Exploring the (Birth of the) CAVE

Text Jussi Kangasoja

The CAVE (CAVE Automatic Virtual Environment) is a virtual reality environment that makes use of large projection surfaces around the user. A CAVE immersive space will be ready at Oulu University of Applied Sciences (OAMK) during autumn 2012, and the school is also setting up a project to design an integrated learning and production process for virtual construction.

Such virtual reality environments, familiarly dubbed “cave systems”, were first introduced at the beginning of the 1990’s to serve as visualisation tools. The first CAVE was demonstrated by the University of Illinois in the 1992 SIGRAPH conference. It was designed to immerse the user in the virtual world. Similar installations are still used and they are available from certain suppliers. Research and other activities in virtual environments typically focus on interactivity. This approach is designed for engineering and other pragmatic fields. The original system has diversified, and we now have variations such as asymmetrical screens, mobile two-wall CAVEs and arched-projection solutions.

More Tools for 3D Modelling

In twenty years, we have seen software solutions for the virtual environment develop into effective tools quite unlike the early tailored, unique pieces of software that could not display graphics in the correct picture ratio or high-quality video. The applications we see today are able to manage high-quality 3D modelling as well as use multicore and multiprocessor architectures and clustering. They have interfaces that enable the use of other virtual reality components. When required, these systems can also be connected to different types of goggles for video and 3D, many controls and different types of sensors (e.g. temperature and pressure).

The quick progress in the development of modern technologies makes it possible for us to use and integrate new types of interfaces, interactive devices and GPS systems in virtual reality and augmented reality environments. Research groups such as Liarokapis have suggested the use of interactive visual user interfaces to build virtual museums.

Generally speaking, CAVE-type installations are expensive. There are many reasons for this in addition to the fact that such systems require several projectors and computers. On top of the system hardware, changes may be required to the respective facilities to meet the increased needs of air conditioning and refrigeration. The complexity of these installations together with the steep cost of the required investments has speeded up research projects that search for cost-effective low-budget CAVE-type solutions and similar immersive environments. These solutions aim at cost management through the use of inexpensive, common components and the coding of the required software in-house, or tailoring software using open source code. Developer communities and networks form an important element in the cost management of such ventures.

CAVE-type environments are not used for purposes of universities and research institutions alone. Jaguar Landrover presents an example of an industrial company that is currently making use of a CAVE-type design environment. Their designers and other engineers work in a virtual design environment that enables interaction through 3D components.

VALO Makes Information Flow from Users to Designers

An architecture office that has significantly contributed to the development of the CAVE environment in the Oulu University of Applied Sciences has developed a participatory design process, VALO, that has already been introduced for use in building design. VALO has made user-orientation concrete through the use of a virtual environment. During the design process, the plans, as they are in the various project phases, are studied with the relevant user groups in a controlled manner in a 3D simulation of almost photographic precision. To create the best possible reality effect, the simulation is run full-scale.

This method ensures the transfer of all relevant information from the users to the designers, and engages the users in the design and building processes. The design process yields better solutions than before and also reduces costs for the entire lifespan of the building, thereby contributing to sustainable development.

In addition to ensuring the functioning and barrierlessness of the virtually modelled building, various other inspections and simulations can be run in this environment in their appropriate phases. The range of applications is more extensive than building alone. Under certain conditions, the same process can be applied in, at least, shipbuilding, the automotive industry and the mechanical engineering industry.

User-orientation Has Been Taken into the Core of Designing

The participation of users in design processes is manifesting the beginning of a new paradigm. For example, Tim Brown and many other experts think that prior to the beginning of this millennium, designing took place with users in view. It was design for people. At the turn of the millennium, the key concept was participation, design with people. The most recent phenomenon in the field is design by people, in which users move still closer to the core of designing work. The underlying concept is the overcoming of barriers in order to build a better future.

In addition to studying user-oriented methods and various impacts on physical buildings, educational institutions must, naturally, also consider learning and learning processes. We can claim that the share of co-learning in technical education should be increased. At best, co-learning may be a process, structured according to the needs of working life, that produces collaborative skilled experts for various fields. During studies, the most concrete learning for students cannot take place on actual building sites because the required resources, whether financial or time-related, do not exist so that real buildings could be constructed. Instead, there is the opportunity to facilitate students’ work and closely interconnect e.g. their practical training assignments so that the results can be studied in CAVE-type environments in commensurable forms.