is projected to debut by February, but Bailenson said construction frequently pushes back the date of completion. Projects for the new space are already in the works, the most important of which focuses on environmental behavior.

The study on environmental behavior will examine how people are affected by visceral perception of the environmental consequences of their behavior. It will involve giving participants the opportunity to go through the process of waste disposal, from actually throwing something away to driving garbage trucks.

“It lets someone feel the consequences of energy use,” Bailenson said. “They’ll know what it feels like to live in a world with global warming.”

Construction for the VHIL is being funded by the University and the National Science Foundation. Bailenson couldn’t say how much the lab will cost because it’s still under construction.

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