(Inside Science) -- In the world of virtual reality, putting on a pair of goggles transports users to anywhere on earth and beyond, all without leaving home. Users become immersed in a digital landscape that would normally be beyond their reach. VR has come a long way in the past decade and developers are constantly working on new ways to enhance VR user experiences. Gone are heavy headsets and chunky sluggish graphics – now, step inside a fully immersive VR chamber that has about 100 times the resolution of traditional virtual reality.
“So what’s unique about it is the fact that we’ve taken 32 of the highest resolution OLED panels that are currently available and configured them in a way to allow you to create a fully immersive chamber so you are covered with computer graphics. And wherever you look around, everything appears to actually be floating around with you,” said Jason Leigh, director at the Laboratory for Advanced Visualization and Applications at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
“The difference is compared to commercial VR currently, this system has about 100 times the resolution,” said Leigh.
At the University of Hawaii at Manoa, they have what’s called a cyber-canoe -- no, it’s not a virtual boat. It uses ultra-high resolution screens that are seamless light emitting diode displays -- LED screens. The result is a visual experience that overcomes the limitations of current VR environments.
“So Cyber-CANOE stands for Cyber Enabled Collaboration, Analysis, Navigation, and Observation Environment. It’s a hybrid reality visualization environment allowing you to look at large-scale data in resolutions that we couldn’t achieve previously. So, data visualization is the process of turning data into images so that people can understand what’s actually hidden inside the data,” said Leigh.
The display chamber hosts 32 LED screens with almost 283 megapixels of resolution. For perspective, a high definition monitor is about two megapixels. Students working in Leigh’s lab put the whole thing together.
“I told Jason, ‘You know, I want to make a really big LED wall.’ And he gave me that chance, and now here it is. It’s a very, very big LED screen, and it’s the highest resolution in the world too,” said Noel Kawano, a graduate student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
The unique system can take massive amounts of data and turn it all into 3-D images. Scientists can add new data to images to see changes and make comparisons from past pictures, in things like a coral reef and earthquakes.
“So, one of the applications that we’re working on is with scientists from the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology. They go out to coral reefs and they take lots of images of the coral reefs and then reconstruct it in 3-D. By doing so, they’re able to use the three‑dimensional models to measure them to see how they grow over time,” said Leigh.
Another use of the system is to visualize tough concepts – like chaos theory. It’s a branch of math that helps explain why it’s impossible to predict the weather a year in advance. This maze of twirling 3-D cubes represents a strange attractor -- a part of chaos theory. The theory is that points that are near each other on the attractor at one time can be far apart at a later time -- making the system unpredictable.
Visualizing data in this way could be revolutionary for scientists to see patterns and graphics they haven’t seen before. And it gives them the ability to interact and be immersed in their own research.
“The end goal of all of this is to provide a capability so that scientists who do have a lot of information, a lot of data, engineers, and even artists who are limited by their current capability for looking at information, to bring it in here and begin to experiment with this new medium to see what can they see in their data, now they’re sort of liberated in this kind of space,” concluded Leigh.