Machine Design

Visualizing virtual reality

The most realistic virtual-reality room in the world is getting a $4 million upgrade, boosting its resolution by a factor of 16 over current technology.

A researcher checks the fit and operation of a mechanical linkage from inside Iowa State's C6 Virtual Reality Room. Ultrahigh-definition video projectors create 3D images on the walls, floor, and ceiling of the 10 x 10-ft room. Goggles worn by observers convert projected simulation into 3D images. Photo courtesy of the Virtual Reality Applications Center, Iowa State University.

The television show Star Trek: The Next Generation introduced viewers to 24th-century virtual reality through a special room called a holodeck. There, holographic images and force fields could simulate any situation: real or imagined. While holographic imaging today is still quite limited, and force fields the subject of science fiction, a holodecklike room has taken shape on the campus of Iowa State University. Thanks to the upgrade, the C6 Virtual Reality Room will soon be Earth's best holodeck so far.

Originally opened in 2000, Iowa State's C6 is a six-sided 10 ×10-ft virtual-reality room that surrounds users with computer-generated sound and 3D images on the sides, floor, and ceiling.

Imagine walking the corridors of a new factory before a single brick is laid; or studying the action of DNA on cellular growth from inside the cell itself. How about tracing the migration of a fire through a structure with flames flickering all around you? These are just a few examples of the research and planning scientists and researchers want to perform in the C6 room.

New equipment will boost the resolution displayed to 34.1 pixels/in. — a total of more than 100 million pixels. The C6 upgrade will use 49 HP xw9300 workstations, each with dual main processors and dual graphics processors.

The workstations feed 24 Sony SXRD 4K digital large-venue projectors to light the room. Each projector produces an image that's 4,096 × 2,160 pixels; that's four times the resolution of the digital projectors used in many motion-picture theaters. By comparison, the highest-resolution HDTV available for home has only 1,920 × 1,080 pixels.

Fakespace Systems Inc. of Marshalltown, Iowa, is designing and installing the upgrade. It includes an eight-channel audio system and an ultrasonic motiontracking system. The room is expected to be back in operation by fall semester, with an official reopening in 2007.

Fakespace Systems Inc.,
(641) 754-4649,
Iowa State University Virtual Reality Applications Center,
(515) 294-2649,

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