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article imageInterview with Virtual Reality pioneer Mark Bolas Special

By Matt Terndrup     Jul 1, 2014 in Technology
Los Angeles - The Director for Mixed Reality Research at USC in Southern California discusses education, self-discovery, and technology at a virtual reality event in Los Angeles.
Mark Bolas has been exploring perception, agency, and intelligence for a while now. He got into the virtual reality field through the guidance of a professor and Founding Chair of the Interactive Media Division at the University of Southern California named Scott Fisher. Now, Mark has a research lab in Los Angeles where students and paid lab staff can develop new projects.
Recently, the Mixed Reality Lab has gotten a lot of attention because of one of their former students went onto create the Oculus Rift, which Facebook bought for $2 billion. In addition, virtual reality meetups like VRLA, OCVR & SVVR have sparked further interest in the local VR communities following the trail of influence back to where it began.
With the demand in place for more virtual reality environments, Mark Bolas and his team opened up the lab of a night to let VR enthusiasts of all kinds venture inside to check out some of the projects they are currently working on. One project codenamed “Blueshark” is a futuristic warship workspace for the Navy and was demoed at the event. They also showed a head-mounted projector for small squad training. Teams inside also experimented with full locomotion in a virtual environment where perceptual tricks are employed to redirect the user as well.
A virtual reality enthusiast tries on the Re-Directed Walking Demo as a member of the Press records ...
A virtual reality enthusiast tries on the Re-Directed Walking Demo as a member of the Press records video nearby
After interviewing some of the people involved in the local virtual reality movement, we scheduled some time with Mark Bolas to ask him the following questions:
What has changed since you started working in virtual reality?
Absolutely nothing. Except everything is cheaper and more accessible now.
Would you say that you now have more access to the tools you need?
Uh, no. What I would say is that those tools are now accessible to everybody. So there is no reason for anyone to have an excuse for not working in this field if they wanted to. Before, the tools cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and took a lot to get a hold of. But now, you can just buy something for three hundred bucks and go get your PC and you’re in business.
What are people learning from tech-related environments?
You find out who you are and you mature it.
Tell us more about self-discovery.
I think academia in general has a primary goal is self-discovery. So, you find out what gifts you were given, and then you stand on the backs of others to figure out something in the world that hasn’t been figured out before, and then you disseminate it. And that’s how you play it forward again, and again, and again.
Do you suggest kids that are in inner cities getting introduced to technology?
Hell yeah! I grew up in the city.
How does technology play a role in an urban child’s life?
It’s like a playground that gets you out of the house. So for me, I was lucky. My neighbor kid had a Radioshack kit (which I still have), and I could peer in there and I could make synthesized sounds. I could make these amazing sounds out of just moving the wires around. And from that I learned a whole bunch of stuff.
And then the other thing that was really lucky, was I got into phone phreaking and hacking. So could make phone calls (before I was 18 years old). I could make phone calls to Europe for free. But I realized when I got older, it was like an ability for me to get out of my part of town and go anywhere throughout the world with technology. So it’s really powerful stuff.
I’m not saying that people have to get a part of technology. But if they are curious about something, you just want to give them enough to play with it and get a taste of it.
Mark Bolas and David Nelson from the Mixed Reality Lab at USC stand in the crowd at VRLA s 2nd event...
Mark Bolas and David Nelson from the Mixed Reality Lab at USC stand in the crowd at VRLA's 2nd event.
For more information about what Mark Bolas and the Mixed Reality Lab is working, check out their website here. You can also find video interviews with Mark Bolas, Jonnie Ross, and Karl Krantz on this video channel.
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