Longevity By Design: Mechdyne’s Cornea 4K 6-sided CAVE Enters its 15th Year of Service

An integrator has two overriding responsibilities to a client: to provide the best possible technology solution and to help ensure the client gets full value from their investment. That not only requires smart design, it demands a commitment and the wherewithal to maximize solution “uptime” and prolong its useful life.

A dramatic case in point: Mechdyne’s 15-year (and counting) partnership with the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia, home to a one-of-a-kind facility called the Geometric Modeling and Scientific Visualization Research Center. KAUST partnered with Mechdyne to design and engineer its primary scientific modeling and visualization facilities, comprising more than a dozen “Viz” rooms linked by fiber optic data networks.

Used for research ranging from environmental and biological sciences to applied mathematics and chemical engineering, the technologies facilitate worldwide partnerships across disciplines.

A World-First Innovation

The heart and soul of the integration is the Cornea: an immersive, six-sided 3D CAVE driven by a computing cluster with 96 channels of graphics output at 2048 x 1080 pixels each. Its 24 projectors (four per wall on the 10’ square wall screens) display 100 million pixels of stereoscopic information for the viewer’s left eye and 100 million pixels for the right eye to produce the 3D effect. In addition, the Cornea’s integrated sound spatialization and variable virtual acoustics by Meyer Sound Matrix3 and Constellation mimic reality like no other system before.

As part of the modeling and research center, Mechdyne also collaborated with KAUST to design a multipurpose meeting and collaboration room that seats up to 75 people and houses a 10’ x 20’ Mechdyne Powerwall. The integration encompasses two lecture halls as well, each boasting a 16M pixel-resolution Powerwall. In addition, there are three development systems – one with a Powerwall, another outfitted with a Mechdyne HD ROVR™, and one with an HD 3D Review Station. A Recording and Control data center provides facilities for recording, playback, and archiving visualization and audio content in the Cornea and multipurpose rooms. Mechdyne software – including Conduit, SAVElib, and vGeo – runs the system. And various desktop control workstations and displays round out the installation.

“At the time of its creation, in 2008, the integration was unprecedented in its ambition and complexity. What’s just as impressive is the fact that 15 years later, the Cornea and its companion integrations remain at the vanguard of experiential design,” said Chad Kickbush, General Manager of Mechdyne’s AV & VR Solutions Business Unit.

World-Beating ROI

Usability over time speaks not just to the integrity of the original design, but also to the value of partnering with an integrator that has the technical and infrastructure resources, stability, and – most important – commitment to meet its clients’ needs throughout the life of their integrations.

Mechdyne’s Audio Visual (AV) Services Business Unit – specifically, its Contract Services team – exemplifies the value of expert service and support. “KAUST could have attempted to create an internal team to handle system upkeep and upgrades, but this Saudi Arabia-based institution chose to contract with a U.S. company for on-site support based out of our office in Malaysia,” says Franklin Gilmore-Metz, Operations Manager, Technical Service & Customer Support. “That tells you something about the level of trust and esteem they have for Mechdyne. And it says a lot about our ability to meet client needs anywhere on the planet.”

Person standing in Mechdyne's CAVE at KAUST

The service contract with KAUST has two principal components covering scheduled visits and as-needed on-site service and support. Ting Yoong Liew, a Kaula Lumpur-based senior service engineer, leads Mechdyne’s Contract Services team for KAUST. “Typically, we send a two-person team to KAUST, twice a year, for a visit that may last up to two weeks.” Visits begin with a meeting at which the KAUST team details any issues that may need to be addressed beyond regularly-scheduled support. The Mechdyne team then gets to work addressing all action items while also performing detailed inspections and diagnostics system-wide.

To ensure the Cornea is operating as specified, Mechdyne checks the working order of all technical components and ensures they’re properly calibrated. This is a highly precise task. When the Cornea was built in 2008, it provided an immersive virtual reality experience with 4K-resolution projected images. At the time, that level of resolution could only be achieved by overlapping images from multiple projectors aimed at the same spot. Keeping 24 projectors – each with two bulbs – in alignment across multiple walls, the floor, and ceiling requires an expert command of color theory and process. In addition to the projectors, a wide variety of hardware and associated software must also be up-to-date and in optimal working order.

And what happens when it all comes together? “The last time I was there, one member of the KAUST team walked into the Cornea, and after a few minutes, got lost in the reality of the imaging – losing his bearings on where the back wall was. That gives you a pretty good idea of how well the system works, even after 15 years of steady use,” says Ting.

The Power of Continuity

While providing essential service and support, Ting and his team supplied something else of critical importance to their clients at KAUST: the peace of mind that comes from working with people they know. And that’s by design, says Franklin. “Every project is assigned a primary technician who will remain in that position typically for a minimum of two-to-three years. That continuity is important to forming long-lasting relationships.” Moreover, a steady presence enables Mechdyne to thoroughly train new members so that staff transitions are seamless.

Mechdyne’s approach to client support has been especially well-received by KAUST – perhaps because Ting has served as lead technician since day one. “I can’t say that we’ve never encountered any technical issues,” he says, “but whenever anything has come up, we have frank discussions about what needs to be done, and we move quickly to resolve any problems.” Based on his 15-year relationship with the client, Ting is confident in saying, “They’re quite happy with the service we provide.”

What’s next for the facility and its iconic Cornea immersive reality environment? “KAUST has never been known to rest on its laurels,” says Travis, Director of Operations for Mechdyne’s AV Services Business Unit. “The Cornea continues to generate outstanding ROI, but when the time comes to introduce a new standard-bearer in visualization and modeling technology, Mechdyne will be ready to engineer it.”

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