Video games might help pass the time, but Joshua Lupinek wants to repurpose the gaming equipment to improve public health in rural villages during the cold winter months by providing access to virtual reality systems for recreation and exercise.
“It’s huge … it just kind of blows your mind,” Lupinek, a professor with the School of Management, said about the technology.
Alaska has a higher than national average rate of obesity, and in Lupinek’s research he discovered “rural hub communities” are where the rate of obesity is the highest. These hub communities are on the grid enough that the people aren’t hunting and gathering, but they still don’t have the amenities that cities do, according to Lupinek.
These are the communities that Lupinek is looking to target first for the program. If the researchers determine that the people in these communities are using the equipment and that their level of physical activity is rising, then medical experts can come in to look at how that affects the community’s health.
Currently, Lupinek is doing research in the communities to see how interested the people of the communities are in the program. He is also using the Lab to test the system and how the user’s experience is.
In the spring the Lab will be open to students for research purposes and for Lupinek’s project. The Virtual Reality Lab is located in the Pogo Mine Room of the Bunnell building and is undergoing final renovations.
In the future, Lupinek hopes that the Virtual Reality Lab will have its own room and students will be able to test out the equipment both recreationally and for research purposes.
Lupinek is a part of the Chancellor’s Innovation and Technology Fellows program and he’s trying to figure out how to use Virtual Reality across the campus for different purposes.
“I see numerous and almost limitless connections to every part of campus,” Lupinek said. “we can help [homeland security emergency management students] do some disaster management training exercises—things that were previously only on a military base, can now be used here for a curriculum.”
The Virtual Reality Lab currently has an HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and Playstation VR as platforms for testing. The Lab also has VirZOOM exercise bikes and a Virtuix Omni, which is a platform that allows the user’s real life walking and jumping to be mapped into virtual worlds.