Campus & Community

CAL Faculty Use Virtual Reality to Transport Visitors at Hoboken Innovation Festival

Pier A Propeller rendering courtesy of Aaron Price

When Propeller, Hoboken’s first technology and music festival, took over Pier A on May 20th, the College of Arts and Letters stole the spotlight with a virtual reality experience.

A novel system for immersive audio-visual virtual reality cinema, designed by CAL Professors Seth Cluett, Ricky Graham, and Chris Manzione, wowed attendees at the inaugural tech and innovation event. Propeller Fest was a showcase for innovation, networking, education, music and fun, organized by the New Jersey startup and tech community.

Earlier this spring, the CAL trio had created a version of the experience which was on display at Apexart in Manhattan, but Propeller delivered an amped-up experience that included a virtual reality system and 16-speaker cube, said Manzione.

Over 1,300 users over a nine-hour day donned virtual reality goggles as part of the experience and were enveloped in a responsive 360-degree, serene forest environment and dynamically enhanced audio. As users moved through the scene, audio and video cues enabled a robust sense of immersion. The forest space was scanned using proprietary Stevens, 3D LIDAR scanning technology, developed by Kishore Pochiraju at the Design Manufacturing Institute.

“You’re not going to be standing where you are,” Manzione, who helped to lead the event, told users. “You will be transported to an alternate environment.”

The forest’s dark setting prompts the user’s heightened need to listen and sound becomes the means to navigate the virtual world, Manzione explained.

A multi-channel immersive audio system guided the users through the forest using dynamic, interactive prompts, provided by evocative and engaging recorded and synthesized sound.

This effort brought together various schools and disciplines from Stevens Institute of Technology as it highlighted current research in engineering and the arts. The exhibit drew on current, existing research in spatial audio from Music & Technology, immersive virtual and augmented reality from Visual Arts & Technology and remote 3D mapping from the Design and Manufacturing Institute. “This project showcases the talented young faculty we have in our Music and Arts programs in CAL. It also demonstrates the importance of collaboration among faculty within CAL as well as in other schools at Stevens and beyond,” said Andy Russell, CAL’s Chief Administrative Officer.

“The show and our display are going to have a large reach and provides the opportunity to work on something that is meaningful to us,” Manzione said. “The festival is right in our backyard of Hoboken, so it makes sense to engage the local and international audience that it will bring.”

The show, organized by NJ Tech Meetup, a startup community with more than 5,300 members, drew a crowd of over 8,000 people and started the day with opening remarks by President Nariman Farvardin. Having Stevens in the lineup was critical for show organizers.

“Stevens Institute of Technology is a wonderful partner in the community,” said Aaron Price, founder of Propeller and NJ Tech Meetup. “As the epicenter for much research that is redefining the convergence of technology and the arts we are thrilled to have them be part of our inaugural festival.”