Top Speakers from the world of advanced visualisation brought Virtual Reality (VR), in all its diversity of application, to life at Virtalis' biggest ever Technology Day at the University of Northampton on 18th May. The event featured presentations from Christie, Intersense, NVidia, Nvis, Vicon, Northumbria University, SGI, Dassault Systèmes, the British Geological Survey (BGS) and the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), each highlighting the latest emerging trends, products and technologies in VR.
Additional demonstrations on haptics and helicopter crew training simulation were given, as well as the latest addition to the Virtalis family of products, the transportable ActiveMove system. The keynote speaker was Andrew Connell, Virtalis' technical director, whose talk on how visualisation technology is transforming the workplace generated the most questions at the final Q&A session from the international audience.
David Cockburn-Price, Virtalis MD, commented: "Feedback has been terrific, so much so that I announced the inception of a Visualisation User Group prompted by the sheer number of people who told me how valuable it had been to meet up and have a forum about visualisation in all its forms."
Delegates heard about numerous technological breakthroughs, including from Andrew Connell how iPads, iPods and iPhones are now capable of becoming controllers in VR. He used a new iPad throughout to control all three of Northampton's systems. "Many people are already used to this interface," he explained, "so future Virtalis users won't require training! We are already working on adding Virtalis software so that future users will be able to use their devices, not only to control their systems, but also to analyse the diagnostic pages, the activity log or the image quality."
Vicon's Andy Ray told the audience about a revolutionary camera called Revue which takes unobtrusive photographs every thirty seconds to create virtual memories. He also introduced a low cost, optical motion capture system, called Bonita, which links to many visualisation packages. His video of MIT's autonomous robot test bed was amazing, with 60 autonomous robots and 120 helicopters all fully tracked in a single room in real time.
Rab Scott of AMRC stressed that VR brings context to visualisation of parts and assemblies, something that is lost in CAD. "With so many industry partners, we receive data in numerous formats", he said. "We bring this all together in our Virtalis ActiveWall and this combined data source is used for design reviews, scenario planning and training."
David Clark of Intersense, announced the launch of the Bluetooth, wireless InertiaCube, which will be held next month. Looking further into the future, Intersense expects to launch the NavChip next year. This is a revolutionary real-time tracking and navigation system.
Christie's presentation focussed on the advantages of LED technology in the world of projectors. New software from Christie includes the Twist that enables the projection of images of surfaces of any shape and True Image, its new auto calibration system, which works with Twist.
The theme of Dassault Systèmes talk was "Create once, publish everywhere". Sandrine Dos Santos commented: "We believe in fast development and deployment within VR to simulate how humans interact with a product." Sandrine showed an impressive animation of how EDF nuclear workers are trained within a virtual world ready to drive cranes in hazardous environments.
Margaret Horne, from Northumbria University's School for the Built Environment argued passionately for the use of VR in bringing people together from different backgrounds. Using student projects to emphasise her points, she showed how spheres as diverse as psychologists, sports scientists and architects can use advanced visualisation to come together to analyse the usability of special environments. Other examples demonstrated how planners, developers and conservation bodies can work together in VR. "One day there might be virtual pods on every construction site", she said.
Nvis announced the forthcoming launch of its nVisor ST50, a see through Head Mounted Display that is expected to be launched at the end of this year, as well an entry level HMD and an improved version of its virtual binoculars. David Hendon, Virtalis' HMD specialist, commented: "Nvis is also hinting that they might have a wireless HMD ready soon. This is the Holy Grail of VR, because then, when combined with wireless tracking, the user is totally free to move wherever they want."
SGI's presentation encompassed servers, supercomputers and storage solutions. Martin Howell explained that latest research has shown that the majority of problems arise with cabling, so all SGI's latest designs feature minimal cabling and industry standard components. SGI, whose heritage is in supercomputing, has recently launched the world's largest supercomputer, the Altix UV.
NVidia majored on its Quadro range and most especially, its Quadro Plex, which has been specifically designed for high end visualisation and which is part of the Northampton systems. All the BBC's Election Coverage was powered by data parallel processing Quadro Plexs. The newest addition to the NVidia range is the Tesla, which boasts three billion transistors and was described as having "the soul of a supercomputer within the body of a GPU."
BGS showcased the GeoVisionary software it has collaborated with Virtalis in developing. Luke Bateman demonstrated how the software can be used by geologists to do things that simply can't be done in the field, such as exaggerate the terrain to make the geology easier to determine. Luke showed a series of fascinating animations of geological surveys in Tajikistan and Mars. "By studying Mars' geology, we are helping future landing craft and increasing their chances of success", Luke explained.
Virtalis has just completed the installation of several ActiveWorks systems at The University of Northampton, including a unique, five sided ActiveCube and two ActiveWalls. The facility has matched funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), with further financial support from East Midlands Development Agency (emda) and Northamptonshire Enterprise Ltd. The high resolution Virtalis ActiveCube is the only one of its kind in the country. For bigger groups, the 6m x 3m four channel, tracked ActiveWall, powered by Virtalis immersive display software, generates an awe-inspiring 3D stereo experience for up to 75 people at a time. The smaller ActiveWall in the basement was specially designed for sensitive research, product design, marketing and small scale customer presentations.