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UCL Upgrades to Virtalis ActiveCube

UCL Upgrades to Virtalis ActiveCube

The Virtual Reality (VR) Laboratory at University College London’s (UCL) Department of Computer Science has been the site of numerous groundbreaking research projects over the past decade. However, advances in technology, concerns about scarcity of spare parts and fears about increasing unreliability, led the Group, based in the Department’s Virtual Environments and Computer Graphics (VECG), to investigate an upgrade to digital technology.

The resulting installation of a Virtalis ActiveCube has just been completed. Virtalis installed the first Christie M series 6k projectors in Europe and in so doing was able to dispense with a mirror and project directly onto the screen.

Dr. David Swapp, who manages the facility, commented: “Our new four-wall ActiveCube is significantly brighter and higher-resolution than its analogue predecessor. The projected images are now so bright, we can operate them at half-brightness and still obtain clear, bright imagery, even in the presence of ambient light.”

The ActiveCube is run off Virtalis StereoWorks software, which links up to a wireless control system in the form of an iPod Touch. Unusually, the ActiveCube retains its links to the analogue compute that powered its predecessor. Dr. Swapp explained: “Virtalis didn’t start with a blank piece of paper. We asked them to customise their control system so that it could link to three different image generation systems. We also have a fourth node free for the next generation’s compute.”

The VECG Group’s research spans real-time computer graphics rendering to VR human factors issues. Much emphasis is put on creating virtual environments that engender the same responses in the people immersed in them as they would give in a real life situation. Illustrations include; if a virtual person came too close to you, would you still naturally back off and, if they threw something at you, would you still instinctively duck?

The VECG Group has been using the ActiveCube in a three year collaborative project with Lancaster and Bournemouth Universities studying a phenomenon known as the Bystander Effect. For many years, social psychologists have observed that if violent incidents happen in places with lots of people, those people are slower to react or intervene than when there are only a few people. Researchers at Lancaster staged real life scenarios with participants affiliated to a football club and found that they were much more likely to play the Good Samaritan if the victim sported a shirt from their football club. The VECG Group created a virtual conflict scenario in a bar and experimented with the variables, such as the number of bystanders, the team affiliation of the victim and whether the bystanders encouraged or discouraged involvement in the scenario.  Participants in the study were able to naturally engage with the virtual world using the ActiveCube, enabling the VECG Group to validate the real world results. “The brightness and clarity of the new projectors makes subtle cues, such as the facial expression of virtual characters, much easier to perceive”, commented Dr. Swapp.

Over the last year, Virtalis has designed and installed more multi-sided VR systems that any other company and its ActiveCube is now considered by many to be the ultimate high quality interactive 3D visualisation system. “We are also experimenting with large-volume haptics to improve natural virtual interaction by adding a sense of touch”, said Dr. Swapp.

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