CAVE2 Immerses Scientist and Engineers In Their Research

3 minutes

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(male narrator) Journey into space, explore bundles of nerve fibers in a human brain, or fly through a bridge before it's built. This is CAVE2, located at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Eight-foot walls of video screens envelop a viewer in a 3-D virtual world. The first CAVE was built in 1992. They've been improving it ever since. The scientist can stand here and fly through mammoth-scale structures.

(narrator) With support from the National Science Foundation, computer scientist Jason Leigh and his team developed CAVE2 here at the Electronic Visualization Laboratory, or EVL. We have an array of 72 LCD panels capable of displaying stereoscopic 3-D. It interfaces with 36 computers, and using a head tracker, the computer determines what you're looking at and draws the correct computer graphics image onto the displays to create the illusion that objects float in the room with you.

(narrator) Psychiatrist Olusola Ajilore uses CAVE2 to analyze brain scans. He's looking at bundles of nerve fibers to see how damage to these structures might lead to depression.

(Ajilore) It's really exciting to visualize fibers, walk around the brain, look under, between fibers. On some missions, sonar was mounted on the front.

(narrator) CAVE2 is helping environmental scientist Peter Doran dive deep under the Antarctic Ice Sheet. He's analyzing depth measurements from sonar on a robotic submarine. Each ball represents one measurement. Some balls are floating above the others. That's bad data that we need to get rid of. One thing we talked about was integrating these.

(narrator) Using software developed at the EVL called SAGE, researchers can share data with remote CAVE2 sites over high-speed networks.

(man) We're trying to make it easy for people to work together, look at information, to come to scientific discoveries faster and easier. This is a visual instrument to help the human brain make sense of large amounts of data.

(narrator) Hollywood has been eyeing the CAVE technology for years. One Trekkie researcher at the lab designed this virtual model of Star Trek's Starship Enterprise. You might say CAV2 is taking visualizations where no one has gone before. For Science Nation, I'm Miles O'Brien.


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With support from the National Science Foundation, computer scientists at the University of Illinois at Chicago are pushing science fiction closer to reality. They have created a wraparound virtual world in which a researcher wearing 3D glasses can take a walk through a human brain, fly over the surface of Mars, and more. In the system, known as CAVE2, an 8-foot-high screen encircles the viewer 320 degrees. A panorama of images springs from display panels, conveying a sense of being able to touch what's not really there. Part of the National Science Foundation Series “Science Nation.”

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Runtime: 3 minutes

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