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6:56 AM Sun, Sept. 23rd

Prescott Valley to negotiate agreement with Embry-Riddle for library's virtual reality room

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University/Courtesy graphic

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University/Courtesy graphic

PRESCOTT VALLEY - "Virtual reality" is coming to the new public library, and it will bring Internet technology to a new level.

Library patrons will be able to gather in an area the size of a conference room where projectors display online research content and multimedia. The patrons would be able to stand up and gesture to activate the system, or sit while using a mouse and computer keyboard.

They will be able to activate their own workspace by gesturing with long swipes at the wall. Then, they could proceed to topics of interest from various online resources.

Those and other features of the virtual reality room could become a reality in an agreement that town government officials plan to negotiate with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott.

Staff at the machine vision lab at Embry-Riddle would develop software tools for the virtual reality room, to be located on the first floor of the library. The 52,000-square-foot library building is due for completion this summer on the Civic Center grounds at Lakeshore Drive and Civic Circle.

The proposal drew a receptive response Thursday from the Town Council.

Capital Projects Coordinator Kim Moon said names such as "cyberspace campsite room" come to mind while describing the virtual reality room.

Tarek El Dokor, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Embry-Riddle, used the term "collaborative, creative space" to describe plans for the virtual reality room.

He showed a video of himself making gestures. "This will bridge the gap between high tech and low tech," El Dokor said. "The core is an interactive wall."

Embry-Riddle has proposed a one-year maintenance agreement for software for the virtual reality room.

The room will draw high occupancy, El Dokor said. "Lots of people want to try it," he said. "It is usually better when people stand up."

El Dokor told the council he will work on a contract within the town's budget.

"We are committed to fixing issues with (computer) bugs," he said.

Mayor Harvey Skoog commented, "We are really anxious to have so much technology."

The virtual reality room will create a great opportunity for Prescott Valley, Councilman Harold Wise said, adding students and adults would use the room to enhance their skills.

Councilman Mike Flannery said he wants to know what the software will cost.

The original contract for hardware and software for the virtual reality room ranged from $60,000 to $65,000, Town Manager Larry Tarkowski said after the meeting.

Tarkowski suggested directing staff to craft an agreement with the university.

Money for the virtual reality room could come from fundraising, Moon said.

A $46,938 commitment for the virtual reality room came from Northcentral University in Prescott Valley, said Ellen Babbitt, board president of the Prescott Valley Library Foundation Inc.

"The concept of a library is no longer a storage place for books," said Don Hecht, founder of Northcentral, a totally online university. "The university is supporting this. We're committed."