Case Study - University of Western Cape


University of Western Cape

A worldwide search for a company that could both design and supply a Highly Immersive Visualisation Environment (HIVE) to the University of Western Cape (UWC) came to an end when the University met the Virtalis technical team. The Virtalis designed HIVE is sited in a brand new, custom-built unit within the Department of Applied Geology.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu was captivated by the Virtalis designed HIVE when he officially opened the facility. When the Virtalis team sent a virtual wasp to buzz near his head, he let out a whoop and his trademark giggle. He said, “This is an amazing, amazing contraption.”

“With funding provided by BP, financial and resource commitments from the University, and excellent technical support from Virtalis, we expanded our original idea of a Virtual Reality (VR) facility into something much bigger. We realised pretty quickly that the Virtalis team is unique because they make all this technology work together, so the University accepted that they are the best people to do the job. We can always pick up the ‘phone to them in the knowledge that they will provide knowledgeable and specific support, an approach which, in my experience, is uncommon in modern business.”
Prof. Paul Carey, Chair of Petroleum Geology at UWC and director of the BP HIVE

generic-h-small_uwc_in-useTHE VIRTALIS SOLUTION

Part of the ActiveWorks portfolio of immersive display systems, the ActiveWall is Virtalis’ best selling interactive 3D visualisation system, being both cost effective to purchase and efficient to run. The UWC two-channel rear-projected ActiveWall features blended Christie Digital Mirage WU7K-M active stereo projectors and a custom 7m wide screen, controlled by Virtalis StereoWorks control software. The projectors each have a resolution of 1920 x 1200 and have 6300 ANSI lumens brightness.

Movements within the ActiveWall’s environment are tracked using the Intersense IS-900 wireless Simtracker inertial-ultrasonic tracking system. This added functionality alters the perspective of the visuals according to the user’s position and orientation within the scene. The hand held controller allows the immersive experience to be enhanced further.

The supportive IT infrastructure, provided by a central Dell server coupled with a dedicated optical fibre line, links 30, high-end, 3D modelling computers with the Virtalis ActiveWall and the postgraduate research suite. This, in turn, connects the HIVE to the University’s multi-terabyte data storage system via 10Gb network connectivity, enabling high speed data transfer and modelling of very large data sets.

generic-h-small_uwc031240133WHAT MAKES THE HIVE UNIQUE?

The HIVE was especially configured to manipulate and model data using a wide range of industry-standard software packages to create and view highly detailed models and virtual environments. Principal among these are Schlumberger’s reservoir and fluid modelling suites, Petrel and Eclipse, Midland Valley’s MOVE 2D, 3D, 4D structural modelling software, Seismic Micro Technology’s Kingdom portfolio and Virtalis’ own GeoVisionary, a tool which enables geoscientists to visualise, analyse and share large datasets seamlessly in an immersive, real time environment.

“We believe we now have the most advanced VR system in South Africa. It allows us to take the real world and bring it into this room, making it interactive and almost touchable. People can benefit from virtual experiences because it is possible to explore, design and train virtually and bring that virtual knowledge to bear in real life.”
Prof. Paul Carey, Chair of Petroleum Geology at UWC and Director of the BP HIVE

Students and visitors to the HIVE have been very impressed with the facility and the technology available. There have been visits from interested parties from disciplines including, Water Resource & Management, the Oil and Gas Industry, Geographical Mapping and Seismic Interpretation. The HIVE staff sees no limit to the range of disciplines that the Virtalis solution can be applied to. It is expected that nearly half of HIVE’s time will be booked by commercial organisations, especially those with interests in petroleum, mining and land use. In fact, demand is expected to be so heavy that UWC has acquired an Optoma-based Virtalis ActiveMove.

“Students using the HIVE initially will be reading for MScs and PhDs in the South African Petroleum Studies Program and MScs in Applied Geology, but this user body will expand as relationships with other disciplines grow. The students have never before had access to this type of technology, enabling them to see for the first time what they have previously only been able to imagine. We believe that VR technology will help answer the questions regarding some of the most important issues we face today, such as how best to manage water resources, land use, mineral and energy exploration and climate change.”
Richie Griffiths, Operations Director at the BP HIVE


The University of the Western Cape has a proud history of struggle against oppression, discrimination and disadvantage. It was in the vanguard of South Africa’s historic change, helping to build an equitable and dynamic nation. In 1959, Parliament adopted legislation establishing the University College of the Western Cape as a constituent college of the University of South Africa for people classified as “Coloured”. The first group of 166 students enrolled in 1960. By 1970 the institution gained university status and was able to award its own degrees and diplomas. UWC’s primary concern for the future is to use its mandate to help to build an equitable and dynamic society. It remains committed to creating, preserving and disseminating knowledge that is relevant to the challenges of a modern world, whilst transforming society.

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