CAVE. The University of Illinois has developed a scaled-down, less ex- pensive version of CAVE that is now used on about 175 projects world- wide, noted Henry Kaczmarski, director of the school's Integrated Systems Laboratory.
Using PC clusters rather than a single high-performance machine dropped CAVE's computing costs for a typical system to about $45,000, he explained. In addition, projector costs have fallen to about $2,000 each. The polarizing screens cost up to $6,000, and tracking systems also run about $6,000, said Sandin. Thus, an entire system is affordable for many smaller projects.
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign developed the Collaborative Advanced Navigation Virtual Art Studio, a three-screen, rear-projection, portable, CAVE-based VR laboratory for fine- and applied-arts research and teaching projects. CANVAS supports collaboration, advanced navigation, and virtual art.
Sandin developed the C-Wall (Configurable Wall), a high-quality stereoscopic VR application that is configurable for front or rear projection and compatible with CAVE software. In essence, the application functions as a one-wall CAVE. Users have worked with the C-Wall to build, for example, the Looking for Water application, which displays animations of several months of weather conditions.
CANVAS and the C-Wall are less expensive than full CAVE implementations in part because they don't have as much computing power and they use less-costly projectors.
High-end science and industrial customers currently spend from $250,000 to $1.5 million for advanced CAVE versions, used for industrial and scientific work, detailed simulations, and other complex projects.
John-e-Box. Indiana University's Advanced Visualization Lab has developed the John-e-Box, a portable, rear-projection system with a 4 × 3 foot screen.
A preintegrated system can cost as little as $20,000. John-e-Box uses commodity components, including small digital projectors, standard Intel PC processors, Nvidia graphics cards, and open source software tools.
The system renders a 3D view of a scene and lets users navigate via a SpaceBall motion controller from 3Dconnexion.
CAE-net Inc.—which sells modeling, simulation, and 3D stereo-visualization hardware, software, and services—is commercializing the John-e-Box.
Several Indiana University campuses have deployed the application for data visualization projects.
Open source platforms. Researchers at Indiana University and the University of Illinois' Urbana-Champaign and Chicago campuses are jointly and, in some cases, separately developing open source VR tools.
Open source platforms are less ex- pensive than proprietary ones and thus are reducing VR environments' costs and making them more accessible.
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Integrated Systems Laboratory has created the Syzygy (pronounced si-zid-ji) open source toolkit ( www.isl.uiuc.edu/syzygy.htm) for cluster-based VR.
"Syzygy is about taking clusters of PCs and turning them into a high-performance, high-quality, low-cost VR platform. It is the software glue that binds the PCs together. This helps make VR cheaper," said Syzygy inventor Benjamin Schaeffer, formerly with the University of Illinois and now a Wachovia Corp. trading analyst.
Ygdrasil and Electro, which the University of Illinois at Chicago's Electronic Visualization Laboratory developed, are two important scripting systems that enable artists and scientists to create VR worlds without having to be hardcore programmers, said professor emeritus Sandin.
The Ygdrasil framework is a tool for creating networked virtual environments. It focuses on building the behaviors of virtual objects from reusable components and sharing an environment's state via distributed technologies. It is presently being used to build several artistic and educational applications.
Electro is an environment for simplifying the development of applications that span multiple processors and displays. It works with cluster-based and desktop systems and supports Linux, Macintosh, and Windows environments.