First Five-Sided VR Environment Powered by SGI in Finland; Key to Display of Billions of Polygons for Manufacturing and Industrial Planning
To perform highly realistic walk-throughs and simulations of engineering, industrial planning and design projects, the School of ICT at the Seinajoki University of Applied Sciences selected technology from Silicon Graphics (OTC: SGID - News) for a Virtual Reality (VR) CAVE environment. The VR CAVE at the Finnish university, formerly called Seinajoki Polytechnic, enables them to offer their services to local, national and international companies interested in the use of cost-saving VR techniques in businesses ranging from pulp paper production to design of oil drilling platforms. University students learn the basics of VR technology, as well as using the Silicon Graphics® visualization system to write programming for the CAVE and to write new software using SGI® OpenGL® Performer. Some of the unique industrial planning and design software that has been created over the past year will allow the university to partner with CAD software manufacturers. The School of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) offers degrees in Mechatronics, (mechanics, electronics and computer control), Software Engineering, and Embedded Systems (microcontrollers for various devices).
The CAVE is Finland's first five-sided VR visualization environment, which uses the SGI system, projectors, tracked wand and stereo glasses. The floor, three walls and a ceiling, each side a 3 meter x 2.4 meter screen. Christie Digital U.K. provided the Mirage 4000 projectors and screens and the long term SGI partner Atea Finland Oy installed the SGI system with six graphics pipes. Users of the CAVE can access and study a building, and simulate and program virtual prototypes of machines, production lines or entire factories before they are built. The SGI solution was chosen for its unsurpassed ability to realistically display and instantly moves the immersive 3D CAVE images, which are composed of hundreds of millions to billions of polygons.
Since the opening of the CAVE, the School of ICT has hosted over 200 demonstrations, visualization occasions and events, and over 1,000 people from around the world have seen how the SGI-powered VR environment could benefit their businesses. These include representatives from companies that build logistics systems, two companies that build harvesters -- including John Deere and Ponsse in Finland -- and Finnish wood processing company, Metso Paper and offshore oil platform construction companies, Technip Offshore and Pl-Rauma. The most recent visitors were 10 representatives from Nautor, manufacturer of the Swan line of luxury sailing yachts, who were given the opportunity to visualize their boat model, Swan 46. An announcement of a mutual project with the university and Nautor is expected in the fall of 2006.
For most of the CAVE demonstrations, the School of ICT runs VRcontext's Walkinside(TM) 3D software on the Silicon Graphics system. The software shows a highly accurate model of an oil platform with very detailed textures. Because light and shadows are not mapped to the textures, but calculated by the computer as people move around in the CAVE, the model is very realistic.
"Whether we're showing the oil platform demo or visualizing a company's model for their potential customers in our CAVE, we run Walkinside software on the SGI system because these are incredibly huge models," said Tapio Hellman, laboratory engineer, School of ICT, Seinajoki University of Applied Sciences. "Other software does not have the capacity to run these huge models in real time and with the SGI system we have the processing power and graphics capability to run it completely. Not just a few thousands of polygons, but millions and billions of polygons are displayed realistically. We looked at PC clusters but the PC software solution would have restricted our system to be just a browser of VR models. It would have been very difficult for us to create our own software, which was very important to us. We wanted to do something else, we need the detail of billions of polygons, and the SGI graphics system has served us well."
The Virtual Seinajoki City Center
The first project created using the CAVE and the Silicon Graphics system was on behalf of the Urban Planning / Zoning Unit of Seinajoki, who wanted the School of ICT to create software and a 3D model of the planned new center of the city. The City Planning department wanted to be able to visualize the different buildings that were being designed. The project started in May 2005 and ended last fall. The school created the 3D model of the entire city center with approximately 20 new buildings using information from the city's 2D drawings on paper. They added aerial photos of the area to make it more realistic. Using the SGI system in the CAVE, they created the 3D model of the first six blocks of the new city center and, using SGI OpenGL Performer, students also created the software which allows the CAVE user to walk through the city center, select different buildings from a menu, and move, place, and rearrange the buildings in the 3D model, in real time. The university is continuing to enlarge the model within their 3D modeling course, using 3ds Max.
Virtual Reality for Pre-Construction Choices
The pre-fabricated housing industry is a large industry in Finland, along with wood products of all kinds and paper mills, because one of the country's major resources is its vast forests, known in Finland as "green gold."
The students at the School of ICT at Seinajoki University of Applied Sciences are currently involved in coding a 3D software concept for pre-fab housing manufacturers, which would allow potential customers to be able to visualize different house types, interactively for pre-construction design choices. The user would walk through the virtual house, selecting different colors or different materials for walls and floor and ceiling, and see how they affect the model in real time. What color marble in the bathroom? What color paint on the walls? Wood floors or carpets? Which carpet colors? Using the SGI-powered CAVE, the school is exploring the VR addition of furniture and kitchen appliances to the project as well. Once competed, the University will partner with a manufacturer of CAD software to release the product.
"Productive Idea" Award
The CAVE is also used for walk-through applications by nearby commercial companies. Additional commercial use and possible Finnish and international partnerships are in the works, thanks to a national "Productive Idea" award the University recently received, which has brought them national publicity, especially in financial and economic publications.
The School of ICT was invited to submit their VR CAVE for the yearly Productive Idea competition by Junior Chamber International (JCI) Finland; JCI is a worldwide federation of young leaders and entrepreneurs. The competition is arranged by JCI Finland together with Finland's major financial newspaper (Kauppalehti Optio), the OP Bank Group, Ministry of Trade and Industry, Finnish Industry Investment, Ltd., Tamro Corporation, Federation of Finnish Enterprises, the Central Chamber of Commerce and the Association for Finnish Work.
The Productive Idea judges' comments included: "The creation of the CAVE is something exceptional, including a remarkable social impact which will last a very long time. It is an excellent example of Finnish technological know-how and product development. The idea is unconventional and very up-to-date. It also has very promising economic possibilities."
The virtual reality CAVE, officially opened in February 2005, is powered by SGI Onyx®4 UltimateVision system with 10 CPUs, 14 GB main memory, and 6 graphics pipes.