“To travel is to take a journey into yourself.” —Danny Kaye
It’s been about a month since I came back from the conference in France, and this month has been remarkably chaotic. In fact, earlier this week, I was helping give a virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) demonstration to medical school students during a discussion of whether or not VR and AR could be helpful for simulating medical procedures and techniques, as well as providing a new means of visualising concepts relevant to human medicine. The response was quite positive, and the discussions suggest that such technologies would be welcomed in what is a very conservative field. VR and AR forms a small section of my research, and last month, this was what the conference’s primary topic was. It was my first time attending and presenting at an academic conference, and it was my first time in Europe, so this trip was quite thrilling in that sense.
I left on March 21 and arrived in Amsterdam moments after the unfortunate event in Brussels, where terror groups bombed the Brussels airport and train station. While this did not impact my schedule (my flight to Paris was delayed because of a technical problem with the aircraft), it was quite frightening to know that such horrific things had happened nearby. I was travelling with a colleague, and the delay led us to miss our flight to Rennes. The original plan was to take the train in Rennes to Laval, where the conference was held, but as the next flight took off at nine in the evening, this no longer felt viable. It was here I learned one of the joys of Europe: things are relatively close to one another, and so, it was a matter of taking the train from Paris. After a lengthy shuttle bus ride through the streets of Paris, we arrived at Paris Saint Lazare station and, after purchasing tickets, made it onto the train with minutes to spare. We thus sped off towards Laval and arrived late in the evening. The conference began the next day, but since my colleague and I arrived early at the venue, we had a bit of time to wander around Laval’s old town. On the first day, I sat through numerous, exciting presentations about the applications of VR and AR. On the second day, the morning was devoted to presentations (this was my first-ever presentations overseas), and the remainder of the day was devoted to workshops on the future of VR and AR technologies. On the final day, my colleague and I perused the numerous exhibitions being held in an adjacent building. Here, I had the chance to play with the HTC Vive and speak with the developers of a powerful cross-platform VR tool we’ve been using to power our CAVE. Although I fell ill on the final night in Laval, the flight back home was largely uneventful, and I returned a little more enlightened about perspectives on VR and AR. As well, I now have some stories of my own to tell.
- A large number of the photographs in this post were taken on the morning of the first day in Laval before the conference’s opening ceremony was slated to start. It was a morning of brilliant blue skies, and we arrived an hour and a half too early, having taken a bus to get from our hotel to the conference venue, located near Laval’s old town. Walking between the hotel and the conference venue would have taken around 50 minutes.
- So, my colleague and I climbed the hill and found ourselves at a platform overlooking Laval. The weather on the first day was exceptionally nice, and I captured this cityscape overlooking the Mayenne River. The conference itself consisted largely of keynote speakers and presentations throughout the day. Among the speakers were one of the CAVE’s co-developers, a researcher who is applying VR towards helping patient rehabilitation, and the front-runners of the light field technology.
- Thus begins my desecration of some of the photographs I took: a handful of the images are embellished with GochiUsa vectors because of some of the timber-framed buildings present in Laval’s old town: the city was founded in the 11th century and developed a significant textiles industry. So, while it lacks the same tenor as Colmar, which forms the inspiration for GochiUsa‘s town, I was reminded of GochiUsa whenever I passed through this area.
- The conference’s second day was dedicated towards workshop sections: my presentation generated a fair bit of interest, and some of the audience wondered whether or not I was a biologist. My answer is that I am a computer scientist with a solid background in health and biology, which accounts for why I can read both computer science and biology/medicine papers without missing a beat. Once the presentations ended, the remainder of the day was devoted towards workshops where we speculated on the future of VR and AR. The second night ended with the Laval Virtual awards.
- One of the most interesting experiences I had while travelling around France, outside of the conference, was speaking with the locals. I was immersed in a country where I had no experience with the language beyond the basics. This was a humbling experience: previous to this, my travels remained either in North America or China (so there was not a language barrier), and communications always just worked, serving as a reminder just how diverse language and cultures are. It was quite rewarding when basics, coupled with hand gestures eventually allowed us to understand one another.
- On the last day of the conference, after the morning presentations, my colleague and I visited the exhibitions hall and played around with some of the latest VR stuff, before meeting up with some folks we met at the conference. We stopped at the Chez Martine bar in old town Laval for a drink (I’m a teetotaler, so I just ordered an orange juice) and the conversation was about all topics, eventually reaching Sword Art Online even. The afternoon soon turned into evening, and so, we prepared to make our way back to our hotel.
- The walk along the Mayenne river was remarkably pleasant, and there was sunshine on the first day. The second day was cold and rainy, and while the sun returned on day three, it became miserable again during our final day, when we traveled to Rennes and spent the night. At this point, I was quite weak, so rather than explore Rennes, I rested through most of the day. We woke up at around four in the morning and made our way to the Saint Jacques airport.
- Laval’s castle can be seen in the background of this here image; the keep walls here were constructed in the 13th century and was much larger than its present structure: several expansions were made during its history, and today, it’s a museum. I can’t believe how quickly a month has elapsed since the conference. During this past month, I was involved in numerous presentations, where we showcased our research to a very diverse audience, well beyond the usual University staff and students. The most important of these presentations happened early in April, and I was most thankful that I’d recovered by then.
- That’s pretty much it for this post, and April’s rapidly drawing to a close. Besides this week’s episode of Hai-Furi, I will be dropping by to write about Sniper Elite V2, and also, another reflection on Valkyria Chronicles at some point in the near future. Today, I also picked up Alien Isolation on a Steam Sale that saw the game going for 75% off, and I’ll begin playing through that once I beat Sniper Elite V2.
Overall, Laval Virtual was a fantastic experience primarily because it was my first-ever conference and first time in Europe: the conference itself was quite good, and offered a chance to converse about VR and AR in the absence of things like Sword Art Online. Jokes aside, it was also inspiring to see the applications of such technologies. Besides having an opportunity to present some of my research and learn about what developments there are in VR and AR, this trip also reminded me of an item on my so-called bucket list that I had intended scratch off. On a cold February morning two years ago, I watched the seventh episode of SoniAni in the hour before a physics lab and realised that during my undergraduate degree, I never really had the chance to travel on my own. I thus resolved to travel a little more, even simply to locations in my city. Two years after that article was written, it seems that I’ve completed that goal and then some. It’s quite understandable that people consider travel a liberating experience, even when in my case, I was in Laval for a purpose beyond sightseeing. With this experience under my belt, I set my sights on the Yucatán Peninsula, where my next conference will be in a few months: the second of my conference papers was accepted, and the white sand beaches will offer yet another exciting locale to visit. With that being said, I look equally forwards to the shorter excursions to the mountains closer to home, and various food spots around the city, as well. Things have become quite different since that cold February morning, and as things continue to move forwards, I’ll be ever-mindful of the importance of maintaining a good work-life balance.