Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Myron Krueger and Virtual Reality

The difference of VR (Virtual Reality) research from other HCI research is that the research has been studied not only in the field of science and technology but also in the field of art and humanities. In the history of VR research, there have been many famous researchers, scientists and philosophers. The fact that VR was studied in diverse fields was good for development of VR research. However, this made some vagueness for the concept of VR. Many times, VR has not been used distinctively with cyberspace or the virtual world. Also, VR is still something new, and the technology is being developed. So before talking about VR, we need to talk more clearly about what VR is.

Michael Heim, a philosopher is one of the most influential VR researchers. He tried to conceptualize VR in terms of space, virtuality, and the question of what the reality is. In the book, The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality, Heim made a definition of Virtual Reality as “Virtual Reality is an event or entity that is real in effect but not in fact” (Heim, 1998 p.109). Even though Heim is a great scholar, the definition does not look so clear for us, HCI researchers or students, for use in our research. Heim, himself also said that the definition suggests something but cannot explain distinctiveness of VR.

In the field of HCI, the VR would be closer to the VR system as a technology. When it comes to the VR system, personally, I can imagine someone with HMD and data glove, or a big screen and equipment that make people interact with the screen and immerse into the virtual space on the screen. William R. Sherman and Alan B. Craig suggest four useful key elements for understanding VR: Virtual World, the content of the given medium, Physical and Mental Immersion, Sensory Feedback, Interactivity. (Sherman&Craig, 2003). With these essential elements, they derive a concept of VR as a medium. “A medium composed of interactive computer simulations that sense the participant’s position and actions and replace or augment the feedback to one or more senses, giving the feeling of being mentally immersed or present in the simulation. ”(p.13). The notion of VR as a medium would be more proper and useful to HCI study. So, in this paper, I will see VR as a kind of communication medium.

A Brief History of VR
In his article, a brief history of Human-Computer Interaction Technology, Brad A. Myers says that virtual reality (VR) was started by Ivan Sutherland in 1965~1968 (Myers, 1998). It was a head mounted display providing ultrasonic tracking and three-dimensional visual images. Before this equipment, there were first head mounted display by Albert B. Pratt in 1916 and Comeau and Bryan’s early adoption of HMD sensing head movement in 1961. Another type of VR is the CAVE(Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) developed by the Electronic Visualization Lab at the University of Illinois at Chicago. It was introduced at the SIGGRAPH’ 92 computer graphics conference in Chicago. After that, the VR technology has been developed focusing on Sound and Graphical representation, body and motion tracking, and hardware interface and application software.

In the early stage of VR, the technology was regarded as something to provide experience of realness to people. Now the technology is being developed in various fields for more practical usage, like entertainment, games, and education. Also it becomes expanded to various types of interface, like CAVE, Augmented Reality, and Mixed Reality. The future VR would provide more vivid and real time experience with more variety of sensory experience containing olfactory and haptic display, with smaller equipment, and in a more collaborative environment.

VR is not a wide-spread technology. However, it would be one of the most important technologies in the near future, and many companies and research labs are developing the technology for various purposes. Because VR is one of the most complicated and advanced technologies in the field of HCI, in the history of technological experiments of VR, there have been many pioneers. Myron Krueger is a very unique person among the pioneers, in that he considered aesthetical aspect of VR technology.

Myron Krueger and Videoplace
Myron Krueger is a scientist and artist. He is one of pioneers in artificial interactive environment. He studied liberal arts in Dartmouth College and Computer science in University of Wisconsin. The Videoplace, his best known work, was born during his PhD in University of Wisconsin. As a scientist, he was interested in interaction technology between machine and machine, and human and machine. As an artist, he created a unique interaction between art work and participants using computer technology

Videoplace is an artificially created responsive environment to let people interact with graphical image on the screen. Using the video camera, participant’s motion was captured and inputted to the system, and the motion was translated to graphical image and represented on the projection screen. Then, the participant’s image is merged with a program-created world, previously programmed images, or interacts with another participant’s images.

This work is an experiment of a new type of interaction between human and machine or human and human using media. Most of early virtual reality technology stuck to providing realistic experiences to participants. So it needs heavy and complicated equipment. However, in his work Videoplace, Myron Cruger focused more on interaction itself. This comes from the notion of Virtual Reality as a communication tool. To Cruger, Virtual reality would not be just a fancy scientific technology to provide novel experience, but a media to communicate with each other. In terms of media, the work was also a tool of expression and creation. This different approach made his work innovative not only in the science and technology field but also in art. So, his work should be considered both in a technical aspect and in an artistic aspect.

Technically, Videoplace was an experiment of real time interaction in created world. The system doesn’t use equipment to be worn on a body. Even though it provided immersive interactive environment, it didn’t limit the participants’ body and their movements. This helped future experiments for different types of virtual reality interface, like Augmented Reality or Mixed Reality.

Videoplace received 1st Golden Nica in interactive art of 1990 Prix Ars Electronica, the world’s most famous new media art festival. This shows how important this work is in art history, especially in new media art. Artistically, one of his contributions was that he regarded interactivity as a part of artistic expression. Especially, he thought human-machine interaction can be an artistic expression. His notion contributed to early interactive art by making an audience’s participation and interaction the important part of art work. Interactive art is an art form based on technology and communication. So, it made conceptual change that HCI technology can be tested and used for aesthetic experiment as well as technological development.

Myron Krueger tried various experiments using the work, Videoplace. His experiments lasted to the 1990s, and finally, the work had been developed with 25 interactive programs. Videoplace was a highly influential and innovative work in HCI development. However, after the Videoplace, Myron Krueger couldn’t show such an innovative development in his work. Also, even though the Videoplace had been developed for several years, some of the trials for the work were just small changes of interaction patterns.

Myron Krueger, as a computer scientist and artist, made an innovative experiment with his most famous work, Videoplace. He was not only a very important figure in HCI but also a pioneer in new media art, as an interactive artist giving a reflection and conceptual change to the art scene. Also he helped people to regard HCI technology as a creative tool.

Byul Shin

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