Last June, the Virtual Environment Technologies Centre (VETC) has opened in London, Ontario, as one of Canada's first major virtual reality facilities. The VET Centre has been built under contract with the Integrated Manufacturing Technologies Institute. The IMT Institute is a division of the Canadian government's National Research Council (NRC). VETC is intended for use by the discrete product manufacturing industry. Fakespace company was commissioned by the NRC to develop and install a number of projection-based immersive display systems at the VETC. Designed to make Canadian manufacturing companies more competitive in international markets, the facility will also be used for such projects as plant design and layout, urban development, large construction projects and medical research.
VET Centre's advanced visualization and computer simulation resources will benefit its member companies, which currently include SGI Canada; Electrohome Ltd.; General Motors of Canada Ltd., Diesel Division; and the University of Western Ontario. Among the VR tools are Fakespace's innovative Immersive WorkRoom, a spatially immersive display system which enables group collaboration in high-resolution computer-generated virtual environments, appearing to really exist in space, and a 24-ft. wide Immersive WorkWall solid screen flat wall display system, that is applied for interactive visualization of computer models and data sets. The Immersive WorkRoom in turn consists of a 10-ft. cubical structure to display 3D projected images on its walls and floor.
The design of the Immersive WorkRoom has been based on a sturdy wooden superstructure that eliminates magnetic interference and conceals cabling. The structure and screen mounting systems are crafted to display almost invisible corner seams. Unlike other spatially immersive display systems, the architectural design allows to accommodate an arched entrance as well as doors which close and lock for security. The Immersive WorkRoom also includes a transitional vestibule, in-room storage areas which can be used for stereo glasses and other peripherals, input devices which automatically retract into place when not in use, and floor access panels.
The Immersive WorkRoom system employs four Electrohome Ltd. Marquee Ultra CRT projectors. Three of the projectors are floor mounted for optimal display viewing angles. The projection system displays two slightly different images, one for each eye, in order to create a 3D effect when viewed through stereoscopic shutter glasses. For optimal performance, the system runs on an SGI Onyx2 InfiniteReality visualization supercomputer. At the VET Centre one Onyx simultaneously drives all of the visulization systems, including the Immersive WorkRoom, the Immersive WorkWall, as well as two 8-ft. Stereo WorkReview display systems. Mounted in three racks, the SGI visualization supercomputer is configured with 12 processors, six gigabytes of RAM and four pipes, each of which has four raster managers.
To support real time, stereoscopic visualization and interactivity, the virtual library software VLIB is used because it interfaces with commonly applied visualization software, like computer-aided design (CAD) and computational fluid dynamics (CFD) applications. VLIB software also provides drivers for stereo viewing, head tracking, navigation, and hands-on interactivity. The immersive display technologies at the VET Centre offer the work groups the ability to interact with models without building physical prototypes, and to very intuitively understand and apply huge sets of computer data, as stated by Dr. Gian Vascotto, Director of System Simulation and Control Research at IMTI. More news on the Immersive WorkWall is to be found in the May issue of VMW in the article Immersive WorkWall meets industrial standards for interactive and stereoscopic visual presentation.