Illinois Center for Immersive Computing Proposal Receives Investment for Growth Funding

10/26/2022 Aaron Seidlitz, Illinois CS

The $4 million proposal was designed collaboratively and led by Illinois CS professor Sarita Adve. The center will include CS professors Klara Nahrstedt and Eric Shaffer, as well as ECE professor and CS affiliate faculty member Romit Roy Choudhury.

Written by Aaron Seidlitz, Illinois CS

Three proposed projects connected to The Grainger College of Engineering have been selected to receive major funding through the Investment for Growth program, and this includes a collaborative proposal led by Illinois Computer Science professor Sarita Adve to create the Illinois Center for Immersive Computing.

Collage featuring four faculty, including clockwise from top left Sarita Adve, Romit Roy Choudhury, Klara Nahrstedt, and Eric Shaffer.
Team members that worked together on the proposal to form an Illinois Center for Immersive Computing included (clockwise from top left) Sarita Adve, Romit Roy Choudhury, Klara Nahrstedt, and Eric Shaffer.

The future for an immersive era of computing, according to the project proposal, would bring “the possibility of digitizing (virtualizing) the physical world around us (as perceived by all of our senses such as visual, audio, haptic, and olfactory), of augmenting this physical world with digitally constructed (virtual) experiences and content, and interacting seamlessly with a mixed reality comprising of a continuum of combinations of physical and virtual experiences, all in real time, with tetherless, comfortable devices for the end-user.”

Effectively researching these possibilities and to begin forming the future of immersive computing takes a well-orchestrated team. The team behind the proposal includes Adve and:

  • Klara Nahrstedt, Grainger Distinguished Chair in Engineering, whose expertise lies in trustworthy multimedia distributed systems and networking.
  • Eric Shaffer, CS professor, who researches visualization, mixed reality, scientific computing, and education.
  • Romit Roy Choudhury, professor with Electrical & Computer Engineering and CS affiliate faculty, whose research interests include wireless networking, mobile sensing, and applied signal processing.

Additionally, Adve said, support came from Rachel Switzky, director of the Siebel Center for Design, and Suresh Sethi, professor and chair of Industrial Design.

The Investment for Growth program awarded $4 million to help build the team further and to ensure the group has the staff, technology and equipment needed to pursue its interests.

“Although the term immersive computing stems from the new modality of interacting with computers, we use it broadly as an umbrella term. It refers to the entire application, hardware, and software ecosystem that will result from the maturation of technologies such as virtual, augmented, and mixed reality (AR/VR/MR), collectively referred to as extended reality (XR), the metaverse, digital twins, spatial computing, wearable computing, etc.,” Adve said. “Achieving the full potential of immersive computing and establishing worldwide leadership requires bringing together a diversity of disciplines and activities. The center aims to bring together work in immersive technologies, human factors, applications, policy, education and workforce development, jumpstarting new inter-disciplinary initiatives in research, education and workforce development, and innovative infrastructure development and deployments.”

Since the Investment for Growth program was created in 2018, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has invested more than $78 million in seed funding for projects that address areas of high and emerging student demand, according to Chancellor Robert J. Jones.

“We are proud to provide central support to encourage Colleges to dream big, think differently and take risks,” said Jones.

The Illinois Center for Immersive Computing would help make Illinois the “world leader” in research and workforce development for immersive technologies.

“With our strong culture of interdisciplinary research, strong virtual reality (VR) legacy, strong but scattered programs, and industry interest on campus, the time is ripe to consolidate these efforts and propel us to a leadership position,” Adve wrote in the project proposal.

The Illinois Center for Immersive Computing is one of 10 projects to receive $14.2 million over the next three years through the Investment for Growth program. 

“This is the first group of funded projects since the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are excited to resume investing in proposals and ideas that promise to enhance the visibility and impact of our institution,” said Jones.

These concepts join many projects that got their start with the Investment for Growth program. Those projects include cross-college programs like CS+X and the growth of online programs such as iMBA and iMSA.

The Illinois Office of the Provost also provided full details of this year’s funded projects.

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This story was published October 26, 2022.