Alina Christenbury explores virtual and augmented reality

Editor’s Note: Get to know a dozen of our 2018 undergraduate Summer Scholars in this series of question/answer profiles on them and their work. The Summer Scholars program offers undergrads an expansive menu of research and service opportunities from the streets to the field to the laboratory. A record number of students — more than 530 — participated this summer. It’s a mark of distinction for UD, according to Associate Prof. Iain Crawford, faculty director of UD’s Undergraduate Research Program and president of the national Council on Undergraduate Research: “We have that culture firmly established at Delaware, where the value of undergraduate research is strongly felt.” To learn about the work of some of this year’s Summer Scholars, visit https://www.udel.edu/home/summer-undergrad-research/.

Alina Christenbury is a senior majoring in computer science from Millsboro, Delaware.

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Q. What are you studying?

Christenbury: Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) in the iSuite, supervised by Prof. Andy Novocin. AR generally refers to enhancing the existing world with digital content, while VR is about replacing your surroundings with digital ones. Both of these together are often referred to as XR as in Cross Reality or Extended Reality.

Q. Why is this work important?

Christenbury: This is the medium of the future. It’s very analogous to the transformation of books to film, and it’s going to have an extraordinary impact on the way we live our lives.

Q. What is it about this topic that interests you?

Christenbury: Augmented reality and virtual reality are going to bring new depths to human-computer interaction. This will open up huge doors for all sorts of new experiences and tools throughout all walks of life. For example, AR-backed music skills training will be able to help people learn how to play guitar, piano, or other instruments on the fly, and could even help explain complex 3D mathematics with interactive virtual graphs. Meanwhile, VR can help us tell deeper and more meaningful stories that bring another level of humanity to digital interaction. It will allow us to experience scenarios and events that would otherwise be impossible or deadly, like exploring the surface of Mars or an active volcano. While it’s all still quite new and picking up momentum as both an industry and a medium, there’s nowhere to go but up. AR, in particular, is going to bring user interfaces in essence to real life, which is going to be fantastic! I’m most looking forward to VR-based content creation and the other tools people come up with to make new things. I look forward to the day when it’s easy and accessible for amateurs and even children to design things like clothing, tools, buildings, music, and more, then bring them into both real and digital worlds for other people to enjoy. It’s also related to game development, which is my desired industry after graduating.

Q. What is a typical day like?

Christenbury: Most days I work on software development, trying to figure out and learn the tools people use to create AR and VR experiences, but other days I’m collaborating with other students and faculty about building an AR headset from scratch.

Q. What is the coolest thing you’ve gotten to do on the project?

Christenbury: I figured out enough about particle effects and a hand tracking camera to cast a fireball in a simulation with a particular gesture.

Q. What has surprised you the most about your experience?

Christenbury: There’s been some work in making VR web-accessible, which I hadn’t anticipated a lot of. There are websites you can visit on your phone that can treat it like it’s a VR headset. I’m hoping to make something utilizing that later during the summer!

Q. Dreaming big, where do you hope this work could lead?

Christenbury: I’m hoping this can get me into AAA game development, but working on further VR and AR projects would be neat too! One of my pipe dreams is to recreate something like my childhood MMO, Mabinogi, in Virtual Reality. I want to make worlds that people feel like they can come home to,
meet people, and make lifelong connections that transcend geographic and physical boundaries.

Q. If you had to summarize your experience in only one word, what would it be?

Christenbury: Future!

Q. What do you enjoy when you are not doing research?

Christenbury: Video games (traditional and VR), painting, cooking, and an unhealthy level of Overwatch.

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