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August 19, 2013

CAVE2 immerses scientists and engineers in their research – literally!


Next generation visualization technology takes researchers deep into cells or far into space

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), computer scientists at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) are pushing science fiction closer to reality with a wraparound virtual world in which a researcher wearing 3-D glasses can take a walk through a human brain, fly over the surface of Mars and more! The system, known as CAVE2, has an 8-foot-high screen that encircles the viewer by 320 degrees. A panorama of images springs from 72 stereoscopic liquid crystal display panels, conveying a dizzying sense of being able to touch what's not really there.

For the Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL) at UIC, the CAVE2, also known as the Next-Generation CAVE (NG-CAVE), represents the culmination of decades of experience and expertise developing both immersive environments and scalable-resolution tiled display walls--from the room-sized CAVE virtual environment in 1992, to the office-sized ImmersaDesk in 1994, to the GeoWall in 2000, and the more recent, ultra-high-resolution LamdaVision tiled-display wall and autostereoscopic Varrier-tiled-display wall.

Each new generation of visualization instrumentation has provided scientific communities with one or more advanced features (higher resolution, unencumbered stereoscopic viewing, multi-gigabit connectivity and intuitive user interfaces), in addition to better coupling worldwide scientific virtual organizations, and better integrating scientific workplaces with globally distributed cyberinfrastructure.

The CAVE2 is the culmination of EVL's 20-plus years of expertise in virtual-reality and tiled display walls, creating a hybrid reality environment that can simultaneously display both 2-D and 3-D stereoscopic information. The CAVE2 is constructed using near-seamless, passive-stereo, LCD displays rather than traditional projectors. The net effect is a new CAVE2 that has a visual acuity to match human vision, can be scaled to even greater resolution, is affordable--compared to projection-based approaches--requires little maintenance, can be fully immersive or can display both 2-D and 3-D information using EVL-developed software called SAGE (Scalable Adaptive Graphics Environment), and is a true collaborative space that can support multiple viewers. The instrument also opens new opportunities in computer science research at the intersection of large-scale data visualization, human computer interaction, virtual reality and high-speed networking. CAVE2 data is provided by:

  • American Bridge Company and Fluor Enterprises
  • Argonne National Laboratory
  • European Space Agency
  • Montana State University
  • NASA
  • Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
  • Stone Aerospace
  • University of California, San Diego, Calit2
  • University of Illinois at Chicago
  • University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • University of Southern California

The research in this episode was funded by NSF through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Miles O'Brien, Science Nation Correspondent
Ann Kellan, Science Nation Producer


Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.