Marc Olano explains how technology changes the way that we think about reality at TEDx event

Marc Olano, associate professor of computer science and electrical engineering, offered attendees of TEDxTowson 2016 a look into how technology has changed the way we perceive reality. “New technology has started blurring the lines between the real and the virtual,” he said at the May 5 event.

Olano walked his audience through the adoption of new technologies, from the “experimental stage” of their development, to being increasingly available but still very expensive and largely inaccessible, to becoming commonly available.

3D printers took center stage in Olano’s talk, and he began by showing the audience an item made by a 3D printer in the late 1980s, when the end product was much less important than the basic achievement of printing in 3D. “I have absolutely no idea what this thing is, but hey, it was made by a 3D printer,” he shared. “It is something that did not exist before, was a virtual object, and was 3D printed.”

The 3D printers available now are more durable and precise than those that existed a few decades ago, and much more common. Today, the fact that someone makes a 3D print is not tremendously exciting, Olano suggested, it’s all about what materials they are using, what they are making, and how that item can be used.

A tactile graph, developed at UMBC by Amy Hurst, assistant professor of information systems, is one example of a 3D-printed item that serves a interesting and important purpose, Olano explained, showing the graph to the audience. The object allows people without sight to understand how graphs are used to communicate information, as well as conveying the data in the graph itself.

In addition to exploring how 3D printers turn virtual objects into real, tangible objects, Olano discussed advances in virtual reality (VR) technologies. VR, he explained, allows a person to become immersed in a new world. VR goggles are a common way to create this experience and are becoming increasingly sophisticated and accessible. “It can give you that convincing sense of presence,” he said.

Watch Olano’s full TEDxTowson talk. (His talk begins around 44:30.)

Images: Marc Olano during the opening of the 3D Scanning Room at UMBC. Photo by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.