You’re surrounded

CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) and the concepts behind it are shaping the way visitor attractions are designed and components are engineered. Nial Anderson spoke with Stuart Hetherington from Holovis, a key developer of these systems.

The phrase virtual reality, used to describe a computer-created environment that can simulate physical presence in real or artificial worlds, has been around for 30 years or more.

Many attempts have been made to harness technology to fulfil this end but ultimately VR has so far remained no more than a hypothetical concept.

Since the first prototypes were built in the late 1960sthe technology behind VR systems has alternated between a rudimentary form of what is now called CAVE, where a user stands in a room surrounded by screens, and systems that require wearable technology, which in the past has consisted mainly of clunky headsets.

Work going on behind the scenes over the last 15 years has brought the tangible possibilities of the VR concept into realisable bounds. Holovis are a UK firm at the forefront of this drive toward harnessing virtual worlds using CAVE.

The CAVE Holovis have developed consists of a 3m box, each side an opaque screen with rear projection- including the floor - which is a big piece of structural glass. Users wear glasses almost identical to those in a 3D cinema, aside from reflective markers in the corner of the lenses which are picked up by sensors in the corner of the surrounding screens which tells the computer where the user’s head is. The user also wears cyber gloves which enables their hand movements to be tracked.

“When walk in you screens disappear as your eyes are focused on the 3D volumetric environment around you,” explained Stuart.
“You’re now in any type of data set you require – for instance you could be looking at a 3D mobile floating in front of you which you could pick up with the cyber gloves, move around and interact with. Or you could be walking through an entire theme park on a 1:1 scale with all the rides moving and you can navigate in real time to analyse special awareness, sight lines, form fit function and so on.”

Holivis was formed by CEO Stuart Hetherington, who, along with co-director Joe Jurado, came into the AV world from MIRA (Motor Industry Research Association). While conducting a research project to obtain better data from crash test dummies, Stuart came into contact with a professor at MIT.

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