Skip to content

A Walk Through Virtual Reality

Dr. Ryan McMahan, pictured above, is wearing an enhanced Oculus Rift in the Motion Capture Lab at UT Dallas. The Oculus Rift is a commercial head-mounted display (HMD) that provides orientation tracking to allow the user to immersively look around a virtual environment. The enhanced Oculus Rift, modified by Dr. McMahan and his students, also provides positional tracking, which allows the user to immersively look and move around a virtual environment. With both orientation and positional tracking, the user can take a few steps to walk through a virtual door and then look around a corner by physically turning.

What’s more, Dr. McMahan’s Oculus Rift is wireless and has a finer tracking resolution than the standard Rift, which makes movements smoother and more natural. This precise 3D tracking is afforded by the Motion Capture Lab’s Vicon camera system. Standard wireless Wii Remotes have been modified to allow for bimanual interactions and tracking of more-realistic hand movements. In summary, Dr. McMahan’s system provides a more-realistic experience than most virtual reality (VR) systems. Click on the video below for an example of what a user might experience while using Dr. McMahan’s VR system.


As seen in the video, the Motion Capture Lab looks stark, but the view and experience within the Rift can simulate any environment—real or imagined. Realistic environments are used for educational and training purposes. Dr. McMahan’s research focuses on developing VR techniques that provide high levels of training transfer (i.e., the transfer of cognitive and psychomotor skills from task training to task execution). Recent research has included training complex assembly tasks and safe ladder-climbing strategies. Imaginary environments are also used to engage users in fun and exciting experiences, particularly for research studies involving human subjects.

In his Future Immersive Virtual Environments (FIVE) Lab, Dr. McMahan and his students are also developing new devices to enhance the VR experience. A haptic sleeve device consisting of small vibration motors has been developed to deliver tactile sensations, such as an object touching your arm or someone patting it. A desktop-based olfactory display has also been developed to accompany the VR experience with scents and smells. This enables more-realistic interactions, such as actually smelling a rose. Future work will include iterations of these devices to eventually be included in the Motion Capture Lab experience described above.

Dr. Ryan P. McMahan is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science and of Arts & Technology at the University of Texas at Dallas. His research interests include virtual reality, 3D user interfaces (3DUIs), human-computer interaction (HCI), training transfer, modeling and simulation, and computer graphics. He works with undergraduate and graduate students from several departments at UT Dallas, including Computer Science, Software Engineering, Arts & Technology, and even Cognitive Science. More details about his work can be found at Students and companies interested in his research may contact Dr. McMahan via email at

The Department of Computer Science at UT Dallas is one of the largest CS departments in the United States with more than 750 undergraduate, 500 MS, and 125 PhD students. They are committed to exceptional teaching and research in a culture that is as daring as it is supportive. See for more information on the department.


Programming Camps Offered at Discount to Staffers' Children
A Wireless Network Test Emulator with repeatable results