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Villanova University's Virtual Reality CAVE Opens

VILLANOVA, PA — Villanova University’s virtual reality CAVE facility, which uses immersive video for telepresence applications, as well as computer-generated graphics for 3D visualization, officially opened on October 2. The CAVE (CAVE Automatic Virtual Environment), housed in Falvey Memorial Library, was funded by a $1.67 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant. Its central campus location will allow the facility to be a university-wide resource, research tool and interactive classroom accessible to all Villanova students and faculty. The interdisciplinary project is under the direction of Frank Klassner, Ph.D., professor of Computing Sciences and director of the Center of Excellence in Enterprise Technology (CEET) in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, in collaboration with Edmond Dougherty, assistant professor in the College of Engineering and Falvey Memorial Library.

The Villanova CAVE features an 18-foot by 10-foot by 7.5-foot-high enclosure in which 10 to 15 viewers can view three-dimensional imagery and immersive data displays. The CAVE is configurable for applications requiring projections onto three walls and the ceiling, or onto three walls and the floor. The CAVE supports use of computer-generated rendered images, and will also have a unique development research focus on using immersive video spanning 360˚ horizontally and 120˚ vertically to present interactive real-world environments, with the ultimate goal of presenting them in real time over the Internet. It is also the first CAVE facility situated in a library setting that will have reserved time for public access.

“CAVE technology has played a key role in scientific and engineering research since its development in the 1990s, and I believe the time is right to bring its powerful visualization capabilities into more general use,” Klassner says. “Our center’s emphasis on using immersive video of real-world environments in CAVEs will provide for a large variety of applications.”

Added Klassner: “This project will contribute toward establishing a collection of dynamic imagery and video from locations around the world, not only for scientific and cultural research, but for classroom use and public appreciation as well. Placing the CAVE in a very public library setting is the key, as it will make it as easy to ‘check out’ and share locations as it has been to check out or share books.”

The primary components of this project include the structural CAVE itself, a video camera rig to help capture real-world environments for projection into the CAVE, and software to integrate the CAVE and video camera. While the CAVE was being built, Klassner led a team of Computer Science students to design software and network infrastructure to connect immersive video content to the CAVE. Meanwhile, under the direction of Dougherty in the College of Engineering, undergraduate and graduate students helped design a robot platform to hold a spherical immersive video camera and microphone array that will provide observers in the CAVE with interactive immersive telepresence in a real-world location – whether it’s the base of the Grand Canyon, a historic cathedral, or a busy highway.

In addition to educational uses, the CAVE will serve as a visualization support tool for a variety of research projects across disciplines at Villanova. Computational geometry, unmanned vehicle design, network reliability, environmental monitoring, heat dissipation modeling, automobile driver response analysis, archaeology, art studies, attention and healthy behavior, and autonomous navigation in rough seas are just a few of the application areas at Villanova that will use the CAVE to enhance investigation of difficult concepts and to remotely study events and views of real-world environments.

The NSF award was effective October 1, 2013, and the project will run through September 30, 2017. The research supports the participation of graduate and undergraduate students, who will continue to work alongside Klassner and Dougherty on developing the project.

About Villanova University
Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's six colleges — the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Nursing, the College of Professional Studies and the Villanova University School of Law.