VR 'rooms' aid design teams
March 24, 1999
March 24, 1999
by David Essex
(IDG) -- Engineers, industrial designers, and researchers are using million-dollar virtual reality systems to create "immersive visualization systems" that let collaborators see and manipulate 3D models of their work projected in space.
The newest product, Fakespace's Immersive WorkWall, uses a wall display of up to 8 by 24 feet to create the illusion of a VR room. It is said to be the first system that lets non-techies handle 3D models, which they can do by turning a foot-wide, 2-inch-thick plastic disk called The Spin, or by pushing on a bar called the NavPod. Both are mounted on a podium near the screen.
Total cost: $200,000 and up, including "active shuttered" 3D glasses and two or more projectors. Not included in the price: the $500,000-plus, Unix-based Silicon Graphics Onyx2 workstation needed to crunch the complex graphics.
Immersive WorkWall, introduced on March 17, will be purchased by the Canadian National Research Council for a VR center opening in June, says Fakespace president Jim Angelillo.
Linda Jacobson, virtual reality evangelist at Silicon Graphics, which also provides workstations for Fakespace's main competitors, confirms that the Immersive WorkWall's user-friendly control devices are unique. Previous systems were controlled by mouse.
Also new is the ability to quickly swap in a projector if one fails--Angelillo says existing systems require four to eight hours to physically swap projectors and reinstall the parameters.
Immersive visualization systems are typically used to view computer-generated models of automobiles and other product prototypes or 3D representations of complex research data. Geophysicists in the oil and gas industries use them to view and discuss seismic data. The Los Alamos National Laboratory employs an earlier Fakespace system, itself hooked up to a 128-processor Onyx2 supercomputer, to analyze models of nuclear explosions.
One of the first VR "rooms" was the Cave Automatic Virtual Environment, which Angelillo helped commercialize in the mid-1990s as a founder of Pyramid Systems. Fakespace competitors include Panorama Technologies and Trimension.
Angelillo predicts the cost of VR workspaces will drop significantly with the rise of less-expensive, Windows-based 3D workstations from Hewlett-Packard, Intergraph, and Silicon Graphics.
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