Introduction

The ANU Supercomputer Facility Visualization Laboratory (VIZLAB) has developed an integrated display and software system for the deployment of flexible, low cost virtual environments (VE's). Our pSpace software can be deployed on a variety of stereo display devices utilizing active, passive or anaglyphic (red/blue) stereo glasses. The displays can be on any number of walls. Our Wedge display configuration developed in collaboration with the ANU Research School of Physical Sciences and Systems Engineering is one possible configuration.

The pSpace/Wedge combination has proven to be a cost effective platform for developing VE's that are both educational and virtual environment experiences suitable for museum exhibitions and similar public forums. Our staff are experienced in 3D graphics and animation with the technical and artistic skills required for deploying robust virtual environments.

Our first commercial system is now on show at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney Australia and is described in further detail below. We are currently working to develop new environments for exhibits at other major public institutions.

pSpace

pSpace (short for 'pointer to Space/python Space') is our flexible scripting language based software for developing Interactive Virtual Environments. It supports environments with mono or stereo displays on single or multiple screens, (such as the Wedge ), and will run under SGI IRIX, Windows and Windows NT. Based on the Python language, it provides an interface to the high level Drawing and Scene Graph libraries, Cosmo3D and Optimizer from SGI.

pSpace is currently running in a number of Virtual Environment installations here at the ANU:

  • ANUSF Vizlab- single screen, Onyx2 Infinite Reality
  • Plasma Physics (RSPhysSE) - single screen, NT
  • PortaWedge - two screen portable system, Integraph NT
  • Wedgeorama - two large screens fixed system, Integraph NT
  • Computer Science VE Lab -single screen, Onyx 2 Infinite Reality

Wedges

A typical wedge installation has two walls, each approximately 3m wide and 2.2m high. The projectors are each placed approximately 1.35 times the width of the screen behind the screens and this distance can be further shortened by the use of mirrors to fold the optical path. However, screens of any size and orientation are possible and are handled easily by the pSpace software. The wedge is run in as low a light environment as is practically possible.

For museum installation user input is provided using simple robust mechanisms like joysticks or voice input. In more controlled settings magnetic and ultrasound tracking devices are used.

Wedge participants use active stereo glasses for viewing the 3 dimensional scenes. This is the same technology as used in 3D IMAX theatres. For simpler single screen environments we can use simpler polarized light for left and right images which use glasses similar to sun glasses. Anaglyphic stereo is also possible for the very low cost viewing using cheap plastic (red/blue style) glasses, however the fidelity of the scene is drastically reduced and is limited to mostly monochrome imagery.

The PortaWedge and Wedgeorama were built as part of a joint project between ANUSF and the ANU Research School of Physical Sciences and Engineering.

Powerhouse Museum

The first public installation to use pSpace was the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, for the exhibition The Universal Machine . A two wall Wedge is now running as a permanent public exhibit, with an environment created by visualization programmers at the ANUSF Vizlab, namely Drew Whitehouse, Stuart Ramsden and Ajay Limaye. It incorporates scientific visualizations of research from the ANU and elsewhere. The following images are a sampler of the interactive exhibit.


Children in the wedge.
Title Sequence

Explains the fundamentals of visualization and stereo vision.

The Heliac

The Heliac assists in diagnosing measurements in Fusion Research and the development of Plasma Fusion Power. It is represented by the toroid - a helix winding around a torus (donut). The shape results from energised vertical magnetic field coils spiralling around a central horizontal field coil in a large tank. These experiments study the behaviour of gases under extreme temperatures. One day, it could be used as a source of fusion power, the same as it happens inside of stars (and our Sun), only here on Earth.

The Bucky Ball

The Bucky Ball, or Buckminsterfullerene, is an immensely strong molecular structure consisting of 60 carbon atoms tightly packed in a sphere, similar in structure to the patches of a soccer ball. Until the recent discovery of Bucky Balls, the only known forms of pure carbon were Graphite and Diamond. Research into Bucky Balls has resulted in the development of medical diagnostic tools like Technegas, used in blood clot detection.

Knots and Linkages

Mathematical Knots are formed by a single closed loop which cannot intersect itself. The theory of knots is a branch of topology, and is becoming very important in Physics.

Using this theory, mathematicians can detect whether or not, two knots which look different, are in fact the same.

Linkages are knot-like configurations involving multiple loops. These knots were created by Robert Scharein at the Media and Graphics Interdisciplinary Centre at the University of British Columbia

The Gyroid

The Gyroid - One of several 'minimal' surfaces filling a 3D space, creating two interpenetrating labyrinths of tunnels.

These minimal surfaces repeat their structures like crystals.

Mathematicians have used these surfaces to help analyse the geometric properties of 3D crystal lattices.

This work has been carried out by Prof. Stephen Hyde at the Dept. of Applied Mathematics, ANU and Stuart Ramsden at the ANUSF Vizlab.

pSpace Users

There is a private page for users of pSpace here [pSpace users area (protected access)]

Parties interested in the commercial availability of pSpace based installations can contact the author Drew Whitehouse, or the ANU Supercomputer Facility.


Drew Whitehouse
Last modified: Wed Apr 12 23:21:28 EST 2000