Regular maintenance and upgrades enable more than 15 years of new insights

The High Performance Computing and Visualization Group at a US government agency works in collaboration with scientists to enhance and interpret data for theory validation, and to provide new insights and techniques. Among the tools used is a CAVE immersive visualization system built and serviced by Mechdyne Corporation. For more than 15 years, the large screen fully immersive display system has allowed users to intuitively interact with their data on a human scale.

Researchers at the agency rely on the visualization group to make sense of the vast amount of data available from large parallel computations and other advanced acquisition processes. Systems like the CAVE unleash the value of human intuition and pattern recognition by displaying three-dimensional data in a way where depth perception, motion parallax, and peripheral vision provide context and deeper understanding.


“When we are studying complex interactions, it is as if we are looking into a fishbowl trying to understand what is going on inside,” said one of the laboratory’s staff members. “Using the CAVE immersive virtual reality system gives us a new perspective. It is as if we are inside the fishbowl, swimming around with the fish. You see things very differently that way and it can provide surprising insights.”

The Solution

This CAVE is a room-like configuration with an 8-ft wall and a 10-2/3-ft. wall forming a 90-degree angle, and a floor display, so that users are surrounded by their visualizations and can even look down into them. The visualizations are driven by three Digital Projection stereoscopic (DLP) projectors.  The system supports cross-platform displays and visualizations can be seamlessly taken from a desktop to a laptop to the CAVE.

Users wear electronic shutter glasses that rapidly separate images for each eye, creating realistic depth perception. The glasses also include optical motion trackers that are monitored by precision cameras. As the viewer moves within the CAVE, the position and orientation of their head is accurately tracked and used by the computer to change the data in real-time so they always see the correct perspective of the 3D environment.

The agency has used other formats of virtual reality displays but the CAVE provides a highly collaborative space that users can work in for long periods of time.

The CAVE at Work

In one project, using the CAVE immersive display system, enabled researchers to better understand and interact with mathematical models of the flow of material at the molecular level. It uncovered how adding new materials impacts flow pattern and stress values. Researchers observed three-dimensional visualizations from within the model to evaluate the impact of making additions to the mixture, including recycled waste products, and were able to develop the optimal formula. The continuity of the data from walls to the floor creates the impression of being inside the molecules, creating an incredible sense of spatial relationships between data points. This is when insight occurs.

In another project, the CAVE is used in ongoing research to better understand and control materials that can change states at specific temperatures or pressures. Immersive visualization is helping the researchers develop a better understanding of how the material’s molecules interact. Viewing data from theoretical studies in the CAVE helped scientists discover that it was the atoms bound together differently than originally anticipated. Experiencing three-dimensional visualizations of data from within the model also enabled the discovery that external stimuli could also affect the alignment of molecules, further affecting the final state of the material.

Maintaining and Upgrading the System:

Over the years, Mechdyne has helped the agency upgrade its CAVE display system to keep up with technology advances. They upgraded the structural elements and moved from analog to digital projectors. Today, the agency continues to evaluate new visualization technologies that might enhance and improve its research and offer insights on how to interpret data.

Mechdyne supports the government team as needed and provides regular monthly maintenance for the CAVE. Downtime is unacceptable since the system is deemed essential to scientific discoveries that make U.S. industry more competitive in the world market. Because the CAVE is used frequently, Mechdyne provides regular, proactive maintenance checks and parts replacement, which has helped the organization achieve continued success with minimal workflow disruption.

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