Iowa State University

James Bernard, ICEMT, (515) 294-0360
James Oliver, ICEMT, (515) 294-1745
Skip Derra, News Service, (515) 294-4917


AMES, Iowa -- C2, an advanced computer-driven virtual reality facility, opened today (Oct. 28) at Iowa State University. The synthetic environment facility holds considerable promise for basic and applied research, as well as for educational activities at Iowa State.

C2 is a virtual reality room in which researchers can explore, alter and manipulate computer generated images. C2 includes a number of technological advances that allow the user to achieve a feeling of "immersion," the term used to describe the level of reality a person can experience in a world that basically does not exist.

In C2, researchers can explore the interior lighting characteristics of buildings before the first brick is laid, they can determine specific docking maneuvers for space craft that have not yet flown, and they can better understand how a drug will lock onto a virus long before the drug is produced or tested. In essence, C2 will free researchers and engineers from the physical limits of the real world to pursue advanced scientific, engineering and design problems, ISU researchers said.

"We are very excited about C2 because this is where the next generation computer synthetic environment will be perfected," said Iowa State University President Martin Jischke. "Synthetic environments like C2 capture the imagination of scientists and students and allow them to explore many new scientific horizons."

"C2 is an important step forward in virtual reality technology and its use will be geared toward real-world applications," said Jim Bernard, director of the Iowa Center for Emerging Manufacturing Technology and a mechanical engineering professor at Iowa State. "The use of C2 for research and industrial applications makes it unique in the world."

Bernard added that research scheduled for C2 includes work on driving simulations to help develop warning and avoidance systems for cars; development of "haptic interfaces," which will allow a human to "touch" and "feel" virtual objects; development work on a wide range of industrial products; and basic studies to better understand how humans interact in computer-generated environments and how to perfect future generations of such facilities.

C2, a 12-by-12 foot room, has a 50 percent larger active area than other similar installations and will allow researchers to mix physical objects with virtual environments. In C2, researchers will put pieces of real equipment, like robots or a mock-up of a truck cab, and will manipulate the fake environment through the real equipment.

"When everything is in and calibrated it will be very hard to tell where reality ends and virtual reality begins," said Carolina Cruz-Neira, an ICEMT associate scientist and assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Iowa State. She added that C2 will help move these virtual reality environments from a curiosity to a tool for applied research.

While the active area of C2 is much larger than similar installations, the overall size of the installation is about the same as others, owing to several technological advances by the ISU designers.

"We've made several innovations in C2 that provide a much more effective research tool than previous similar devices," said Jim Oliver, associate director of ICEMT and an associate professor of mechanical engineering at ISU. "There is no 'bowing' of corners," a distortion encountered in previous virtual reality rooms that affected the quality of the image where the walls meet. Correcting the bowing also helps limit "dark areas" in the room, Oliver said.

"We bounce light twice off mirrors before images are projected on the walls," Oliver said, which allows for the larger active area of C2 compared to its counterparts. The system is modular, so it can be adjusted and corrected per research project requirements without having to recalibrate the entire facility.

"And C2 is driven by the hottest computers," Oliver said.

C2 currently uses two Silicon Graphics Inc. Onyx computers each having an 8 MIPS R10000 processor, two infinite reality graphics engines, 0.5 gigabytes of RAM and use a high- performance point-to-point hippi network. The projection screens, four projectors and seven mirrors used to display the images are all supported by an innovative metal framework.

Public tours of the C2 facility will be held the third Friday of each month beginning in January, Bernard added.

The Iowa Center for Emerging Manufacturing Technology is a member of the Institute for Physical Research and Technology, a federation of research, technology development and technology transfer entities at Iowa State University.

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See C2's contribution to industry


Color slides of C2 are available by calling Skip Derra, News Service, (515) 294-4917.