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Super Cool Career: Virtual Reality is the Next Big Thing

Virtual reality's application in the booming gaming, architecture and medical fields is leading to a surge in demand for people with V.R. technology skills.
BY Uttara Choudhury |   24-05-2016

Stanford University's influential Virtual Human Interaction Lab is a common pit-stop for tech executives looking to learn more about virtual reality. Shortly before Facebook acquired virtual reality pioneer Oculus Rift, CEO Mark Zuckerberg paid the lab a visit. Facebook famously bought Oculus Rift in 2014 for $2 billion.

The Stanford lab's founding director Jeremy Bailenson has the ability to make your wildest dreams a reality.

"You can grow a third arm, you can travel the world, you can go to the bottom of the ocean," Professor Bailenson told reporters. "And the possibility to do things we could imagine previously, is really neat."

Stanford's Virtual Human Interaction Lab, MIT's Media Lab and Carnegie Mellon's Entertainment Technology Center are developing cutting edge virtual reality technology. According to experts, the University of Southern California's MxR lab has also influenced the designs of the early Oculus Rift HMD, Samsung Gear V.R and Google Cardboard viewers.
 

You are Going to Own a V.R Headset One Day

As anyone who has read a tech blog in the past five years, or a new sci-fi novel, knows, “V.R.” stands for virtual reality — a loosely defined phrase that is now being applied to several related forms of visual media. The concept of computer simulated virtual reality has existed since the 1970′s but is now on fire. It's a rewarding field with areas such as computer animation, software engineering and virtual reality design thriving.

"It’s hard to believe how powerful it is until you’ve put on the headset and replaced your current reality," said Rahul Srivastava who has a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and Game Design from DigiPen Institute of Technology in Redmond, Washington.

Srivastava works as a programmer in the core games industry, the one that gives you PlayStation and World of Warcraft.

DigiPen's computer science and game design program turns students into “hybrid engineer-designers” who have strong programming and mathematics skills, combined with formal game design training. They are taught game design theory and pick up skills in game play programming, user interface programming, artificial intelligence programming, 2D and 3D level game design and play-testing.

DigiPen also offers students a BS in Computer Science in Real-time Interactive Simulation. They program a variety of simulations and games, including 2D and 3D games.

Princeton Review, known for its annual college "best" lists, reviewed 500 schools and ranked University of Southern California (USC) as the No. 1 game design school for its graduate program. Similarly, projects at MxR at USC's Institute for Creative Technologies push the boundaries of immersive experience design, through virtual reality and alternative controllers.

“Our students build the games of their dreams, work closely with our distinguished faculty and have the opportunity to present their work to professionals in the game design industry,” says USC GamePipe Laboratory Director Mike Zylda, a professor at USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering.

The university’s Game Innovation Lab's projects include the 3-D Walden video game which mimics the meditative outdoor life described in Thoreau’s best-known work, written about his two years spent in a cabin in Walden Pond, in Concord. The game allows players to follow in the virtual footsteps of Thoreau and conduct their own experiments living in nature.

Game design schools have science and math requirements — you need to have at least taken precalculus — if you are applying for the Bachelor of Science program. It is also recommended for Bachelor of Art game design applicants. Schools look for “strong analytical thinkers” good in math, science and writing.
 

Architecture Meets Virtual Reality

Virtual reality is not just about fantastical video games or frontier-pushing researchers in multimillion dollar labs. It has transformed the architectural world. It found a place in architecture when the early Virtuality V.R System Project Elysium was developed for IBM to allow builders and clients to immerse themselves in a simulation of an unbuilt project. The platform has had about 30 years to mature.

Virtual reality technology is seeping into the way medical professionals train, diagnose, and treat. Picture credit: iStockphoto

“Using visual devices like renderings, floor plans, and models isn't always an effective way to convey spaces. With V.R, you can simply inhabit the space in full scale,” said Paul Barger, a researcher at the University of Minnesota’s Virtual Reality Design Lab. "It's an effective architectural presentation tool."

The University of Minnesota's School of Architecture/ College of Design have a popular course on "Design and Perception in Virtual Reality."

Across the Pond, many architecture courses exist incorporating V.R such as the BSc Architecture with Virtual Reality at the University of Wales, the Architectural Design (Joint Honours) at the University of Derby, BSc (Hons) Architectural Technology at Sheffield Hallam University and the Architecture program at Drury University.
 

Medicine Meets Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality is, and has been, seeping into the way medical professionals train, diagnose, and treat.

As a rule, training for surgeons involves cadavers and a gradual process of assisting more experienced doctors before taking over tasks and bigger portions of the surgery. However, V.R is increasingly providing another means of practice, without any risk to real patients.

Stanford University, for one, has a surgery simulator that even includes haptic feedback (relying on the sense of touch) for those doing the training.

The Medical Virtual Reality (MedVR) group at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies is devoted to the study and advancement of uses of virtual reality simulation technology for clinical purposes.

Similarly, the Electronic and Computer Engineering Masters/MSc at the University of Birmingham includes individual projects that encourage the development of 3D environments for surgical simulation.

"It's a pretty special time to be doing virtual reality," said Akash Kumar, a researcher at the MedVR Group at the USC Institute of Creative Technologies.
 

Developing the Right Skills

Demand for people with VR technology knowledge is up 37 percent over last year, according to experts.

“The virtual reality space is taking off, and I believe the job opportunities are only going to grow in the next few years,” says Nate Beatty, co-founder of IrisVR in New York.

If you’re interested in the software side of the industry, you need experience designing and developing with 3D modeling software, programming experience with C/C++, game development or graphics programming, Beatty says.

Oculus/Facebook, Google and Samsung believe that VR is going to be the next big computing platform. The three are the big employers in the VR space, but there is surging demand from other Silicon Valley companies and VR startups.

 

Uttara Choudhury is Editor, North America for TV 18’s Firstpost news site. In 1997, she went on the British Chevening Scholarship to study Journalism in the University of Westminster, in London.

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