NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program

Making Augmented and Virtual Reality Accessible

Summer 2021 | New York City, NY

This REU Site brings 8 students per year to the campuses of Cornell Tech and Columbia University in NYC to participate in projects that make XR more accessible to people with disabilities.

Interested in applying for this program?

Apply Now!

About the Program

Augmented and virtual reality (XR) technologies have become popular consumer products. But the devices, development and authoring tools, and content that make up the XR ecosystem pose barriers for people with disabilities. How can you present a 3D virtual environment to a person with a visual impairment? How should you provide captions in 3D to someone who is hard-of-hearing? How can a person with a motor control disability navigate a 3D world?

This REU site is led by Shiri Azenkot at Cornell Tech and Brian Smith at Columbia University, both experts in accessibility, along with Steven Feiner, an augmented reality and 3D interaction pioneer. They are recruiting students interested in XR accessibility who are looking to gain experience in the research process—from ideation to presentations—and who would like to join a community of scholars and practitioners who will provide career advice and mentorship.

Students will work on projects at the intersection of accessibility and AR/VR. Examples of possible projects include:

  • Enhancing the Accessibility of VR for Blind People with Environment Descriptions: VR applications can be made more accessible to blind people with audio feedback from objects in the environment. How can we make this feedback more useful? In this project, students will prototype and test different types of audio description and feedback that might help blind people navigate VR environments.
  • Improving AR Interaction and Control: With head-worn AR devices becoming mainstream, it’s important to understand how these devices can be used to help people interact with everyday virtual content when manual interaction isn’t possible. In this project, students will build on existing work that takes advantage of the precise head position and orientation available with current headsets  to create more accessible and useful interaction techniques for AR.
  • Supporting Self-Directed Navigation within VR Environments: Many navigation tools for people with visual impairments rely on turn-by-turn audio directions. But what about looking around and exploring VR environments on their own terms? This project aims to repurpose VR motion controllers into aids for self-directed navigation, providing ways to help users “look around” their environment.

In addition to working on research projects, students will participate in other informal learning and social activities. The program will begin with an XR development “boot camp,” which will help students get up to speed on useful techniques in XR content creation. Students will also attend weekly seminars and conversations with invited experts in academia and industry. Students will present their work formally at the midpoint and end of the program. In addition, the mentors will organize social events to build camaraderie, taking advantage of the rich culture of New York City.

Program Dates: June 1 – July 30, 2021

Eligibility – To participate in this program, students must:

  • Be undergraduates in good standing
  • Be US citizens or permanent residents

How to Apply

To apply, you will need to fill out the application form and submit two academic letters of recommendation.

Please fill out the form: Application Form

The form will ask for the following information:

  • Basic information about you
  • Demographic information about you
  • Information about your education and university enrollment
  • Information about your interest in this program, including:
    • Why would you like to participate in this REU program?
    • Why would you like to do research, and why do you think you might be good at it?
    • What are your career aspirations and/or goals? How might participating in this REU program help you achieve them?
    • Are there any particular research topics you would like to pursue? If you are particularly interested in any of the programs listed on our website, please let us know.

Letters of Recommendation should be emailed by your recommenders to Jessie Taft, Program Coordinator, at jgt43@cornell.edu.

Application Deadline: April 21, 2021

Letter of Recommendation Receipt Deadline: April 25, 2021

First Round Decision Date: May 5, 2021