Clemson Virtual Reality Club members experiment with a VR headset.

Students experiment with a VR headset.
Image Credit: Virtual Reality Club

The future has arrived in room 308 of the Watt Family Innovation Center. The room, known as the Clemson Immersive Space, is a hub for students and faculty interested in experimenting with virtual reality.

The space, which opened its doors in October, houses a variety of virtual reality systems and headsets. Desktops and television screens line the walls, and a long white table with orange chairs runs down the center of the room like a spine. A whiteboard, somewhat anachronistic among the cutting-edge technology, announces the week’s schedule.

This room is the home of the Virtual Reality Club.

“We want to form a community around virtual reality because we think that this technology will drive the future,” club president Tom Birdsong said.

Birdsong and club adviser Oyewole Oyekoya, predict that the technology contained in the room will change the landscapes of business and education over the next few decades. And they believe virtual reality will open the door to multitudes of new possibilities in design and visualization.

The club has the advantage of access to the latest and greatest in this influential technology. The list of available headsets reads like a roll call of the biggest names in virtual reality.

“We have the HTC Vive, the Oculus Rift headset, the Playstation VR headset, the Gear VR headset and the Microsoft HoloLens,” Birdsong said. “It’s good to have that broad spectrum so students can try them out and find the differences between them.”

The members of the VR Club want to empower students and faculty to use the available technology for their own benefit. The Immersive Space, which is staffed by the club, is open to students and faculty Monday through Thursday. The club also holds structured events for those interested in exploring more of the space or acquiring new skills.

“We do things like free play nights, which are for sharing and education, getting people to come in and try out the equipment, see what it can do,” Birdsong said. “We also do development nights. A couple of weeks ago we introduced people to the idea of 360-degree photography and showed them the different platforms they can use for that in their own everyday life.”

Birdsong and other club members also travel outside of the space to showcase the headsets’ capabilities. In September, for example, they demonstrated the technology at the RiSE Living-Learning Community in Lever Hall.

One of the main values of the club is education, so that’s why we do outreach like that,” he said. “We want to introduce people to this technology that will be useful in the future.”

Moving Forward

The projects that Oyekoya foresees the club engaging in range in discipline from computer science to nursing. He sees no real limit on what virtual reality can help educators to achieve. He points to the immersive quality of virtual reality as its greatest strength.

“I think the beauty of VR is that you can exclude everything else around you. Everything else fades out,” he said. “That really helps students understand what they’re trying to do.”

Going forward, Oyekoya and Birdsong hope that the Virtual Reality Club and the accompanying Immersive Space will prepare Clemson students for the workforce. They expect a proliferation in the technology at the corporate level, and they want students to be ready when that technology reaches its peak.

“Different businesses are really starting to adopt VR,” Birdsong said. “We’re trying to set up the University and students at the University in a way that they’re prepared to encounter those changes.

“This is going to be in the workforce,” Birdsong said. “This is going to be an important piece of equipment that people need to learn how to use.”