While immersive technologies is not yet commonly seen in international higher education, Swiss universities have made significant strides in its artistic, medical, and engineering applications.Emilia
As the field of immersive technologies rapidly grows, universities in Switzerland have increased the implementation and research of technologies such as virtual reality (VR) augmented reality (AR) and motion tracking. These innovative technologies have been applied as educational tools from medical research at ETH, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, to experimental media design at the Academy of Art and Design at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts. Four Swiss Universities have made especially significant advances and embraced the use of immersive technologies in higher education. While the University of Zürich has used virtual and augmented reality in area of medicine, ETH Zürich and Università della Svizzera Italiana, or SUPSI, have focused these technologies to change the way engineering processes are visualized.
As one of the world’s leading universities in engineering and technology, ETH Zürich, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, has traditionally been an early adopter of innovative technologies. At The Innovation Center of Virtual Reality of ETH, led by Dr. Habil Andreas Kunz, virtual reality is applied to arm rehabilitation through head-mounted displays and motion tracking training systems. The recent work of Dr. Kunz focuses primarily on the use of AR and VR for individuals with autism and the implementation of physical walking within a virtual environment with the use of positional feet tracking. His 2015 publication in the International Workshop on Diminished Reality as Challenging Issue in Mixed and Augmented Reality, Exploring Diminished Reality (DR) Spaces to Augment the Attention of Individuals with Autism (A. Yantaç, D. Çorlu, M. Fjeld, A. Kunz), explores Attentive User Interfaces as a possible aid in orienting the attention of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder.2
The University of Zürich has made use of technologies such as the Oculus Rift in the development of neurorehabilitation systems. For instance, the research of PhD student Kynan Eng examines the effects of VR in the manipulation of body image, arm motor learning, and VR environments for tactile sensing. The University of Zürich contains the Visualization and Multimedia Lab, in which 3D computer graphics, 3D environments, and virtual reality installations are offered as topics of study. In addition to the scientific advances in Immersive Technologies, the major of Technology and Innovation Management allows students to delve into the development of innovative new products.
Innovation in technology and education through virtual environments has been particularly influential at the Academy of Design at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts. This university has recently established The Institute of Experimental Design and Media Cultures (IXDM) and Critical Media Lab (CML), in which contemporary design, creative technologies, and theoretical reflection combine in the form of experiential and interactive installations. During the visit of the 2015 Global Perspectives Program, the faculty of the Academy of Design’s Critical Media Lab displayed a project in development which involved the use of immersive and biofeedback technologies. In this project, users placed their forefinger on a biofeedback sensor that processed their heartbeat into data. This data determined the rate by which fans blew into a wind tunnel. An additional participant was then able to stand among the fans, becoming immersed by the frequency of the initial user’s heartbeat. Several of the interactive installations and experiments at the Critical Media Lab are funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF), in support of the arts and sciences in Switzerland.
Additionally, the Critical Media Lab has recently produced the project “Designed Immediacy”, which explores human perception through multiple multi-sensory systems. These multi-sensory systems, such as heartbeat monitors and eyesight tracking, are being used as human extensions. Virtual Reality devices, such as the Oculus Rift, along with motion tracking systems are frequently used in the CML to conduct experiments and interactive art installations that address culture and historical reflection.
Immersive technologies are being used to create new ways of viewing industrial architecture at The University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland in Ticino. SUPSI, one of the Switzerland’s Universities of Applied Sciences, offers Innovative Technologies as one of over thirty areas of study. Universities of Applied Sciences are known for their strong connections with local industries, leading the applications of innovative technologies at SUPSI to be often related to advancing industry in Ticino. The students of the Global Perspectives Program were given the opportunity to experience one of these projects, in which the visualization of a factory layout was presented through various emerging forms of media. The factory environment was constructed by Master’s students in Innovative Technologies as a 3D rendering, where textures were excluded but machinery was created with real-world dimensions. This 3D environment was then brought into virtual reality through the use of the Oculus Development Kit 2 (DK2). Students from Virginia Tech were able to wear this head-mounted display, many of which were experiencing virtual reality for the first time. As the DK2 contains positional head tracking, students could move their heads to view the 3D factory environment immersively. In addition to the Oculus display was the interactive table demonstration, a touch-screen table constructed and programmed by technology students at SUPSI. This table contained a large screen displaying the 3D factory rendering, the perspective of which could be altered with simple touch actions.
The University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland is home to the Swiss AI Lab IDSIA, Istituto Dalle Molle di Studi sull’Intelligenza Artificiale, in the faculty of Informatics. This lab incubates Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, and neural network projects. Created in 1988 by Angelo Dalle Molle, a supporter of scientific creative research in Switzerland, this lab is the location for the award winning neural networks research team. In the Institute for Information Systems and Networking, SUPSI offers a focus in virtual reality development, augmented reality, and mixed reality, in which digital information is mixed with real-world environments. While immersive technologies is not yet commonly seen in international higher education, Swiss universities have made significant strides in its artistic, medical, and engineering applications.