(Music: "Our Ego" by Broke for Free, featuring Different Visitor)
It’s cool, dark, with several rows of seating. A 10' x 17' rear-projected display is powered by two Sony projectors and two high-end
visual computing systems.
But there’s no smell of popcorn because this is a
The Visualization Lab was established by the Center for
Environmental, Geotechnical and Applied Sciences.
“We receive over 85 percent of knowledge and information through
visualization,” said Tony Swilski, director of the center. “Many are visual
learners, so visualization is a powerful tool to better understand the world,
to understand nature.”
The primary goal of the lab is to
create an effective environment for mine safety training and rescue without the
hazards and expense of real mine or emergency situations.
University was awarded a $4 million grant by the federal Economic Development Administration to develop the
technology following the Sago and Aracoma mining disasters in 2006.
“We have the best technology, there’s none better than what
we have here,” said Swilski.
“When you are sitting close you are drawn into it, just like
the movie Avatar, in 3D stereo,” he said. “The resolution is 4 times the
resolution of your HD TV set.”
The mine virtual world looks and sounds like a video game. That’s
because researchers have taken existing video game technology and enhanced it with
what’s called a markerless motion tracking system.
The video-based system captures the full 3D skeletal motion
of a person in real time which can then be used to animate an avatar.
So a miner to come into the lab and without having to put on
special clothing with markers or sensors, have his or her avatar complete
simple training tasks in an underground mine virtual world.
A new cluster of high performance computers at Marshall
will help the lab achieve more sophisticated physics in the virtual worlds
they’re developing, according to Jack Smith, the lab’s senior research
“Here we’re talking about doing it in real time, where if
someone accidentally hits a button that causes an explosion, the walls are
going to collapse, smoke is going to come up, fire is going to come up,” said
“And all of that would be naturally done through real
physics in real time and that’s exciting to be able to make that happen,” he
“It’s going to take high performance computing to do that.”
Smith says the lab also has
access to a National Science Foundation supported consortium of supercomputing
resources throughout the country.
A group of mining professionals who recently donned the
special 3D glasses and got the demonstration felt the technology will make
safety training personal.
lot of these guys coming in now, they go through the safety training videos,
but they don’t really understand it can happen to them,” said Randy Massey, a mine
safety consultant and trainer.
“When they look on that screen and
see their name or their buddy’s name right there, it’s a reality check for each
one of them,” said Rocky Hackworth, General Manager of Operations at Pritchard
say it’s an exciting time for the lab, as they continue to work on more
sophisticated virtual world technology focusing on mine safety training and