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Campus Currents May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2

Visions in the Desert Kingdom

UCSD researchers developed new Saudi university’s stunning visualization facilities.

Saudi Arabia inaugurated the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) on Sept. 23. The campus on the Red Sea was built in just 24 months, and its world-class ­facilities and programs are funded by the King’s $10 billion endowment—one of the largest in the world.

Those facilities include Shaheen, the region’s fastest supercomputer, as well as what is being billed as the world’s most advanced facilities for scientific visualization.

The display systems for the Visualization Laboratory Showcase were developed and fully ­prototyped earlier this year in the KAUST-funded VirtuLab at the California Institute for Tele­com­mu­nications and Information Technology (Calit2) at UC San Diego, and the Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL) at the University of Illinois at Chicago. A 10-person team from Calit2 and EVL spent two months in Saudi Arabia working with the KAUST visualization team as the facilities were constructed, and they were kept busy showing off the impressive facilities at the inauguration.

CORNEA is a 10-ft. cube of screens forming a six-sided virtual-reality environment derived from the CAVE invented by EVL. It has an all-new audio system designed by Calit2 and it features 24, 4K projectors, with native resolution of 4096x2160 pixels, each (roughly four times the resolution of HD-TV). The Calit2/Meyer spatial/surround sound audio system makes it possible to play multi-channel audio and add directional sound cues to visual images—making this the most advanced virtual-reality research center of this type in the world.

Calit2 has also developed the 21-tile NexCAVE, a scalable, modular 3D environment for KAUST. When paired with polarized stereoscopic glasses, the NexCAVE will make it possible for a broad range of UCSD and KAUST scientists—from geologists and oceanographers to ­archaeologists and astronomers—to visualize massive datasets in three dimensions, at ­unprecedented speeds and at new levels of detail.

óDoug Ramsey