Exploring the medical applications of virtual reality techniques in the Dutch Cave

Amsterdam 02 March 1998 The Parallel Scientific Computing and Simulation Group (PSCS) of the University of Amsterdam is one of the main partners in Euromed, the project which aims at enhancing and standardising visualisation techniques to be used in telemedicine applications throughout Europe. Over the last ten years, the PSCS group has gathered an impressive expert knowledge with regard to the modelling and simulation of Dynamic Complex Systems as well as to the efficient mapping of these simulations to High Performance Computing (HPC) Systems. Dr. Jaap Kaandorp and researcher Robert Belleman are proud to dispose of an excellent infrastructure, among which the recently installed advanced Cave Automatic Virtual Environment (CAVE) plays an important role in the 3-D visualisation of medical data and in the creation of simulation techniques for surgical applications.

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The Parallel Scientific Computing and Simulation Group (PSCS) of the University of Amsterdam is one of the main partners in Euromed, the project which aims at enhancing and standardising visualisation techniques to be used in telemedicine applications throughout Europe. Over the last ten years, the PSCS group has gathered an impressive expert knowledge with regard to the modelling and simulation of Dynamic Complex Systems as well as to the efficient mapping of these simulations to High Performance Computing (HPC) Systems. Dr. Jaap Kaandorp and researcher Robert Belleman are proud to dispose of an excellent infrastructure, among which the recently installed advanced Cave Automatic Virtual Environment (CAVE) plays an important role in the 3-D visualisation of medical data and in the creation of simulation techniques for surgical applications.

The CAVE has been built in early 1997 at SARA, the Academic Computing Services Amsterdam, within the framework of the VERNE project, which stands for Virtual Environment for Research in the Netherlands. It consists of a room-sized environment, equipped with screens on three walls and on the floor. Four projectors provide full colour three-dimensional graphics that can be viewed with light weight stereo glasses. The position of the researcher is constantly been tracked in order to adapt the stereo image accordingly to his location by means of a powerful ONYX2 supercomputer. The researcher is able to control the virtual environment by using a 'wand', a 3-D mouse-like device. Other viewers can observe the images from the perspective of the primary researcher.

The specific contribution of the PSCS group to the Euromed project forms the investigation of the various applications of virtual reality (VR) techniques for the analysis of medical data sets. In cooperation with the University Hospital Leiden where the Euromed people have planned a demonstration in the autumn of 1998, these techniques will be used for the time-critical exploration of 4-D medical data sets. Currently, the PSCS group is running a project, called "Interactively guided exploration techniques for the SARA CAVE", to develop a general purpose visual exploration system, in combination with existing algorithms and rendering libraries for the visualisation of volumetric data sets. Thus, analysis of data sets resulting from HPC simulations of diffusion and flow phenomena in irregular 3-D geometries can be performed, allowing to create a model to simulate and study the growth of tumours and the dispersion of chemical agents through tumours. Therefore, an interface between the CAVE facility and the applications running on HPC platforms elsewhere has to be developed.

In addition to the visualisation potential of the CAVE, the team of Dr. Kaandorp equally studies the possibility of VR simulation for rehearsal and training purposes of surgical procedures. Since legislation on donor bodies is very strict in several countries, the use of VR techniques might become a reasonable alternative to provide a realistic training ground for students. The most advanced VR systems already allow the surgeon to be immersed into a highly interactive computer generated representation. The PSCS group has studied the requirements for the graphical representation in the CAVE of medical data, obtained from digital scanning equipment such as computer tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound and confocal microscopy systems.

At present, it is possible to visualise large, complex and time-dependent data sets in the CAVE. Through the use of well established surface and volume visualisation algorithms, the PSCS team has even succeeded in creating immersive 3-D geometric representations of the concerned data sets that can be intuitively explored, simply by walking around the visualised objects. Researchers are performing little tasks with a "flying mouse" on the represented objects inside the CAVE. Dr. Kaandorp and his team cherish the secret ambition to introduce aural and haptic senses as a next challenging step. If you want some more information about the CAVE and the activities of the PSCS group, have a look at their respective and interesting web sites.


Leslie Versweyveld

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