Yalong Yang

New Faculty Member Merging Virtual and Augmented Reality into Data Visualization

The moment Yalong Yang put on an Oculus first-generation headset, he knew the trajectory of information visualization was about to change.

When the virtual reality headset debuted, Yang was in his second year of earning his Ph.D. in computer science, working on traditional data visualization methods.

“Being able to see a 3D world around you excited me,” Yang said. “When I tried it, I thought this is the future of data visualization, and I need to invest in the future.”

Yang has since risen among a forerunning group of researchers in the budding field of immersive analytics. He said the research field is at the intersection of human-computer interaction, data visualization, and virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR).

Yang joined the faculty of the School of Interactive Computing at the beginning of the fall semester as an assistant professor. He previously worked under the same title at Virginia Tech for two years.

Yang is the latest member of Georgia Tech’s Visualization Lab and hopes to bring a new perspective to data visualization through VR/AR.

“There are some advantages that VR and AR offer compared to traditional displays, such as 3D rendering, large display space, and embodied interaction — using your body to interact with the data around you,” Yang said. “Those features can allow VR/AR to renew our human-data interaction experience so that we can interact with data anytime and anywhere.”

Just as users can interact with one another through gaming in the metaverse with an Oculus, Yang envisions scientists virtually collaborating with all their data displayed interactively in 3D.

“We can use the metaverse for productivity,” he said. “We can use VR/AR to build collaborative systems to help data scientists talk to each other without them being in the same room.

Yalong Yang
Yalong Yang is a new assistant professor within the School of Interactive Computing. His research focuses on data visualization and virtual and augmented reality. Photos by Terence Rushin/College of Computing.

What interests you about working at Georgia Tech?

Georgia Tech has influential groups in visualization and HCI that grant me many potential collaborations. The Visualization Lab holds a prestigious position within the visualization research community. The lab a thriving hub for researchers in various fields, such as visualization, HCI, natural language processing (NLP), computer graphics, and robotics.

What will your research at Georgia Tech consist of?

My research is at the intersection of visualization, virtual and augmented reality, and human-computer interaction. I am interested in leveraging the next generation of display and interaction techniques to enhance productivity in various domains. My research will build around two core themes: designing and building novel visualization and interaction techniques in VR/AR and investigating human factors in using interactive systems in VR/AR.

What inspired you to pursue this field of research?

As a researcher, I am passionate about how we can make the interaction between humans and computers more efficient and engaging. My current research shows great potential in how VR/AR can renew our human-data interaction experience. It can remove the boundary of physical displays and fundamentally change how people work. I am excited to participate in this thrilling future where VR/AR technologies can revolutionize the human-computer interaction landscape.

What do you hope to accomplish in your research?

VR/AR is becoming a mainstream technology, just as laptops and mobile phones have seamlessly integrated into our daily lives. I am fortunate to have the chance to shape and design this transformative future with creativity and rigorousness. I want to focus on building interactive systems in VR/AR to enhance data-related workflows and provide empirical knowledge about the user experience of those systems.

What are you looking forward to about teaching your students, and how do you plan on working with them?

I will be teaching the Introduction to Information Visualization course this fall. This term, I plan to include some new VR/AR content in the second half of the semester to reflect my research experience and interests.

I look forward to working with my future graduate research students on designing immersive systems and conducting user studies.

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