Iowa State University

James Bernard, ICEMT, (515) 294-0360
Anita Rollins, IPRT Information and Outreach, (515) 294- 1113
Skip Derra, News Service, (515) 294-4917


AMES, Iowa -- Imagine a product design team -- engineers, marketing executives and manufacturing experts -- working in an environment that encourages interaction and allows optimum product development before one dollar is spent on a prototype.

Or a group of researchers -- physicians, pharmaceutical developers and biologists -- exploring the development of a new drug and evaluating its affect on the body before investing in testing or production of the drug.

C2, an advanced synthetic environment at Iowa State University will make these types of product and scientific advances possible.

C2 is a 12-by-12 foot virtual reality environment, the largest facility of its type, and allows real-time interaction with computer-generated images. Applications for C2 include research in ergonomics, architecture, molecular structures, space and manufacturing environments.

"C2 allows several people to simultaneously view and discuss objects and simulations displayed in 3-D," said Jim Bernard, director of the Iowa Center for Emerging Manufacturing Center (ICEMT), of which C2 is a part.

Carolina Cruz-Neira, an associate scientist at ICEMT and assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Iowa State, is modifying and enhancing original virtual reality technology to make it more of a tool for applied researchers. The C2 environment is already being used to address a number of engineering, manufacturing and training systems challenges.

Judy Vance, an ISU assistant professor in mechanical engineering and ICEMT scientist, is heading up several design and manufacturing-related projects that will be carried out in C2. Virtual engineering design, the use of an interactive environment to investigate new design possibilities, "allows insights gained from experience to be integrated into the optimization process," Vance said.

In addition to helping the individual designer, virtual prototyping in C2 can facilitate product development by teams. Industrial support and National Science Foundation (NSF) grants are helping Vance and other ISU researchers explore ways to apply synthetic environment technology to the entire industrial product development process.

Work related to the development of intelligent highway systems is being conducted in C2. Julie Dickerson, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, is studying new vehicular warning systems. "We can test different virtual dashboard displays and see what looks good and what works before trying a real prototype," said Dickerson.

In a project with Argonne National Laboratory, Argonne, Ill., C2 is being used to explore three-dimensional, interactive designing of drugs.

"Drug structures have a lot of complexities and symmetries that you cannot view on a regular computer screen," said Cruz-Neira. "Using a model that is true to the laws of physics, the drug developers can obtain more information and get a better understanding of the dynamics of the drugs they design."

Currently, mathematicians and statisticians are using C2 to find better ways to understand complex statistical data, and physicists are studying molecular interactions.

"C2 promises to be very helpful in many exciting new areas," Bernard said.

Researchers at ICEMT also are working to advance the technologies of virtual reality, to make it even more real to humans. They are analyzing the importance of "haptic displays," which allow humans to "touch" and "feel" virtual objects. One on-going project with NASA will help the space agency determine the importance of haptic displays in training situations.

Support for work in C2 has been provided by the National Science Foundation, Washington, D.C., Office of Naval Research, Washington, D.C., Deere & Co., Moline, Ill., and the Roy J. Carver Trust , Muscatine, Iowa.

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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