"Data Cave" creates 3D imagery on three walls

June 16, 2008--Immersive stereoscopic 3D projection display installed by Mechdyne allows researchers to interact with data.

June 16, 2008--Scientific researchers in the Atlantic Computational Excellence Network (ACEnet) now have access to advanced three-dimensional (3D) visualization capability in a 5.8 Megapixel Data Cave designed and installed by Mechdyne Corporation (Marshalltown, IA). The ACEnet Data Cave, which projects stereoscopic 3D imagery onto three wall surfaces and the floor, allows researchers to step inside and interact with computer-generated images in ways that can provide new insight and understanding.

ACEnet is a Canadian computing consortia of nine institutions--Memorial University of Newfoundland, University of New Brunswick, Mount Allison University, Dalhousie University, St. Francis Xavier University, St. Mary's University, Acadia University, Cape Breton University, and the University of Prince Edward Island. At the June grand opening hosted by the Institute for Computational Astrophysics (ICA) at St. Mary's University (Halifax, Nova Scotia), representatives from the nine ACEnet member universities and other VIPs experienced the power of immersive visualization to illuminate complex scientific concepts, such as an astrophysicists' calculations of how light and heat swirl away from an exploding star.

"As a scientific tool, the Data Cave saves us a lot of time and improves our ability to interpret the results of extremely complex calculations," said Dr. Robert Deupree, director of the ICA and the ACEnet principal investigator. "Conventional visualization of a star, for example, would create two-dimensional slices that do not really convey useful information. With immersive visualization, we can better see the 3D turbulence and other characteristics of a star, and we can see the effect of modifications in the data or in our calculations much more quickly."

The Data Cave display system uses four Mechdyne Beacon SX+ projectors to generate a 1450 x 1050 pixel image on each of four screens measuring 10 x 7.5 ft. The image is seen in stereo by users wearing liquid-crystal-display (LCD) active shutter glasses. An integrated real-time motion tracking system monitors the position of a primary user, maintaining an optimal viewing perspective and allowing interaction with the images using handheld control devices.

Since the Data Cave is based on the Mechdyne FLEX display system design, it also can be easily configured as a 30-ft long flat screen or as an angled "immersive theater" in addition to the cubic CAVE format. The tracking system covers the entire 30 ft. width of the flat screen, three times the usual tracked space of immersive environments. This flexibility allows ACEnet scientists, such as geophysicists, to display data in formats commonly used in such fields as oil exploration and development.

"St. Mary's University recently expanded its Science Building to include a purpose-built room for the ACEnet Data Cave, providing a state-of-the-art, flexible working space," said Chris Clover, CEO of Mechdyne. "This system accommodates a wide range of research and scientific collaboration and we are proud to have had the opportunity to be a part of the program's success."

Mechdyne worked closely with Sun Microsystems, which as ACEnet's computing systems partner provided four Ultra 40 Workstations as the graphics engines for the display system. Mechdyne also collaborated with Iowa State University, a pioneer in using Cave-type display systems, to provide 3D visualization software for the ACEnet Data Cave.

More in Research