Assistant Professor Gerd Bruder from UCF’s Institute for Simulation and Training and AdventHealth Endowed Chair in Healthcare Simulation Greg Welch from the College of Nursing won an Innovation Award at the 2021 TechConnect World Conference for a new way to magnify objects in augmented reality (AR).

The conference, which has been held annually for over 20 years, advertises itself as the “largest innovation pipeline on the planet.” It has connected over 20,000 inventions with industry partners.

Bruder and Welch’s invention, which is awaiting a patent, resulted from research looking for ways to improve wearable headgear people use when entering AR environments. The new tech allows the user to magnify objects in real time, mimicking how our eyes naturally magnify and adjust objects with the blink of an eye.

Current AR technology allows users to magnify objects but only from photos or by activating other steps in the headgear. Bruder and Welch’s invention, however, implements machine learning to allow users to focus and react in real time. Users can even utilize hand gestures to customize the degree of magnification.

The team’s initial research shows the technology can be applied to magnify heads, allowing users to observe facial expressions in greater detail. Users can also gain a tactical advantage by magnifying objects such as cars or equipment. In the future, Bruder expects it may be used to enhance military and commercial surveillance.

This technology has been years in the making, the collaborators say.

Bruder has a master’s degree and a doctorate in computer science from the University of Münster in Germany. In 2016, he left his native Germany to start working at UCF, where he met Welch, a Pegasus Professor who co-directs the Synthetic Reality Lab housed at IST. They’ve been working together ever since. A year ago, they submitted an invention disclosure and began the process of commercializing their research.

“Before I joined UCF, I’d never seen this level of interest in the research I’m doing,” Bruder says. “This university, and my institute in particular, are tremendously good at making connections between basic researchers like me and people in the industry.”

During the commercialization process, the Technology Transfer Office helped Bruder and Welch file for a patent, and suggested potential uses for the research they wouldn’t have imagined otherwise.

Jennifer McKinley, who leads business development for the Department of Physical Sciences, encouraged the duo to submit their innovation to the TechConnect Conference. McKinley also delivered the presentation for the award-winning technology in November on behalf of the research team. The technology was also recently recognized at the 2021 Spatial User Interaction Conference, receiving the “Best Poster/Demo Award.

Welch is no stranger to innovation. Since arriving at UCF, his research has helped produce at least 10 patents.

Others connected with UCF were also recognized at the conference, held late last month.

This year, materials science and engineering grad Christina Drake ’07PhD participated in the Innovation Showcase, with a nanoparticle disinfectant spray her company, Kismet Technologies, is developing in collaboration with two other UCF professors. At the 2020 virtual conference, Assistant Professor of Environmental Engineering Fudong Liu received a Defense Innovation Award for his work using catalysts to minimize pollutants in engine exhaust.