Tunnel and shaking hands
Most VR applications are built to be used at home and not over the mobile network. At TU Delft, the research team tested with 5G and with Wifi6. To ensure that only authorized users can access their own environment and exclusively see each other, a digital tunnel was built between two devices. This proved fine in the fieldlab, but in future, providers will not facilitate this on a public network. That led to the idea for another solution: a website that interconnects users. “The users can virtually meet in this space and shake hands and get acquainted. You wouldn’t have to be on the same network. The website is more like a kind of interpreter, connecting players, students, teachers or scientists; depending on the type of application. We are also looking for solutions to make data traffic more efficient. For 400 students, you basically need 400 virtual computers. Or could we manage 1 computer to run 400 sessions simultaneously? How does a network respond to that? Solving these kinds of issues is obviously very relevant.”
In classical academic education, a great deal of time is spent in lecture halls. For some students, actually performing or experiencing something themselves is more instructive than taking notes. The information is better retained that way. In addition, VR opens a variety of new doors. Consider experiments or exercises that would be unethical or dangerous to perform in real life. “You can tell students in a lab that it’s dangerous to mix two substances. In a VR simulation, they can actually witness what happens, for instance an explosion. And they can actually practice these situations. What exactly would you do when things go wrong? Just like a pilot in a simulator, you can practice several times and also discover how you and others react in a stress situation. We see an increasing demand for these types of applications in business. Like in marine engineering, for example. In some experiments, employees are merely permitted to observe. In a virtual shipyard, everyone can actively participate. In a couple of years, the technology will have reached the point where entire industries will be using it.”
Pausing the speed of light
Luuk also sees many more possibilities within TU Delft in the area of practicums. Such as in architecture: walk through your own building to see where you can improve the design. Or in physics. “Someone recently had the idea of slowing down a process happening at the speed of light in such a way that you can actually see what is occurring. You can actually play a physical process, slow it down, speed it up, or pause it. And you are standing right on top of it. The possibilities are endless. Didactically, I see great added value. Therefore we are very motivated to continue developing in this field. We can currently exercise with small groups of about 25 or 30 students. We want to scale it up to about 400 students working together at the same time. We have already tested with the future 5G technology. Do IoT Fieldlab has given us access to the 5G infrastructure; which will be available in the Netherlands in a few years. We literally tested in the field and it is ideal that we can walk up there ourselves in order to adjust the settings. That has definitely accelerated this development.”
Although this project is now completed, there are plenty of ideas and plans for follow-up research. Luuk views the future brightly. “We are far from being out of learning and out of development. In any case, we definitely want to develop the ‘handshake application’ and get it working properly. Security is the major issue here, to exclude hacking options. Furthermore, we want to optimize the data center. The results with a local virtual server were satisfactory, but with a remote server, the connection sometimes failed. We can’t yet exactly explain why. In the end, we want to explore solutions that can be widely applied in society. Thus, suppose you are doing research in a local community center, can you use 5G instead of having to look for a reliable local network? Ideally you want to use a configuration that has already been proven to work, so you don’t have any surprises.” In conclusion, there is plenty of exploration and research work ahead. Preparations for future studies are in full swing. Do IoT Fieldlab will continue to support these research efforts whenever possible, by providing advice and bringing together partners within and outside the TU Delft Campus ecosystem. One of these partners is the recently TU Delft startup, founded by Luuk: Dash XR.