Inside Rensselaer
Volume 6, No. 8, April 27, 2012

Center for Communication, Cognition, and Culture Begins Taking Shape

Preparations are under way for the launch of the new Center for Communication, Cognition, and Culture (CCC) at Rensselaer this fall. The center will join researchers from across the Institute in research areas such as cross-modal displays, synthetic characters, and augmented reality.

Assistant Professor of Architecture Jonas Braasch, chair of the Center for Cognition, Communication, and Culture Planning Group, said the center will promote research activities across multiple disciplines, including the arts, design, engineering, humanities, science, and social science to meet current social and technical challenges. In large part, he added, the direction of the center will leverage Rensselaer research at the intersection of the cognitive, cyber, and physical worlds.

“Centers work best if people see their own work as part of the mission of the center, so the planning group is listening to faculty, learning what their interests are, and where they want to involve themselves,” Braasch said. “There are a number of factors that determine what the CCC does in the end, but, where possible, it’s best to build on strong areas of faculty innovation so that the center basically takes off by itself.”

According to the Office of Research, the center is expected to launch in fall 2012, with a broad group of faculty members from across the Institute, and will be located in the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center. Preparatory work for the center is ongoing and students will begin work this summer through a research internship program that brings together graduate students from various disciplines to coordinate efforts between disparate projects.

Braasch said faculty interests helped shape the first three focus areas, and he pointed to several faculty members whose work will form the foundation of research within the center.

“Centers work best if people see their own work as part of the mission of the center, so the planning group is listening to faculty, learning what their interests are, and where they want to involve themselves.”—Jonas Braasch

In the area of cross-modal displays—which seeks to employ all human senses in understanding and exploring data—Braasch pointed to the intersection between his own research in architectural acoustics and that of Barb Cutler, associate professor of computer science, and a researcher in computer graphics and data visualization.

“Instead of using a two-dimensional graph to visualize data, the data might be more accessible as a moving image, sound, and maybe even tactile representation,” Braasch said. “Acoustic cues, for example, are much better to convey temporal information. It would also allow you to interact with data—you can not only plot or print things, but you can change them and view things from different angles.”

In the realm of synthetic characters, Selmer Bringsjord, professor and head of the department of cognitive science, will join his expertise with that of Mei Si, assistant professor of cognitive science, who is developing interactive narrative and embodied conversational agents. Bringsjord is also working with Pauline Oliveros, professor of practice in the arts department, and Braasch to produce a synthetic music conductor/improviser with support from the National Science Foundation.

Developments in synthetic characters will tie in with the third focus area, augmented reality, particularly as related to the use of narrative and gaming theory in research and education.

To adequately support this third area, the CCC will host a new Emergent Reality Lab—a large-scale CAVE Virtual Reality System. The system will be located in the Rensselaer Technology Park and support immersive video and audio projection. It will be overseen by Lee Sheldon and Ben Chang, who also serve as co-directors of the Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences Program. The group will use gaming theory to improve classroom activities, and recently completed a research seed project on instruction in Mandarin Chinese.

Another example of work that will play a role in augmented reality is research in computer vision led by Richard Radke, associate professor of electrical, computer, and systems engineering.

“With his work, you can track an object, allowing immersive environments to change based on the action that happens within them,” Braasch said. “You might be able to go very close to a screen and then that area of the screen expands and gives you more detailed information of what you’re looking at. Professor Radke's algorithms could provide the trajectory of the people viewing those screens.”

The idea, said Braasch, is “to leverage collaborations to take research to the next step. We want to bring people together so that their exchange of ideas creates new perspectives and insights at the interface—that’s the exciting stuff.”

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 6, Number 8, April 27, 2012
©2012 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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