(Feb. 12, 2018) — John Quarles is an associate professor of computer science at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). He specializes in using cutting edge technology to create video games and other devices to help people in need.
Last year, he received a $250,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for his game, “Shark Punch,” an aquatic virtual reality game for people with multiple sclerosis. This year, he’s created an augmented reality program to train first responders and has teamed up his game development students with a local nonprofit to create video games for injured veterans.
Can you talk about the project you’re currently most excited to be working on?
We are partnering with a local rehabilitation institute, the Teleton Children’s Rehabilitation Institute, to use our virtual reality aquatic therapy games to help kids with disabilities. We are planning to adapt some of our lab’s current games so they can be used for rehabilitation by children with disabilities such as cerebral palsy.
Our first project together is going to be an in-water virtual reality game where the player plays the role of a frog that jumps on lily pads in a pond to catch bugs. For this effort, I’m collaborating with Paula Geigle, adjunct assistant professor of neurology at the University of Maryland and a renowned clinician and expert in aquatic therapy research.
How has your personal journey influenced your work?
I have multiple sclerosis, which directly influenced my choice to research assistive technology such as virtual reality and augmented reality for rehabilitation. One of the games I created in that arena is called Shark Punch. It’s a therapeutic underwater virtual reality game aimed at people with multiple sclerosis. Many people with MS get overheated when exercising, which can make the symptoms worse. Exercising in the pool keeps the body’s temperature down and helps with balance.
What is the most important thing going on in your field that no one is talking about?
Virtual reality is great, but its not accessible to many persons with disabilities. There needs to be more research and development toward making virtual reality universally usable.
This past semester, I encouraged students in my game development class to use their skills to create a game tailored to the abilities and interests of a specific injured veteran. The results were very impressive. Some of my students even took the opportunity to use virtual reality devices to make their games accessible to veterans who otherwise wouldn’t be able to play video games.
What advice do you usually give to your students?
Network, network, network. The connections you make in the professional world are invaluable. Take as many opportunities as you can to reach out to people in the field that you want to be a part of.
What do you think makes UTSA unique?
Our diversity. UTSA is diverse in so many different ways, but what is most exciting is the fact that our students come from so many different walks of life—so many different cultures—and that contributes to a very unique, inclusive community.
If you weren’t an associate professor of computer science, what career do you think you would have?
I’d be a research scientist at a government lab making simulations to better train soldiers. Back in 2009, I actually had an offer from the Army that I turned down to take the assistant professor position at UTSA.