Virtual-vision technology moves closer to reality
BY CARLA K. JOHNSON AP Medical Writer
Sunday, February 24, 2013
2/24/13 at 3:55 AM
CHICAGO (AP) - Take a walk through a human brain? Fly over the surface of Mars?
Computer scientists at the University of Illinois at Chicago are pushing science fiction closer to reality with a wraparound virtual world where a researcher wearing 3-D glasses can do all that and more.
In the system, known as CAVE2, an 8-foot-high screen encircles the viewer 320 degrees. A panorama of images springs from 72 stereoscopic liquid crystal display panels, conveying a dizzying sense of being able to touch what's not really there.
As far back as 1950, sci-fi author Ray Bradbury imagined a children's nursery that could make bedtime stories disturbingly real. "Star Trek" fans might remember the holodeck as the virtual playground where the fictional Enterprise crew relaxed in fantasy worlds.
The Illinois computer scientists have more serious matters in mind when they hand visitors 3-D glasses and a controller. Scientists in many fields today share a common challenge: How to truly understand overwhelming amounts of data. Jason Leigh, co-inventor of the CAVE2 virtual reality system, believes this technology answers that challenge.
"In the next five years, we anticipate using the CAVE to look at really large-scale data to help scientists make sense of that information," Leigh said.
The CAVE2 virtual world could change the way doctors are trained and improve patient care, Leigh said. Car designers could virtually "drive" their vehicle designs.
Imagine turning massive amounts of data - such as the forces behind a hurricane - into a simulation that a weather researcher could enlarge and explore from the inside. Architects could walk through their skyscrapers before they are built. Surgeons could rehearse a procedure using data from an individual patient.
Believers include the people at Marshalltown, Iowa-based Mechdyne Corp., which has licensed the CAVE2 technology for three years and plans to market it to hospitals, the military and in the oil and gas industry, said Kurt Hoffmeister of Mechdyne.
In Chicago, researchers and graduate students are creating virtual scenarios for testing in the CAVE2. The Mars flyover is created from real NASA data. The brain tour is based on the layout of blood vessels in a real patient.
Brain surgeon Ali Alaraj remembered the first time he viewed the brain using the CAVE2.
"You can walk between the blood vessels," said the University of Illinois College of Medicine neurosurgeon. "You can look at the arteries from below... That was science fiction for me."
Original Print Headline: Virtual-vision tech gets closer to reality