It’s called the CAVE2, a next-generation virtual reality platform that is currently the most advanced visualization environment on Earth. Whereas other VR platforms are either in 2D or limited in terms of interactive capability, the CAVE2 is about the closest thing there is to a real-life holodeck. This is accomplished through a series of panoramic, floor-to-ceiling LCD displays and an optical tracking interface that is capable of rendering remarkably realistic 3D environments.
Developed by the Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL) at the University of Illinois at Chicago, CAVE2 is a direct follow up to the VR platform the university created back in 1992. Like the original, the name stands for “Cave Automatic Virtual Environment”; but whereas its predecessor was set in a cube-shaped room, the new environment is set within a cylindrical, 320 degree immersive space. In addition, the screens, sounds, and resolution have all been vastly upgraded.
For example, the 7.5 by 2.5 meter space (24 feet x 8 feet) is covered floor-to-ceiling with 72 3D LCD screens, each of which outputs images at 37-megapixels (that’s 7,360 x 4,912 pixels, twice that of 2D). This allows for a pixel density that is on par with the human eye’s own angular resolution at 20/20 vision. Headgear is needed to get the full 3D effect, and the entire apparatus is controlled by a hand-held wand.
Yes, in addition to the holodeck, some other science fiction parallels are coming to mind right now. For example, there’s the gloved-controlled holographic interface from Minority Report, the high-tech nursery in Ray Bradbury’s short story The Veldt, and the parlor walls he envisioned in Fahrenheit 451. And apparently, this is no accident, since director Jason Leigh, the head of the project, is a major sci-fi geek!
But of course, all this technology was designed with some real-life, practical applications in mind. These range from the exploration of outer space to the exploration of inner space, particularly the human body. As Ali Alaraj, a noted neuroscientist who used the CAVE2 put it:
“You can walk between the blood vessels. You can look at the arteries from below. You can look at the arteries from the side. …That was science fiction for me. It’s fantastic to come to work. Every day is like getting to live a science fiction dream. To do science in this kind of environment is absolutely amazing.”
All of this bodes well for NASA’s plans for space exploration that would involve space probes, holographics, and avatars. It would also be incredibly awesome as far as individual hospitals were concerned. Henceforth, they could perform diagnostic surgery using nanoprobes which could detail a patients body, inch for inch, from the inside out.
And of course, the EVL has provided a cool video of the CAVE2 platform in action. Check them out: