Last updated on April 23, 2014 at 20:10 EDT
StarCAVE at Calit2
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StarCAVE at Calit2

November 10, 2011
A view from above and looking down into StarCAVE, a five-sided immersive, interactive virtual reality (VR) room where scientific models and animations are projected in stereo on 360-degree screens surrounding the viewer, and onto the floor as well. Users interact with the visuals displayed by pointing a "wand" that allows them to fly through the 3-D images and zoom in or out. The image being projected here is of RNA. The VR environment allows groups of scientists to venture into worlds as small as nanoparticles and as big as the cosmos, allowing them to gain new insights that could fuel discoveries in many fields. StarCave was built at the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). In the photo, clockwise from top, are Andrew Prudhomme, Doug Ramsey and Pinar Istek, all from Calit2. More about this Image StarCAVE is the third generation of surround-VR rooms. The original VR room--named Cave Automated Virtual Environment, or CAVE--was built at the University of Illinois at Chicago's Electronic Visualization Lab (EVL) in 1991, by Thomas A. DeFanti (currently director of visualization at Calit2) and his research team. Ten years later, a second-generation model was built at EVL that is now the standard surround-VR technology and is widely used around the world and marketed by Mechdyne Corp. While the first- and second-generation CAVEs require viewers to wear battery-powered 'shutter' glasses, StarCAVE provides an improved 3-D experience by allowing viewers to wear only lightweight, polarized 'sun' glasses. The quality of imaging in StarCAVE is outstanding. The room operates at a combined resolution of over 68 million pixels--34 million per eye--distributed over 15 rear-projected walls and two floor screens. Each side of the pentagon-shaped room has three stacked screens, with the bottom and top screens tilted inward by 15 degrees to increase the feeling of immersion, while reducing ghosting, or 'seeing double.' Adding to the VR experience is a surround-sound system, which harnesses recent advances in wave field synthesis--a way to maximize the perception of many channels of sound emanating from different sides of the room. "When you're inside the StarCAVE the quality of the image is stunning," says DeFanti. "The StarCAVE supports 20/40 vision and the images are very high contrast, thanks to the room's unique shape and special screens that allow viewers to use 3-D polarizing glasses. You can fly over a strand of DNA and look in front, behind and below you, or navigate through the superstructure of a building to detect where damage from an earthquake may have occurred."