To those less familiar with Virtual Reality (VR), it may be surprising to learn that there are many applications for it outside just “playing games.” One such application that has interested Liridona Sopjani, a researcher at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, and presenter of the panel Science in VR: An Immersive Future in Design for Social Impact at Games For Change Festival 2018.

There are a lot of problems with disconnect in the scientific community, between scientific communities and other communities, such as art and social communities, so it’s hard to share and build off of each other. So the big question was if there are better methods for scientists and researchers and other related groups “to do science,” and if VR “can accelerate what scientists do.”

Sopjani works with the VR Sci Platform, a “non-profit international collaboration of universities, research centers, game studios, and companies that working together to define and develop… platforms and communities of support for virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality, simulations, and game-based learning for scientific and educational purposes.”

A photo from the VR: An Immersive Future in Design for Social Impact panel at Games for Change 2018
Sopjani’s goals include making Venn Diagrams overlap much more than this model, which represents the current norm with the latest tech.

Integrating VR into research seems to open up ways groups can do research, including how collaborative research is conducted. New technology tends to invite and increase learning efficiency, and VR seems to have great potential thanks to the immersive experience. At VR_Sci Fest, workshops are run that try to incorporate these collaborative ideas to see if there are positive results, and what they are. These groups tend to have positive results, whether it’s a group of young children, or adult business owners.

Strytelling and worldbuilding in VR are two areas that seem to have great potential. Sopjani touched on how beneficial it can be in situations such as mapping towns or other stretches of land. This can assist a scientist or researcher attempting to solve problems in an area when they can’t actually get to that area or wouldn’t be able to run tests successfully due to a myriad of physical limitations. Finding new solutions to tough problems may be easier, Sopjani thinks it would “open the imagination.” And that’s just a scientific application, it would open accessibility and connection, and presumably benefit similarly in other fields as well.

So far, VR has also proved itself a good tool for communication, and the groups that have had the opportunity to use it for that reason. Connecting, interacting, and collaborating all do seem to come easier with the assistance of VR, and “allows a new understanding of things.”

An image of a slide from the VR: An Immersive Future in Design for Social Impact panel at Games for Change 2018
The city simulations try to balance these elements, hopefully for real-world implementation in the future.

Because VR in this realm is mainly being used for data visualization, it is scientific and research fields that have a high degree of models and visual elements which are benefiting the most right now. The big example from Sopjani were items like graphs, that may be easier to understand when they can be modelled and manipulated directly and moved about.

Sopjani moved on to discuss her current project, designing and modifying virtual and real cities for optimization in areas like her current project, which is transportation. Sweden is actually aiming to be fossil-free between 2030 and 2050. So the big question is how to reduce it realistically, and what systems could be placed successfully in the stead of fossil fuel systems. This is where simulations, for Sopjani’s research, comes into play, which allow her to be as experimental as she wants, and try solutions effectively.

Sopjani closed by saying that there are high possibilities for applications in the area, though she admitted that it was difficult to design platforms in VR. Even though it is complex, she believes it is worth pursuing.

For more information on other events offered at Games For Change Festival, check out its programming schedule and our other related articles below. We were there for all three days, so please continue checking n3rdabl3 for more on Games For Change Festival 2018!

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