An article on Time’s Techland area brought back some nice memories from the turn of the millennium.

It seems that the Electronic Visualization Laboratory at University of Illinois at Chicagohas developed a new version of their virtual reality environment, now called CAVE2 (recursive acronym for CAVE Automatic Virtual Environment).

Here are two videos that demonstrate the new contraption:

The nostalgia? Around year 2000 I took a virtual reality course at the Helsinki University of Technology and we made a demo application for the version of first generation CAVE we had at the multimedia lab.

Our CAVE was called EVE, or Experimental Virtual Environment. The images were generated to three walls and the floor by a refrigerator-sized Silicon Graphics Onyx 2 InfinteReality computer. Projection was done by four high-resolution CRT projectors (our application used 1280 x 1280 pixels per pipeline, if I remember correctly) through large mirrors.

Our demo consisted of a roller coaster ride where the user sat in a carriage and could look around while speeding along the track. Alternatively, the user could fly around the scenery using a wand controller.

Around the same time I participated in another virtual reality project as coursework exercise where we made an avatar system for a two wall virtual environment for an external research partner.

The new CAVE2 uses passive polarizing filters to produce stereo vision. That’s certainly less disruptive to the immersion than the old LCD shutter glasses. Using monitors in a virtually smooth circular formation helps also. The corners were a bit problematic in the old CAVE due to distortions and uneven lighting.

The 3d effect can be quite strong with just the head tracking applied, without any stereo glasses. But that works best for solo use when there is only one user whose movements are tracked.

Will these CAVEs evolve into Star Trek’s holodeck? I certainly hope so.