The first 3D immersive environments, consisting of rudimentary software, projection, and display technologies, appeared two or more decades ago, but the past five years have seen a dramatic increase in the power and versatility of these projection and display environments.
Whether it is the oil and gas, automotive design, scientific research, life sciences, aerospace, or medical imaging industries, each presents its own challenges. Depending on what one wants to achieve, many different display tools can create “immersiveness.”
Immersive Displays for Individual Users and Groups
Some displays should be designed around a single user, with the person completely immersed in a virtual world. Other types are more group-oriented, designed to enable collaboration for more than one person in the virtual space. The displays differ in how users interact with them. Therefore, the environments have many shapes and can take many forms.
For an individual, the technology must provide an experience rendered for a particular viewpoint, whether it is “head-tracked” (the most common rendering for a viewpoint) or “fixed-eye” point. An individual immersive display has the user donning “tracked” glasses, so content generated by the application software always looks natural when projected.
Think of a 3D engine model projected onto an immersive display system. The mechanic-trainee wearing tracked glasses learns how to work with and repair machinery when engrossed in the virtual environment wherever he or she stands or moves. Another example of personalized or individual experiences is that of a flight-simulator dome, which is also from a single viewpoint but typically without head tracking. The pilot in a training cockpit sees an accurate view of his flight world from the pilot chair. Both examples — one a stereoscopic 3D environment and the other a monoscopic 3D environment — are immersive.
There are other occasions, however, when many people collaborate on a multi-faceted process or problem. The oil and gas industry is a good example, where a system, typically with a wrap-around curved screen or large, rear-projection flat screen, encompasses all the components of a true 3D immersive environment. Many users — geologists, geophysicists, rig workers — actually place themselves in the data at once (see Figure 1), looking at common geophysical data not rendered from a viewpoint specific to any single group of users.
To begin solving specific problems, however, one needs projectors that deliver bright, high-resolution images. This is a critical consideration when imaging seismic data, for example, which is often a view 20,000 feet under the ground. A user needs to pick out a specific horizon or “event” – a place where the oil or gas might be trapped.
Another example of a sector where a 3D immersive environment for multiple users is preferable is in urban planning. In one deployment in Wuhan, China, at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST), a 240-degree ceiling-to-floor curved advanced visualization experience contains eight projectors (see Figure 2). Groups of up to 40 people can be surrounded by a 3D stereoscopic environment where they cooperate in designing a city’s urban structure, or visualize development projects for accurate decision-making related to urban planning, public safety, construction, and natural disaster prevention. Using the same hardware but segregated into multiple display segments, sub-groups are given assignments. Users can interact with different pieces of content, on different sections of the screen, just as one would do in Microsoft® Windows® on a desktop.