Ari Kaufman describes The Reality Deck in Center of Excellence in Wireless Communications and Information Technology (CEWIT) At Stony Brook as a dream he carried on for a decade before he finally secured the funding to create it. Ten years after its completion in 2012, the immersive show, the largest of its kind in the world, is a valuable virtual reality training ground for high school students and a feeder for Stony Brook’s undergraduate computer science program.
CEWIT’s Reality Deck is a 30-foot by 40-foot room covered with 416 27-inch screens, each containing 4 million pixels, that immerses scientists, researchers, and students within a world of 1.6 billion high-resolution pixels.
said Kaufman, chief scientist at CEWIT and distinguished professor at Stony Brook University Computer Science Department in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
Kaufman and the Department of Computer Science have collaborated with kidOYO®, an education-focused nonprofit that builds mentor-led communities, and prioritizes computer literacy for production-level learning standards. The organization supports students in grades K-12, connects them to opportunities in computer science and helps them develop entrepreneurial skills and imaginations while university students serve as mentors.
Kaufman was particularly interested in working with kidOYO because the organization has approximately 50-50 males to females.
“We need to make our program more attractive to female students,” Kaufman said. “It is about building critical mass; we don’t want to have a single student sitting in the back of the class. This was an opportunity to build a relationship for gender equality and have our students act as mentors.”
Earlier this year, kidOYO joined as an industry member of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Industry University Collaborative Research Center at CVDI (Center for Visual Informatics and Decision Making), which is managed by Kaufman. This new collaboration allows local high school students interested in programming and research to take advantage of Stony Brook’s facilities, while Kaufman’s PhD students serve as their mentors.
Through their annual summer internship, Kaufman and kidOYO hope to spread the virtues of coding and computer programming as well as computer science research to high school students across Long Island.
“We want to get our program in front of more high school students who are well trained in programming,” Kaufman said. “What they learned here is how to do computer science research. We want them to come back as ambassadors for their peers and tell them about their experience at Stony Brook.”
This summer, Kaufman and his PhD students hosted two high school seniors with interests in immersive virtual reality and augmented reality. Three PhD mentors worked closely with them.
“When they saw the reality stand, they said, ‘We’re not going anywhere, we’re staying here,’” Kaufman said. “The time we had with them was so fun. The complexity of what they did is extraordinary.”
“Working with these students was amazing,” said Said Pourpur, a PhD student in computer science. “The creativity, amazing problem-solving skills, and unbridled determination of these two students, who are our future global champions, were nothing short of exceptional. It was a pleasure working and learning alongside them.”
The students created an interactive drawing program and an augmented reality-based collaboration interface that they demonstrated at Reality Deck on August 24.
“Visual computing is attractive to high school children because the visual notes they see are similar to the games they played growing up,” he said. “We don’t know about games specifically, but the future of all of this will be augmented or virtual reality, and you’ll be able to play games in those settings.”
One of the students who attended the program had obtained a pilot’s license, and Kaufman asked him why. “He said he played so many video games about navigating planes almost that he knew how to approach them even before he went to take the actual lessons.”
The next phase of Kaufman’s research using Reality Deck will focus not only on visual computing and big data, but also on visual analytics and machine learning – using visual images and graphics to make realistic decisions as well as using Reality Deck graphics processing units (GPUs) as machine learning accelerators. Kaufman and his team will collaborate with kidOYO to develop high school curricula in visual computing and machine learning.
“How do you use graphics to show you what the deviation is and what the trend should be?” Kaufman said. “We do a lot of extrapolation. There are a lot of things that graphics like this can help with. The visual channel is the widest. Why not take advantage of it?”
Kaufman said he expects to see increased interest in summer internships, and hopes to host twice as many students next year.
“If we double it,” he said, “I would be very happy.” “We are also planning an open house for students this year to showcase their project to principals, teachers and fellow students. People will see the facility and demo and hopefully generate a lot of interest. This has been a long-awaited dream for me. Having students of this caliber in this facility is so much fun” .
– Robert Impruto