Inside RLab, a Place to Create Virtual New Realities

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I reached out and touched a human cadaver yesterday, using a scalpel to dissect a deltoid muscle. I might have been more squeamish about the experience, but this was not a human body of the deceased kind. It was a corpse created in virtual reality, viewed through a VR headset. Yet it was vividly real.

“It’s intended to replace cadaver dissection, because that’s kind of expensive,” explained Sam Seidenberg, a software engineer for Medivis, a Brooklyn-based company developing an educational product called Anatomy X. “You still get the same three-dimensional exploration without having to deal with an actual human cadaver.”

Seidenberg and his company were among 30 exhibitors demonstrating their projects at the launching of RLab, the first city-funded lab in the U.S. dedicated to virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR). When completed next year, the lab will house 16,500 sq. ft. of co-working labs, classrooms and studios in a former manufacturing building in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

At the launch event, hundreds of visitors tried on headsets to get a sense of things to come, inspiring many waving arms and swiveling heads as they explored virtual worlds ranging from construction sites to medieval sword fights.

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In a nearby space, a dancer/technologist spun about in acrobatic patterns, her body fitted with motion-capture sensors to enable a computer to record a 3D rendering of her movements. The exhibit was the work of an NYU class that seems to represent the kind of cross-disciplinary creativity and community that’s expected to thrive at RLab. The class brings together both engineering and art students, who learn motion-capture techniques, graphics rendering, and the conceptual development to create stories in VR, said class’s instructor, Todd Bryant.

If the new lab is a success, it will have many beaming parents. It represents a $6.5 million investment by the New York City Economic Development Corp. (NYCEDC) and the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME), and will be administered by Brooklyn’s NYU Tandon School of Engineering, with a participating consortium including Columbia University, CUNY and The New School.

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