The virtual experience
The IN VIRTUO—the virtual experience virtual-reality platform offered by ICube is mainly based on the offering of the following hardware resources:
- an immersive workbench
- an immersive wall augmented with a large-scale haptic device (parallel cable robot)
- personal desktop-sized haptic devices
These devices are supplemented by the offering of software tools designed to help their use. Indeed, on top of hardware-related complications, such devices require to completely redesign the application HCI to make the best use of their abilities. In order to fill the lack of existing tools, standards, and techniques, software developments resulting from the IGG-team researches on HCI are made available along with the hardware.
The workbench is an immersive virtual-reality device with a configuration well-adapted to interaction and manipulation tasks at human reach. The available hardware is based on two large screens (2 meters diagonal approximately) featuring active stereoscopic display. Immersion is also made available thanks to an optical tracking system to capture user's movements.
Along with this display device come multiple peripherals (wand and joysticks with buttons, two datagloves able to assess fingers bending and fingertip contacts). A SPIDAR parallel cable robot is also available to the user, as a force-feedback device.
Initially installed and managed by the Centre d'Etude du Calcul Parallèle et de la Visualisation (Study center of parallel computation and visualization) of UDS in February 2002, the available hardware has consistently evolved and happens to be mainly operated by IGG. Indeed, end of 2007, the projection system has been entirely renewed thanks to the funding from CPER IRMC Virtual Reality theme. Its access still remains free to the whole community of researchers at Université de Strasbourg.
Visual and haptic immersive wall
This hybrid device is designed to put the user in the middle of visual immersion and force-feedback. It features a large immersive wall (3m x 2.25m) featuring active stereoscopic display and motion tracking, combined with a large-scale parallel cable robot (from the Haption company) acting as a force-feedback device. The user is then able to feel a full haptic feedback (forces and torques) in a large manipulation space (approximately 1 cubic-meter) on top on visual immersion.
This immersive virtual-reality hardware has been installed early 2011. Its acquisition has been made possible thanks to a grant of CPER IRMC. The parallel robot has been bought and is operated jointly with the Control, Vision & Robotics team of the LSIIT.
Traditional haptic peripherals targeted at desktop use are also available. They mainly consist in 6DOF and 3DOF Phantoms from Sensable.
Software & specific developments
Most of the software developed uses the VRJuggler library in order to avoid directly managing the hardware configuration (data distribution, synchronization if required, and interfacing with the peripherals). The two devices (workbench et immersive wall) offer access to GNU/Linux et Microsoft Windows OS. One should note that any application is able to take advantage of the devices directly, without being compliant to any framework, provided it handles stereoscopy, user tracking, and all the required peripherals.
Multiple specific software have been developed in the IGG team of the LSIIT, some being offered to take advantage of the hardware of the platform. This toolbox is organized as a set of independent modules, each one offering a high-level functionality, such as an interaction technique or the communication with a specific type of peripheral device. As an example, one can find the VRLIB library, dedicated to provide 3D UI in immersive applications, or the C3 menu designed for application control in such an immersive environment.
Applications - Links
These platforms are mostly used in the context of the HCI researches conducted in the IGG team.
They are also made available to students from several computer science classes offered by the University of Strasbourg, in particular to the students from the Master "Informatique et Sciences de l'Image" (Computer science and image sciences).
Contacts also exist with the VR platform set up by the Alsace region and operated by Holo3.
For any additional information, please contact Thierry Blandet, research engineer attached to the IGG team, technical head of the platform.