REU

Overview
The Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) offers a 10-week summer research program for undergraduates in interactive virtual experiences. A multidisciplinary research institute affiliated with the University of Southern California, the ICT was established in 1999 to combine leading academic researchers in computing with the creative talents of Hollywood and the video game industry. Having grown to encompass over 130 faculty, staff, and students in a diverse array of fields, the ICT represents a unique interdisciplinary community brought together with a core unifying mission: advancing the state-of-the-art for creating virtual experiences so compelling that people will react as if they were real.

Reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of ICT research, we welcome applications from students in computer science, as well as many other fields, such as psychology, art/animation, interactive media, linguistics, and communications. Undergraduates will join a team of students, research staff, and faculty in one of several labs focusing on different aspects of interactive virtual experiences. In addition to participating in seminars and social events, students will also prepare a final written report and present their projects to the rest of the institute at the end of the summer.

This Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) site is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

For questions or additional information, please contact reu@ict.usc.edu.

Research Projects

When you apply, we will ask you to rank your top three interests from the research projects listed below. We encourage applicants to explore each mentor’s website to learn more about the individual research activities of each lab.

Perceptual Illusions in Virtual Reality

Mentor: Evan Suma Rosenberg
This project investigates perceptual illusions that can enhance users’ experiences in virtual reality.  For example, the ICT MxR Lab has conducted experiments that have convinced users they were traveling along an infinite straight path while actually walking in a circle, or that they were exploring much larger virtual environments than would actually be possible in the physical world.  Over the summer, an REU student will learn the fundamentals of conducting research with virtual reality and will create environments to explore, prototype, and study novel techniques or scenarios that involve perceptual illusions.

Social and Cognitive Effects of Virtual Reality

Mentor: David Krum
The ICT MxR Lab researches and develops the techniques and technologies needed for immersive virtual reality and mixed reality experiences. In 2012, the lab developed the FOV2GO, a low-cost smartphone-based virtual reality display that presaged the development of Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear VR, and other new VR displays. The lab is currently researching how virtual reality contributes to learning and training. With the guidance of the principal investigator, an REU student will work to develop or test new virtual reality training applications, written in Unity and C#. The end goal would be to develop an experiment, with human participants, to explore the social, cognitive, or learning effects of virtual reality training.

Data-Driven Interactive Narrative Engine (DINE)

Mentor: Andrew Gordon
We are seeking a bright and creative undergraduate student to work with the scientists and students in the ICT Narrative Group. This summer we will be exploring the the use of automated speech-recognition technologies to enable audio-based interactive narratives, where players use their voice to take actions in fictional situations presented as audio dramas. An REU student working on this project would conduct empirical usability evaluations and support the development of these emerging technologies.

Behavior Analytics and Machine Learning

Mentor: Stefan Scherer
Our research aims to automatically characterize and analyze individuals’ nonverbal behavior in human communication, including facial expressions, prosody, and gestures. To this end we utilize machine learning and signal processing techniques. Overall, this vibrant research integrates the fields of psychology, machine learning, and pattern recognition, and emerges as an essential field of computer science and big data analytics. An REU student working on this project would help develop and evaluate novel machine learning approaches to analyze human behavior in one of ICT’s many virtual human interaction applications.

AI and Machine Learning for Intelligent Tutoring Systems

Mentor: Benjamin Nye
This project will explore applications of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to support personalized tutoring and dialog systems such as the Personal Assistant for Life-Long Learning (PAL3). PAL3 is a system for delivering engaging and accessible education via mobile devices. It is designed to provide on-the-job training and support lifelong learning and ongoing assessment. PAL3 helps learners navigate learning resources through an embodied pedagogical agent that acts as a guide and persistent learning record to track what students have done, their level of mastery, and what they need to achieve. The goal of the REU internship will be to expand the repertoire of the system to further enhance learning and engagement. The specific tasks will be determined collaboratively based on research goals and student research interests. Possible topics include work with: (1) models driving the dialog systems for PAL3 to support goal-setting, teamwork, or fun/rapport-building; (2) modifying the intelligent tutoring system and how it supports the learner, and (3) statistical analysis, and/or data mining to identify patterns of interactions between human subjects and the intelligent tutoring system.

Virtual Humans for Teaching Negotiation

Mentor: Jonathan Gratch
Can virtual humans help us learn to negotiate? This project will use virtual human agents to help people practice negotiation, and, in an experiment, we will provide personalized feedback to students about their negotiation so they can improve. REU mentee will assist by helping to extract metrics related to negotiation performance (e.g., how early did you make an offer, how tough was the offer) from a negotiation with an agent, and then provide participants with personalized feedback on the errors they made. The mentee will help to run the experiment, as well as analyze the results to test whether receiving such feedback helps to improve the participants’ negotiation skills.

Natural Language Dialogue Processing for Virtual Humans

Mentor: David Traum
The Natural Language Dialogue Group at ICT is developing artificial intelligence and natural language processing technology to allow machines to participate in human-like natural dialogues with people. Systems have a variety of “embodiments”, including virtual humans such as the  twin museum guides pictured above, robots, and recorded video of real people, as well as disembodied voice or chat systems. An REU student will work on creating, extending or evaluating one or more of these systems or activities. Specific projects can be chosen or defined by the REU student, based on some general tutorials and discussion of available resources and project needs. Previous REU students in the group have been lead authors and had their REU projects published in the proceedings of international scientific conferences.

Computational and Corpus Linguistics

Mentor: Ron Artstein
ICT is developing language technologies for conversations with computer agents and robots, and has collected large spoken corpora of such interactions. An REU intern will work on developing these technologies, analyzing existing corpora, or collecting new data. Example projects include adapting a conversational agent or robot to speaking a new language; extending current technology to allow an agent or robot to understand the context of a conversation; or identifying interaction patterns in interaction corpora. Past intern projects in our group have typically resulted in conference publications.

 

Interactions with Virtual Humans over Mobile Video

Mentor: Sin-Hwa Kang
What might happen if a virtual human could call you on your smart phone and talk to you over Skype? The ICT Mixed Reality Lab is conducting research to examine human to virtual human interactions over smartphones and video chat services. The goal is to understand how to design effective socially aware computer interfaces for coaching and counseling applications. An REU student working on this project would conduct user studies and analyze data to examine social interactions between virtual humans and real people over Skype.

 

Lightweight and Deployable 3D Human Performance Capture for Automultiscopic Virtual Humans 

Mentor: Hao Li
The Vision and Graphics Lab is developing a lightweight 3D human performance capture method that uses very few sensors to obtain a highly detailed, complete, watertight, and textured model of a subject (clothed human with props) which can be rendered properly from any angle in an immersive setting. We propose a machine learning approach and address this challenge by posing 3D surface capture of human performances as an inference problem rather than a classic multi-view stereo task. REU intern will work with researchers to demonstrate that massive amounts of 3D training data can infer visually compelling and realistic geometries and textures in unseen region. Our goal is to capture clothed subjects (uniformed soldiers, civilians, props and equipment, etc.), which results in an immense amount of appearance variation, as well as highly intricate garment folds.

Location and Housing

The ICT facility is located in the Playa Vista community of West Los Angeles, about 10 miles west of the main USC campus, and includes a 150-seat theater, game room, and gym. There are numerous restaurants and stores within walking distance, including the Westfield Culver City mall, and the beach is only a 10 minute drive away. The university also provides free shuttle service between the institute and the downtown USC campus.

Since ICT is located in its own separate facility, summer students typically live in apartments near the institute rather than on-campus dorms. We will direct accepted students to a number of resources for locating nearby housing and provide a stipend to support the cost of living.

Benefits

  • Participate in a unique multidisciplinary community that combines academic research with the creative talents of Hollywood and the video game industry.
  • Work with some of the leading researchers in human-computer interaction, virtual reality, computer graphics, and virtual humans.
  • Receive a total of $5000 over the ten week program.
  • Receive an additional $3450 stipend for housing and living expenses.
  • Travel will be reimbursed up to $600 for students living 95 miles or more outside of the Los Angeles area.

Eligibility

  • U.S. citizenship or permanent residency is required.
  • Students must be currently enrolled in an undergraduate program.
  • Students must not have completed an undergraduate degree prior to the summer program.

Important Dates

  • Application deadline: February 19, 2017
  • Notification of acceptance begins: February 28, 2017
  • Notification of declined applicants: March 31, 2017
  • Start Date: May 30, 2017
  • End Date: August 4, 2017

How to Apply

Step 1: Application Form

Fill out the online application.  You must first complete this form before the rest of your application materials will be reviewed.

Step 2: Submit Additional Materials

Email the following materials to reu@ict.usc.edu:

  • The most recent unofficial transcripts from all undergraduate institutions you have attended.
  • A one page personal statement. This may include your research interests and how you came to be interested in them, your previous research experiences, your reasons for wanting to participate in the research at the ICT, and how this participating in this experience might better prepare you to meet your future goals.

Step 3: Recommendation Letter

Request a faculty member to email a letter of recommendation directly to reu@ict.usc.edu.

Please note that due to the large number of responses, it is not possible to confirm the receipt of individual letters.  Applicants are encouraged to check with their recommender directly to confirm that the letter has been submitted.