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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

March 30, 2007

Experience the world's most realistic virtual reality room

by Mike Krapfl, News Service

Virtual battlespace and a virtual hovercraft trip are a few of the applications you could experience when the Virtual Reality Applications Center unveils its improved virtual reality room April 26.

The public is invited to tour C6 - Iowa State's 10-foot-by-10-foot virtual reality cube that immerses users in computer-generated 3-D images and eight channels of audio - from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Howe Hall. Reservations are required and can be made by calling 4-3092. The tours are part of the Emerging Technologies Conference 07.

16 times better

Crews recently completed nearly $5 million in equipment upgrades to C6 and the technology that operates it. Iowa State's C6 now projects 100 million pixels, more than twice the resolution produced by any other virtual reality room in the world. It also projects 16 times the pixels produced by the original C6.

Iowa State's C6 opened in June 2000 as the country's first six-sided virtual reality room. The graphics and projection technology hadn't been updated since then.

The difference between the original equipment and the updated technology "is like putting on your glasses in the morning," said James Oliver, director of the Virtual Reality Applications Center and professor of mechanical engineering.

The new equipment - a Hewlett-Packard computer cluster featuring 96 graphics processing units, 24 Sony digital projectors, an eight-channel audio system and ultrasonic motion tracking technology - were installed by the Mechdyne Corp. of Marshalltown. The project is supported by a U.S. Department of Defense appropriation through the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

The April 26 demonstration also will show the technology's versatility. Featured applications will show how researchers are using C6 to visualize data from as many as 22,000 genes, train soldiers for urban combat, show students how plant photosynthesis works, display data from an atom probe microscope and help engineers visualize new products. A new demonstration application also will take you on a virtual trek to a tropical island, including a dive to explore a shipwreck.

Oliver is leading a research team that's using C6 to develop a control interface for the military's next generation of unmanned aerial vehicles.

Seeing is going to be believing, he said.

"This upgrade will enhance our ability to amplify the creativity and productivity of people. It will help us build on the center's record as a world leader in virtual reality."

A complete schedule of the Emerging Technologies Conference is online at All events are in Howe Hall and are free and open to the public.


The difference between the original equipment and the updated technology "is like putting on your glasses in the morning."

James Oliver