VR Pioneer Carolina Cruz Neira

Dr. Carolina Cruz Neira will be part of the Generations panel at the SIGGRAPH 2018 Business Symposium, 11-12 August in Vancouver, British Columbia. A virtual reality (VR) pioneer and leading expert in Cave Automatic Virtual Environment (CAVE) technology, Dr. Cruz Neira has accelerated the growth of three specialized VR research centers in Iowa, Louisiana, and now Arkansas. CAVE technology creates a unique virtual reality experience that empowers multiple users to experience VR in a group. A cube-shaped room synchronizes projections on all walls, including the floor and ceiling.

We asked Dr. Cruz Neira about the implementation of VR, how VR is perceived, and why her “outsider” thinking is challenging our approach to VR.


Infinite implementations

“Headsets can offer a fantastic experience to the user, but I don’t use them all the time. It’s similar to the idea of shoes; you may own running shoes, flats to get to work, and stilettos for a night out. The same can be applied to VR. The HMD (head mounted display) is one implementation of virtual reality. There are other ways to experience VR, and it depends what the implementation is trying to accomplish. For example, the HMD is very much an individual experience. Humans are social animals and learning is a very social experience – and headsets, an specific implementation of VR,  limit the social experience by isolating users in the real world. So maybe in another implementation, like the CAVE for example, that experience can be enjoyed and shared as a group.”


“What I want to shout from the top of mountains is that VR is not one singular technology.  It’s not a single implementation: VR, has so many possibilities.”


Connecting to humanity

Originally, Dr. Cruz Neira never intended to be in VR – in fact, she never intended to go into computer systems and engineering. She grew up training to become a classical ballet dancer, but a career-ending injury helped her translate her dancer’s sensibility into a career in VR,

“My background in dance taught me tremendous work ethic, and through my 30 years of research, I have found that VR applies to almost every aspect of human life. My team created an experience with virtual dancers that can interact on a virtual stage, with virtual props. As developers, we need to design around perception and presence. You can have a beautiful, engaging art demo, but without the technical foundation, it will seem incomplete. And without any connection to human life, it’s simply a tech demo that no one can connect with.”


Foundation matters

“A flashy demo that lacks a technical foundation can create a reputational issue for the VR industry. I have lost count of the number of people who have told me they tried VR but felt motion sickness. Creating a beautiful VR is not enough.”

“To be a VR expert you need to understand optics. You need to understand human perception, the architecture of computer systems. Graphics. Software, down to the impact that a few milliseconds can affect the human brain.  Resolution, synchronization. Knowledge of these topics helps make a good quality VR experience. Today, VR hardware and software are very accessible, and we need to apply high standards for the quality of the experience. We need to make sure these tools do what they need to do in VR.”


Register for the SIGGRAPH 2018 Business Symposium and meet Dr. Cruz Neira and other visionary leaders in the industry.  

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