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Body RemiXer: SFU PhD students launch a new VR installation

October 02, 2020
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By Clarissa Yap, Samantha Tester

As human beings, we all crave connection. In the midst of a global pandemic and with social and physical distancing the new norm, a team of researchers has created an immersive, virtual reality (VR) experience to connect individuals to each other and to the world around them, despite the distance.

Body RemiXer uses VR to invite these experiences of connection. The online installation, which opens Oct. 2, was conceived by SFU PhD students John Desnoyers-Stewart and Ekaterina Stepanova, together with Bernhard Riecke, from the School of Interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT) and UBC professor Patrick Pennefather.

In the VR environment, Body RemiXer transforms individuals into virtual ethereal auras. The technology alters users' bodies into particles, and when they connect with another user through virtual touch, their auras become entangled creating a new bond and establishing a sense of connection.

“When connected users are moving in synchrony with each other, their collaboration begins to produce a drum sound that becomes louder with increasing synchronization. Multiple connected pairs create a rich soundtrack representing the interconnectedness that emerged from their interaction,” says Katerina Stepanova.

“We wanted to transcend the boundaries created by social biases. By replacing users’ visual identities with a common one, we hoped to focus their attention on their commonalities rather than on superficial differences.” adds John Desnoyers-Stewart.

With the world connected through technology, using VR in this installation shows how virtual reality experiences can affect social norms.

“By seeing themselves and others as ethereal auras, we hope that users will reflect on our shared human experience and the desire to connect,” Stepanova explains.

The goal of these online interactions is not meant to replace the physical interactions we typically engage in, but to provide an alternative solution for situations where physical touch or in-person contact is not possible.

“The studies we conduct through this installation allow us to share insights with VR researchers while the installation itself inspires the larger community and hopefully guides virtual reality towards supporting genuine physical connection rather than seeking to replace it.” says Desnoyers-Stewart.

Body RemiXer will launch virtually on Friday, Oct. 2 and can be downloaded online to be experienced in VR headsets, or viewed at Rectro VRSO immersive gallery event at Alliance Francaise Vancouver.

For more information about Rectro VRSO, head to https://www.alliancefrancaise.ca/rectovrso2020/