Future UWM engineers tour campus labs using new VR headsets

Molly Pinnekamp, a freshman in the College of Engineering and Applied Science at UWM and a member of the college’s Society of Women Engineers, tours the engineering labs on campus using the college’s new virtual-reality headsets. (UWM Photo/Chris Beimborn)

If you get the New York Times delivered to your home, you got a taste of virtual reality delivered to your door recently.

If you’re interested in attending UWM’s College of Engineering and Applied Science, you might have been introduced to it a couple of months ago.

The college is offering a virtual reality experience by YouVisit, an alternative to Google Cardboard’s virtual reality headsets, to introduce prospective students – and prospective business partners – to facilities that might otherwise be inaccessible due to limitations of time and space. Labs funded by $35 million in federal grants, like UWM’s Johnson Controls energy storage and dry laboratories, are not readily accessible. The virtual-reality headsets and online tour provide a rare behind the scenes peek.

The viewer combines venerable technology – stereoscopic photography, similar to what’s used in a 3-D Viewmaster toy – with the power of modern smartphones to give “visitors” immersive views of the campus and in particular, the college’s engineering labs.

As a practical matter, even visitors to campus can’t ordinarily get into the labs that likely hold a lot of interest for them.

“We have to be conscientious about what’s going on in these facilities,’’ said Sandra Nichols, assistant dean for marketing at the college. “When scientists are working in a lab, it could be messy, there could be safety hazards, there could be proprietary information.”

The new virtual reality headset offers prospective students a look at the Johnson Controls dry lab at UWM, no protective gear required. (UWM Photo/Troye Fox)
The new virtual reality headset offers prospective students a look at the Johnson Controls dry lab at UWM, no protective gear required. (UWM Photo/Troye Fox)

“We were struggling with how to showcase our facilities and get prospective students behind the doors where things are happening. This is the solution,” said Todd Johnson, Director of Student Services.

There’s definitely a “wow factor” for high school students.

“Our EnQuest students took these to Maker Faire Milwaukee at State Fair Park and students got sort of lost in it,” Nichols said. “It’s cool we can go to these exhibits and really deliver a live experience.”

The virtual reality viewers are part of a larger online tour experience available through the college’s website, which includes 360-degree views of the campus and videos that include introductions from professors and the dean.

“We’re going to be using this capability to recruit graduate students – many of whom are from overseas,” Nichols noted.

With shots of campus and Milwaukee, visitors can experience a campus “visit” that goes well beyond the college’s home in the Engineering and Mathematical Sciences Building.

Ready to take a virtual-reality tour of the College of Engineering and Applied Science? Be the first to tweet this story, and let us know. You’ll receive your very own College of Engineering and Applied Science virtual-reality headset – no protective gear required.

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