USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies is gearing up for a variety of projects in the upcoming year, which it will organize from a new home — a new building that opened last week.
ICT works to create new and innovative technologies, particularly in the field of virtual reality sector. The institute recently moved from its old Marina Del Rey, Calif., facility into a new building in Playa Vista, a housing and corporate development just north of Los Angeles International Airport.
ICT was started in 1999 in conjunction with the U.S. Army to explore the opportunities for the military by combining fields such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality technologies, the entertainment industry and the game industry.
“One of the unique things about ICT is that we are multidisciplinary — it is truly a place that has engineers and artists housed together, and … a lot of good things are coming out of it,” said Randall Hill Jr., executive director of ICT.
The Army was drawn to USC because of its proximity to Hollywood and the entertainment industry as well as its academic expertise, especially in technical fields, said Todd Richmond, ICT project director.
“ICT is unique … [because] USC is unique,” Richmond said. “It is home to [an] entertainment community, [and it combines] critical mass of not only traditional technical expertise but also creative [expertise].”
Today, ICT is still primarily funded by the military. Its goals include basic and applied research for virtual reality technologies, including designing prototypes and generally trying to create as “real” of experiences as possible in the virtual world, Richmond said.
“Realism doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to be super high-def video and audio … It’s about engagement. [We aim to] create experiences that engage the learner,” Richmond said.
Hill highlighted the institute’s connections with the entertainment industry through its use of storytelling to create a real environment for viewers.
“What we want to do is create experiences that are memorable, and stories are the way people have been doing it since the beginning,” Hill said.
ICT received an acknowledgement from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for its work in the movie industry. Light Stage technologies developed by ICT have been used in movies such as Avatar, King Kong and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
The institute is working on a variety of projects for the upcoming year, focusing on issues from healthcare and social work to movie technology.
On the healthcare and military side, virtual technologies are being used to help treat soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental conditions. Avatars created by ICT are used to train soldiers at Camp Pendleton and other military training bases.
Projects such as these will not only save money for the military, Richmond said, they will also be essential in saving people’s lives. Hill added that the future of virtual technologies is infinite, and ICT’s work is helping pave the way for a multidisciplinary approach to virtual reality.
ICT is primarily a research institute, meaning it doesn’t offer courses or degrees. Faculty members from many different university departments hold positions at ICT, however, and undergraduates are exposed to the center through their professors.
“A lot of our strength has come from collaborations we’ve had with schools from USC,” Hill said.
The institute also works with student groups on campus and offers a summer internship program for undergraduates. Graduate students have the opportunity to become directly involved with the program through their research.
“We really love the energy that students bring to the place,” Hill said.
Students and faculty will be able to access the new facilities located at the Hughes Aircraft Facility, a building that has a long history of technological innovation, Richmond said.
The facility is a LEED-certified green building and has many cutting edge features. One of the highlights is a projector that displays images in 3-D without the necessity of 3-D glasses for viewers.
The space is very open, Hill said, and is designed for meetings and collaboration. To encourage collaboration, each cubicle has a whiteboard for employees to brainstorm while working.
“It’s a fairly kinetic environment where people are always messing around with things,” Richmond said.
In addition, the facility has more spaces for conferences, meetings and workshops, including a 130-person theater and a variety of open meeting spaces.
The institute also has a satellite location that is more focused on lab space. At this facility, games that mix virtual and physical realities, such as a Wild West Gunslinger game, are created and tested.
“[That location is for] prototyping and projects that need a bigger space — it’s like a big sandbox [for] mixing the physical world and digital world,” Richmond said.