The WEDGE Virtual Reality Theatre

The Australian National University opened the first walk-in virtual reality theatre in Australia on Friday 3rd April 1998.

The WEDGE is an innovative visualisation system aimed at assisting researchers in almost every field to make sense of their data. Today there is an avalanche of data coming from experiments, scientific computation, remote sensors and data warehouses. Researchers can make sense of this data by standing in the Wedge and seeing a fully 3D interactive image floating in space in front of them.

The WEDGE also has obvious applications in industry, finance and social areas as well as in remote education. It has already generated great interest from local and interstate industry, government and educational institutions.

The WEDGE is an Australian invention and has been designed and built at the University. The software is also locally developed.

A feature which distinguishes the WEDGE from other virtual environment systems is the relatively low cost. The aim has been to develop a system which is affordable by medium-sized enterprises and research groups.

The WEDGE has been developed by a joint team from the Plasma Research Laboratory, Research School of Physical Sciences and Engineering and the ANU Supercomputer Facility's Visualization Laboratory, Vizlab.

Details Of The Wedge

The WEDGE consists of two vertical screens which are back projected providing a form of immersive virtual environment. The present configuration uses two screens of 1.5m by 1.5m which are elevated about a metre from the ground and which meet at a right angle. The viewing area is big enough to allow several people to view the data at the same time. Each person wears a light pair of LCD shutter glasses (which resemble sunglasses) to allow stereoscopic vision and the group leader can use an ultrasonic head mounted tracking device to allow different perspectives to be projected automatically. A remote 3D mouse control is also available. Underlying the system is the pSpace software.

In the present installation, the 3D images being projected (using NEC MultiSync XG75 projectors) are generated by an Intergraph TDZ 2000 graphics-enhanced PC and seem to float in the space created by the WEDGE giving a much greater feeling of reality than using a single screen. At present we are working on images of complicated plasmas used for fusion research, large biologically-important molecules, minimum energy surfaces and new systems for data retrieval.

The WEDGE project was started in December 1996 and was initiated by Drs Rod Boswell and Henry Gardner. Drew Whitehouse of the ANU Supercomputer Facility is a key member of the Wedge team and has written the software pSpace to the theatre as well as much of the application development and overall system design.

Boswell and Gardner were motivated to build a virtual reality system which would be affordable and appropriate for the typical scientific applications in Australian Universities and which would be readily modified as computer and projection technologies change. Much of the time spent in the planning stages of the theatre was taken up in trialing different projector and computing systems and in applying for funding. The actual construction phase of the project lasted about three months. The supporting aluminium frame was made in the workshops of the Research School of Physical Sciences and Engineering at ANU.


The WEDGE circa June 1997

Next Generation Wedge

In December 1998 a new, wide-angle WEDGE theatre was opened at the Research School of Physical Sciences and Engineering. With each screen having dimensions of 4m by 2.2m, this "WEDGEORAMA" has the look and feel of a real theatre and can accommodate about 20 viewers at once.


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The Sydney Powerhouse Museum Wedge

Go to the ANUSF Vizlab's site to see more information on the wedge content installed at the Powerhouse.

Information

For more information about the Wedge hardware email Henry.Gardner@anu.edu.au, Rod.Boswell@anu.edu.au.

For wedge software, museum systems, content development etc contact Drew.Whitehouse@anu.edu.au, and browse the ANUSF Vizlab's web site.


Henry Gardner