Multi-person molecular virtual reality

We’ve been busy at work over the past few months developing various aspects of our virtual reality environment for real-time interactive molecular dynamics. The thing that I’m totally psyched about right now is the fact that we’ve extended the framework that so we can put multiple people in the same virtual reality!!! Multiple people, stood around the same molecule can all play with it as if it were a tangible object. The very rough cut video I’ve linked to here (a combined effort by myself, Becca Rose, Alice Philips, and Phil Tew) is a quick attempt to try & illustrate what it’s like to inhabit VR with other people, and also to give you some sort of ideas of what you might do with this setup… playing catch with a bucky ball for example!

We’ve had it working for a month now, and we’ve been having all sorts of fun with molecular manipulations – skipping rope with peptides, and even smashing molecules together to get them to undergo chemical reactions. The video shows two people inhabiting VR, both of whom can see each other. For example, you can go to 2:17 in the video to see them bowing to each other. At our VR lab in Bristol, we’ve put as many as six people into the same molecular VR – and we think we can go up to eight. [For those of you who are interested in the full details, the video was actually constructed by letting three people inhabit the same VR; you don’t see the third person because most of the video is in fact “shot” from the third person’s viewpoint, meaning that the video shows something very similar to what the third person number is seeing!]

I’m really excited about this: it moves our virtual reality framework beyond something which is useful for an individual to a social tool that can be used collaboration and communication. Instead of wondering what molecular madness the weirdo with the headset is up to, you can don a headset, jump in their with him/her, and simply see for yourself. There’s lots of exciting applications that I can imagine: it lets researchers share a visualization environment with their colleagues, and it also lets a teacher undertake lessons along with their students…

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