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Written By

Bianca de Loryn


College of Science and Engineering

Publish Date

9 January 2024

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Experiencing a CAVE environment

A Cave Automatic Virtual Environment (CAVE) is a visualisation lab fitted with floor-to-ceiling projection screens that aims to fully immerse people into a computer-generated environment. We spoke with ĢƵ’s Dr Samantha Horseman, Digital Workplace Architect Andrew Gray-Spence, Digital Spaces Engineer Mark Clarkson and ĢƵ Engineering Alumni Kim Bender, at the recent opening of ĢƵ’s CAVE in Cairns.

A looks a little bit like a cinema without chairs, but with floor-to-ceiling projection screens covering all of the walls. The projection screens are used to create a virtual environment that could be anything from a medical lab to the Australian outback. It may even remind some people of the ‘’ entertainment room in the .

An important part of the CAVE experience will be the avatars which are a virtual representation of the people who are using the CAVE. Working with avatars could be beneficial when training future doctors or medical scientists, Sam says. “You could have a real person doing the activity that is then integrated into the virtual world, by using motion capture.

“A lecturer or instructor could be teaching their students and giving prompts to conduct a task or training, and then I could be actually doing that, while the instructor is evaluating, assessing and giving feedback,” Sam says. “All of that brings in the opportunity for that constant feedback and iterative learning.”

Dr Samantha Horseman in ĢƵ's CAVE © ĢƵ 2023

A CAVE for research and training

The CAVE is already being used for important research, Sam says. “You can work in nature-based scenarios. We are working on a project with the (TNQ Hub) on Mitchell grass, for instance,” Sam says.

“The TNQ Hub team had an interesting question around Mitchell grass. In a CAVE you can display and experience how various elements of the environment behave at different temperatures, for example, and adjust the simulation based on these variables."

Digital Workplace Architect Andrew Gray-Spence, who studied a Bachelor of Information Technology at ĢƵ, says that the CAVE could potentially save lives. “Before students and researchers go out to field stations or remote islands, they can actually plan in advance and experience a simulation of what the situation may be,” he says. “This gives them an opportunity to plan out and train what they're going to do.”

Sam says that future projects could, for instance, involve health and safety and environment (HSE) scenarios in the mining industry or even defence-based projects. “The ĢƵ CAVE is recognised as Far North Australia’s satellite centre for the North Queensland Simulation Park (), Townsville’s future collaborative defence industry hub,” Sam says.

Building the CAVE in the Ideas Lab

CAVE team member Kim Bender, who studied a Bachelor of Engineering at ĢƵ, majoring in Electronics and IoT Engineering, and now owns his own business, (Innovators in IoT solutions) says, “I came on board to give Sam a hand. I took on more the technical side of things. I helped to install the screens and the projectors in the CAVE and then also built the 3D models and the scenes.”

Kim used , a free real-time 3D software, to create a variety of potential scenarios that the CAVE could be used for, such as a medical lab, and outback and beach environments.

He says that a lot has changed since the early days of computer graphics when people were happy with simple animations on clunky cathode-ray tube monitors. “The resolution in the CAVE is gigantic — it’s around 7680 by 1080 pixels — and Unreal Engine 5 is a powerful tool to create virtual 3D environments for people to use and experience.

“Besides, Unreal Engine 5 also allows us to create ' in the CAVE. You could build a digital twin of a building, for instance, such as the ĢƵ Ideas Lab, or a factory,” Kim says, adding that the software can link what happens in the real world to the digital world through the use of sensors or other data that is transmitted to the software.

Kim says that this could be helpful for simulating processes in a future factory, or when testing certain scenarios, such as a cyclone or a flooding event.

Andrew adds that imagination is the only limit to the potential uses of the CAVE environment. “With a CAVE, we have the ability to display any kind of scenario for whatever purpose. That's what makes the CAVE so useful,” he says.

Left to right: Digital Workplace Architect Andrew Gray-Spence, ĢƵ Engineering Alumni Kim Bender, Digital Spaces Engineer Mark Clarkson. © ĢƵ 2023

The CAVE is built on teamwork

Wayne Gerard, who was the 2021-2022 Queensland Chief Entrepreneur, inspired Sam to start the CAVE project. “Wayne Gerard visited us in the ĢƵ Ideas Lab about 18 months ago. He came to this lab and said, ‘this would be a fantastic disaster simulation room’. A year and a half ago, he planted that idea; and sure enough, here we are in the CAVE today.”

Sam says that the CAVE is a low-cost project, and she is happy with the result. “We used a lot of reclaimed assets. Contributing to the circular economy, we wanted to upcycle items that we already had available.”

While Sam was the driving force, the CAVE project had contributions from many different people. “This is a team effort. Kim Bender, for instance, has done the technical hard work behind the scenes." ĢƵ academics like ,  and were also involved in the project, Sam says.

“I am also thankful for the support from as well as from and Tina Langford, ĢƵ's Director of Research and Innovation Services. They all were a critical link in gaining momentum and support for the CAVE.”

Feeling the CAVE

For a future second phase, Sam Horseman envisions having more advanced technology integrated into the CAVE. “We will have a rotating with a LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) system that can detect people moving in the room.

“We will also be moving into making use of the haptic space,” Sam says. “When using haptics, you can go into the virtual world and feel the weight, feel the temperatures and have that sensory connection to the virtual world.”

Sam envisions using a haptic suit, like the , that would be able to transmit these sensory experiences. “As part of the second phase of the CAVE, haptics would help advance learning outcomes. Having that sensory connection, as a student, for instance, will help with retaining what you have learned.”

Want to learn more about how you can use the CAVE for your industry use case, research project, teaching or learning?

Please contact innovation@jcu.edu.au to find out more about the CAVE.

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