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Scientists build a 3D world to visualise data

A new perspectiveComputer scientist Jason Leigh, the co-inventor of the CAVE2 virtual reality system.
A new perspectiveComputer scientist Jason Leigh, the co-inventor of the CAVE2 virtual reality system.

Take a walk through a human brain? Fly over the surface of Mars? Computer scientists at the University of Illinois at Chicago are pushing science fiction closer to reality with a wraparound virtual world where a researcher wearing 3D glasses can do all that and more.

The CAVE2 virtual world could change the way doctors are trained and improve patient care, co-inventor Jason Leigh said. Pharmaceutical researchers could use it to model the way new drugs bind to proteins in the human body. Car designers could virtually “drive” their new vehicles before designing a prototype.

What is CAVE?

The original technology, introduced in the early 1990s, was called CAVE, which stood for Cave Automatic Virtual Environment and also cleverly referred to Plato’s cave, the philosopher’s analogy about shadows and reality.

The second generation of the CAVE, invented by Leigh and Andy Johnson, was a project funded by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy.

“It’s fantastic to come to work. Every day is like getting to live a science fiction dream,” Leigh said. “To do science in this kind of environment is absolutely amazing.”

All you wanted to know about cave2… and more!

CAVE2 is the largest and highest resolution LCD-based virtual reality system in the world. At 24-feet wide and covering almost 320 degrees of view, you really don’t expect any competition.

CAVE2 is built from 72 LCD panels and 36 computers, each of which is connected to a 100 Gigabit/s optical network.

In order to give a viewer-centred perspective, 10 cameras are used for tracking.

If all that wasn’t enough, 20 speakers are used for ambisonic sound – a system of sound reproduction that produces an effect of surrounding the listener with the sound.  


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