Jim Bernard, Virtual Reality Applications Center, (515) 294-3092
Jim Melsa, Engineering, (515) 294-5933
Tom Mitchell, ISU Foundation, (515) 294-4607
Skip Derra, News Service, (515) 294-4917


Ames, Iowa -- Construction is about to begin on Iowa State's C6 virtual reality environment, which will be one of the most advanced synthetic environments in the world, and it already has an important partner. The $6-million project is being aided by a $500,000 leadership gift from the John Deere Foundation, Moline, Ill. Deere officials are on campus today (Oct. 26) to make the donation and tour Howe Hall and the Virtual Reality Applications Center (VRAC).

C6 will be built in the atrium of Howe Hall, the first phase of the Engineering Teaching and Research Complex (ETRC). The ETRC is the cornerstone of Iowa State's vision for engineering education in the 21st century and C6 will play an instrumental role in achieving that vision, said ISU Engineering Dean Jim Melsa.

C6 is a next generation virtual reality room that will have images projected on all four of its walls its ceiling and its floor. It will use the latest computer technology to generate images and provide researchers a higher degree of "immersion" in virtual synthetic environments. Within C6, researchers will be able to explore a wide range of scientific areas not accessible by conventional means, like seeing how a drug locks on to an infected cell, exploring long lost ancient buildings and designing machinery without having to build costly mockups.

"C6 will push the science of virtual reality to new heights," said Jim Bernard, director of VRAC. "With C6 and the continued use of C2 (VRAC's current synthetic environment), Iowa State will remain a leader in this new and exciting field."

"Deere & Company is one of our greatest supporters," added Melsa. "They have provided Iowa State students and faculty with new facilities, student scholarships, and domestic and international opportunities in education and research. It's exciting to see this continuation of the partnership."

"This gift acknowledges our belief that C6 and the faculty, staff and students of the Virtual Reality Applications Center will continue to be a premier resource for developing virtual reality prototyping tools for industry," said John Lawson, senior vice president of Engineering, Technology and Human Resources at Deere. "It also shows Deere & Company's ongoing desire to continue our strong partnership with Iowa State in advancing this important technology."

VRAC, formally the Iowa Center for Emerging Manufacturing Technology, was created in 1990 to assist manufacturers. It has become a leading multidisciplinary center for the application of virtual reality to engineering and science, Bernard said. VRAC facilities support the work of 12 faculty and more than 50 graduate students.

"VRAC has an international reputation for its work with synthetic environments and applying that technology to real industrial problems," Bernard said. "A primary focus of C6 will be to design and advance virtual prototypes and provide human-in-the-loop simulations to aid the process of product design and data visualization."

VRAC faculty and researchers plan to have C6 up and running by June 2000. C6 will be powered by advanced computing systems from Silicon Graphics Inc., Mountain View, Calif., and will feature a high-resolution graphics display coupled with high-performance computing capabilities. Plans also include very high bandwidth links to local synthetic environments like C2, enabling development of tools for distributed collaboration in virtual environments.

The John Deere Foundation and Deere & Company have assisted Iowa State's virtual reality research program through VRAC since 1994. Currently, Deere researchers are involved in a three-year research project using synthetic environments as an enabling technology for product development.

"The John Deere Foundation has been a strong advocate of Iowa State for more than 25 years, and it's that philanthropic leadership that led to their recognition with the 1999 Order of the Knoll Corporate/Foundation Award," said Tom Mitchell, president, ISU Foundation.

Deere has provided substantial financial support to more than 20 ISU programs and colleges ranging from engineering to athletics. Deere was one of the first companies to support ISU students through co-op experiences and the Student Training Program and has been instrumental in the development of the Women in Science and Engineering and Minority Engineering Programs.

The Deere contribution to C6 was made as part of the ISU Foundation's Campaign Destiny: To Become the Best, the largest fund-raising initiative in university history.

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