Rave Cave: The Simulation “Proto-Holodeck”
Shawn Wasserman posted on June 24, 2014 |
Walk through your simulations in 3D virtual reality.

The Holodeck was one of the most fantastic technologies featured in Gene Roddenberry’s epic Star Trek. While that was fiction, however, real-life technology like the RAVE CAVE (Reconfigurable Center for Automated Virtual Environments) offers setups that might impress even Scotty and Geordi. Using 3D active shutter glasses, four projectors, face tracking and some serious hardware and software, RAVE Cave can create an immersive 3D virtual reality environment for simulations, CAD, FEA and CFD.

The Rave Cave setup.

Art Adlam, President of the Rave Cave, explains, “We use four rear projection screens, each has a transmitter and receiver that coordinates and synchronizes the glasses of the user to the screen. The viewer’s eye position is tracked so that when you look to the left the image rotates to how it would when you look to the left in real life. This gives immersion and believability. The computers are generating real time images based on where the person is located (in the 10”x10”x8” cave) and what they are looking at. This means the glasses, computers and projectors are all synchronized.”

He continues, “the 3D image is created using liquid crystal display goggles that shutter on and off with the projected image. If the left eye image is projected, the left shutter is transparent and you can see it, while the right eye is closed. The next frame reverses the shutters and the right eye can now see the image. This happens at about 45 fps depending on the complexity of the object on the screen (how many pixels and polygons). You want to make sure the frame rate is greater than 1/15 of a second to avoid shuttering, jumping, and the brain losing the illusion of 3D.”

The Rave Cave in use.

With this technology, engineers can interact and see their simulations as they would be in real life. If you are looking into the blockage of an artery and the best way to add a stent, why not walk inside the artery itself? If you are a car manufacturer and you want to see how your car will hold up in a crash, why not be a bystander and see the crumple points? If you’re a production engineer and you want to see how your equipment can assemble a product, why not see where the conflicts will be beforehand? The simulation possibilities are endless as long as you can set up the CAD models, simulations and post processing.

“This is an excellent communication tool,” says Adlam. “To have customers put on head tracking glasses and see the product and how it will behave based on the simulation software and post processing.” He explains that some simulations, typically CFD and FEA, will need to be post processed to work in the Rave Cave. However, other simulation software, ones that typically have physics engines, may not need this post processing step.

The Rave Cave on standby.

As the Rave Cave is a non-profit effort between the US Army TARDEC, DC3S and Rave Computer Association they have access to software and hardware at no cost. “We function on contributors and donations, otherwise it would be very expensive to get the software packages we use. However, if we don’t have a package you wish to use you can always temporarily transfer your software license to the Rave Cave computers,” explains Adlam. Currently the cave is supplied with up-to-date hardware and software from: ESI, RTT, Autodesk, OPTIS, MechDyne, Rave Computer, Intel and Nvidia with many more on the way.

The Rave Cave running a simulation.

This non-profit is also perfectly positioned to help science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in a very powerful way. It is no wonder then that the facility’s goals include:

  • Promoting STEM to schools and education
  • Providing access to higher education research
  • Promoting US Army and other government research
  • Promoting technology in the southern Michigan high-tech workforce

In essence, the Rave Cave provides access to high tech virtual reality simulation technology to those that would normally not have access to it. Thus helping to provide entertainment, improved products, information and to inspire the next generation of STEM professionals – much like Star Trek did before it.

Images courtesy of the Rave Cave

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