Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality (VR) is an exciting and powerful tool for communicating three dimensional concepts, data and objects. Students can study microscopic objects (e.g. micro-circuitry) as if they were holding them, or similarly study large engineering structures. They can be taken on a field-trip to Mars, or to the Earth’s mantle, and learn to understand geological structures by experimenting with their formation in 3D. They can visualise and manipulate molecules, or perform virtual dissections of organisms without blood or ethical issues. They can investigate fluid flow-patterns inside pipes, stirred tank reactors, or aero-engines. VR-based systems open entirely new opportunities for studying difficult objects, structures and concepts through a learning-by-doing approach, and also provide new opportunities for enthusing staff, current and prospective students. VR-based learning has been shown to deliver educational benefits in terms of enhancing engagement, retention and comprehension.

What is ViRSE?

ViRSE (Virtual Reality Student Experience) is a newly developed Imperial College software platform for the delivery of teaching through Virtual Reality, designed to simplify the development and deployment of teaching applications (termed worlds), and to provide a rich and consistent feature-set to students, educators and developers. ViRSE worlds can be specific to a particular exercise, or can be more generic ‘virtual laboratories’ re-usable for different courses. ViRSE provides:

  • ‘Multiplayer’ functionality. Students can work in groups, and educators can interact and communicate with students within virtual environments, using them as virtual classrooms.
  • 2D 'fall-back mode'. All ViRSE worlds can be entered either in full VR or in 2D ‘flat screen’ modes, ensuring inclusivity for students unable or unwilling to use VR, and providing a less fully immersive experience where this is desirable (e.g. where students are required to make notes).
  • Consistent experience. – as ViRSE handles all controls, all ViRSE worlds work in a consistent manner, lowering cognitive friction for users.
  • Simplified world development and deployment. ViRSE handles all VR, networking, group management etc, and provides a bespoke developer's toolkit for configuring player-world interactions. The ViRSE platform also handles deployment and updates of worlds.
  • Unrestricted worlds. ViRSE worlds can use all facilities of the Unity Engine, and can include high-performance custom code. There are few restrictions on their content or structure. Worlds can be as simple as static 3D models for inspection, requiring no coding, or can include simulations or interactions of any complexity desired.

Who can create a ViRSE world, and how?

ViRSE worlds are developed within the Unity game engine, using the ViRSE template. They can be created by anyone, but we especially encourage the use of Student Shapers partnerships – training in Unity and ViRSE concepts for students can be provided by the ViRSE team as part of summer Student Shapers projects. Please get in touch for assistance in drafting your project description accordingly. Alternatively, staff can develop their worlds themselves – how hard this will be depends on the nature of the world, and on the skillset of the staff member concerned! Anyone with any experience with game engines is likely to be able to develop a simple world in a few hours.

Where can I deliver VR teaching?

ViRSE is intended for use in Imperial computer laboratories kitted out with VR headsets and suitably enabled PCs. Rooms 3.34 and 3.35 in the Royal School of Mines are in the process of being equipped, and can be used by other departments for VR teaching (subject to timetabling restrictions). Please get in touch to discuss requirements.