Skip to main content

UCF Computer Science Professor to Be Inducted to the XR Hall of Fame

By: Bel Huston | June 3, 2024

Virtual reality pioneer Carolina Cruz-Neira, Agere Chair Professor at the UCF Department of Computer Science, has been inducted into the inaugural Augmented World Expo (AWE) XR Hall of Fame. With her induction, she joins an elite international group of 100 researchers, entrepreneurs, artists, advocates and others selected for building the augmented reality and virtual reality (VR) industry. Cruz-Neira was one of just 22 researchers selected overall.

Cruz-Neira will inducted into the Hall of Fame at the AWE USA conference to be held next month in Long Beach, California.

“We owe an immense debt to the pioneers who laid the foundations of today’s rapidly-growing $40 billion XR industry. We all stand on the shoulders of these giants,” said AWE co-founder Ori Inbar in a release. “I call upon the entire XR community to honor these trailblazers by learning their past, celebrating their contribution and continue to shape the future in their visionary image.”

Cruz-Neira, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, is a pioneer in the areas of virtual reality and interactive visualization, having created and deployed a variety of technologies that have become standard tools in industry, government and academia. She is known world-wide for being the creator of the CAVE virtual reality system, which allows multiple people to have an immersive experience in the same space.

A lifelong admiration for the beauty of the world, combined with a fascination of how things work, initially drew Cruz-Neira to the field with her first experiences with VR in 1991. She says she knew then that she was going to dedicate her life to exploring and advancing VR, developing experiences to explain phenomena, processes, behaviors and more, creating impossible worlds that cannot be replicated in the physical world.

“This field has the tremendous potential to be used to explain how the world works, to reflect the beauty and amazing elements of the work, but also provide an almost blank canvas to create new worlds, new beauty, and really let our imagination roam free,” she says.

She has continued her work over the years, motivated by the perfect balance of technical and creative challenges working with VR brings, and the opportunities to develop advances as a computer scientist in the field.

“Doing this from a university adds the incredible joy of working with younger minds that bring fresh perspectives to the challenges and opportunities that this field has to offer,” Cruz-Neira says. “I started as a student, but my most recent contributions are all shared with many of my talented students and collaborators and therefore making the community stronger.”

Cruz-Neira joined UCF in 2020, drawn to the university for its strong programs and extensive network of partners and collaborators across a number of sectors, including space, defense, energy, entertainment and healthcare.

“It is not well known that UCF has one of, if not the, largest concentration of VR researchers in the U.S. There is a strong ecosystem that generates many demands for VR, as well as use cases,” she says. “Of course, the strong reputation of UCF as a leader in modeling and simulation ties very well with the ecosystem. At this point in my career, the opportunity to have daily interactions, idea exchanges, and stimulating conversations with colleagues and students is the best environment for me to be in.”

She says VR is still an emerging field with many opportunities to contribute. Users need devices that allow them to comfortably experience virtual spaces, individually and in groups, no matter their location. In addition, advancements in displays, interactive and haptic devices, full-body tracking, facial expressions and more are also needed.

“On the quality of the experience, we are still doing significant research on what are the parameters and guidelines that impact the enjoyment, presence, and overall engagement with the virtual space. The impact of long-term exposure to virtual reality is also still being investigated,” Cruz-Neira says. “New social norms are emerging on how we communicate in VR. There are also emerging issues such as how do we manage ownership of virtual spaces, IP, standards and many other challenges.”

Cruz-Neira is working on a number of projects, but her focus is integrating VR as the core platform to explore, interact and gain insight from digital twins. She is working on using VR for immersive data analysis, digital twins for semiconductor manufacturing, applications in defense and space, and digital twins for transportation safety, all collaborative projects with other UCF faculty.

“It is an honor and a privilege to be recognized among many other innovators that are creating and shaping the field of VR, particularly being named in the inaugural group with many pioneers that inspired, challenged, and encouraged me throughout my career,” she says. “I see the XR Hall of Fame as a celebration that science and technology is a collaborative endeavor, it takes many talented people working together to make real advances and impact.”

Story from the UCF Department of Computer Science