• May 30, 2015

Iowa State Daily

Virtual reality haunted house both spooky and fun

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Posted: Wednesday, October 31, 2012 8:40 pm | Updated: 11:49 pm, Wed Oct 31, 2012.

Virtual thrills and chills cloak a large room in Black Engineering for a cybernetic adventure put on by the Virtual Reality Applications Center.

The haunted house is a volunteer activity which began three years ago. The first year was more of a trial run, with last year jump-starting the computer-created craze.

A group of about a dozen volunteers have been hard at work since the end of June to construct numerous virtual reality applications for kids to play and interact with. Made of a combination of graduate and undergraduate students, the team created a seven-room adventure with the help of facilities donated by Eliot Winer, the man in charge of the operation.

“I love doing this outreach with the kids. It’s really fun doing this kind of stuff because we can build whatever we want and go completely goofy," said Joseph Holub, graduate student in electrical and computer engineering. "We work with a lot of the big government corporations [where] you can’t go and do something fun. It’s sort of an outlet to use these tools to make magic happen for the fun of it.”

The rooms include an underwater theme with fish swarming around the children, a Pepper’s ghost illusion where guests can have the appearance of their heads floating in midair, and a shadow surgery room with a scarecrow under surgery. Nemo and Spongebob make appearances in other areas with a hallway dedicated to Willy Wonka.

“It’s decorated with hanging pool noodles that they can run through; balloons with glow sticks, a lollipop forest with black lights. One student developed a chocolate river [with] monitors under a little walkway so children can walk over the chocolate river,” Holub said.

A big attraction is the Harry Potter room. The kids can cast spells with the help of a web cam hooked up to a television version of the “Daily Prophet Newspaper." The middle picture of the faux newspaper is of a convict fleeing from Azkaban, the prison featured in the Harry Potter series. Advanced technology places whoever is standing in front of the screen into the Daily Prophet as if they were escaping from Azkaban. The eye-detecting equipment also gives the subjects an eye patch.

”Kids feel like they’re standing inside the Great Hall in Hogwarts. We give them a button and they can cast spells … take a penguin and make it grow into a huge penguin and then they can make it disappear and turn it into a three-headed dog,” Holub said.

The volunteers are all there for the kids’ experience. Besides showing visitors a fun time, the virtual tour could possibly spark interest in the youngsters.

“In engineering we get a lot of mathb so it’s always fun to get to do something more creative," said Stacy MacAllister, graduate student in mechanical engineering. "It’s cool to see the kids come in all excited about all the technology. We can show them that engineering can be cool.”

As for a favorite room, MacAllister said it is impossible to choose.

“They’re all pretty cool, but I love the interactive stations. When else can you see your face pop up on a stick figure in a shark?" MacAllister said. "The Harry Potter room turned out really cool — it’s enough to bring out the engineering nerd in anyone.”

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