Inaugural lecture Alexander Klippel: ‘Virtual Reality brings people on the same page’
‘We live in a data rich society and I think eighty percent of this data has a spatial component’, states Alexander Klippel, chairholder of Geo-information Science. His inaugural address is to be held on Thursday, 13 April.
Alexander Klippel describes himself as a transdisciplinary spatial scientist. His research interest are eclectic but all somehow related to space. Spatial data is everywhere and so there are ample opportunities to use spatial data in meaningful ways for a broad range of research topics and to address societal challenges.
To illustrate, he continues with an almost endless list of examples of spatial data. ‘From climate change to biodiversity loss, from cycling to work to catching an Uber, but also sending tweets because you are always in a location that could be relevant.’ Making gestures or looking at shelves in the supermarket also contains spatial information. Moreover, movement patterns vary from person to person, for example in people with disabilities or people with ADHD. ‘Spatial data is important across all scales and all earthly and societal domains, from molecules, to crawling ants or sending a spaceship to the moon. There is always a spatial aspect.’
Geo-spatial information science
Klippel's research group specializes in collecting, processing, storing, modelling, understanding and communicating spatial data with a focus on applications in environmental sciences. 'Examples are research projects such as Fields2Cover. In this project, my colleague Sytze de Bruin is developing algorithms to plan the most efficient routes across agricultural fields. Such an approach shortens the path for agricultural machinery, saving energy and preventing the soil from becoming more compacted than necessary.' The group is committed to develop their software and code as open source.
One of his personal interests is the science of virtual field trips. ‘Instead of physically visiting a location, we create a virtual environment. Students or other users get to experience places in a way that is similar to reality but without the constraints of reality. Imagine all kinds of possibilities you don't have in the physical world, such as reaching places that are otherwise difficult to reach or less accessible for people with disabilities.’
‘Moreover, an experience becomes even more engaging if the environment is responsive and adaptive, such as developed for games. You can walk around in subduction zones, where earthquakes take place, or in a molecule, where you play with the atoms.’
Creating meaningful experiences
Big tech companies have accelerated their efforts to design immersive technologies and making them accessible to a wide audience. This allows spatial scientist such as Klippel to focus on creating meaningful experiences with the latest existing technologies. 'We are developing efficient workflows to provide an immersive experience for any place, at any time, with everyone.’
‘We can make people experience the consequences of their choices on the environment, good or bad. We can create empathy and understanding by allowing people to walk in someone else’s shoes. We can connect people meaningfully wherever they are. In this way, we can prepare them for example for disasters such as flooding and talk about a future that they have jointly experienced,' says Klippel.
New way of learning
The new WUR professor and chair holder thinks immersive technologies will be completely normal and common in five to ten years' time and they will change how we learn, communicate, and do research. 'We can create a completely new paradigm for the way we access environmental information. It aligns people and also creates a certain empathy when you see someone else's perspective. We are at the beginning of using it in a very beneficial way for society to create an understanding that was not possible in the same way before." he concludes.