Graduate Student Niall Williams Awarded Link Foundation Fellowship

Niall Williams, co-advised by Distinguished University Professor Dinesh Manocha & Affiliate Assistant Research Professor Aniket Bera received the Link Foundation fellowship in Modeling, Simulation, and Training.
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Williams, a University of Maryland third-year doctoral student in the Department of Computer Science, was just named the recipient of the prestigious Link Foundation fellowship in Modeling, Simulation, and Training in recognition of his cutting-edge research and publications in the field of augmented and virtual reality.

The Link Foundation Modeling, Simulation, and Training Fellowship Program was established in 1991 to encourage and support doctoral students for advanced-level research in modeling, simulation, and training. The fellowship focuses on disseminating the results of that research through conferences, journals, and other publications.

A UMD GAMMA lab member, Williams's research work centers on developing techniques to allow natural walking in virtual environments in a variety of unknown, dynamic, and unpredictable environments.

"Niall Williams has been working on developing next-generation locomotion interfaces for virtual reality and Metaverse combined with computer vision methods to perform redirected walking in arbitrary real-world scenes,” says Manocha. “ He has proposed many new methods for Redirected Walking in complex Virtual Worlds using concepts from Computational Geometry and Robot Motion Planning.”

“Compared to natural walking, techniques for exploring virtual environments that do not allow users to naturally walk are less immersive and can be harder to use,” says Williams. “ However, techniques based on natural walking have not been designed to work in a variety of unknown and unpredictable physical environments, which limits their applicability in commodity virtual reality applications for everyday users,” he explains. 

He adds that the Link Foundation's Modeling, Simulation, and Training Program aims to improve the effectiveness of virtual reality for training people for high-risk or expensive jobs (e.g. flight simulators for pilots), which is one of the most useful applications of virtual reality. 

“I am honored and grateful to receive this fellowship as it will enable me to devote more time to my research work and contribute to the advancement of the virtual reality training simulators,” says Williams.

“Niall's work will be at the forefront of the new Metaverse paradigm where people will be naturally exploring unique and creative virtual worlds,” says Bera. “It will help in bridging the gap by making people feel as if they are indeed walking and exploring in this virtual world as opposed to just sitting on your chair or exploring only limited walking spaces. His work will not only bring ideas from motion planning but also perception science and sensory cognition so one can actively explore and interact with the environment, just as one would do in real life.”

 In addition, Williams was awarded Honorable Mention, Best Paper at the 2022 IEEE VR conference. He is currently interning as a Research Scientist on the Applied Perception Team at Meta Reality Labs in Redmond, WA, and plans to continue working as a researcher in virtual and augmented reality in the near future.


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