A world-class VR installation has been installed at Airbus in Hamburg, where Christie partner Viscon has constructed a huge five-sided CAVE for the aerospace manufacturer. A CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) is a walk-in room onto the walls of which a 3D image can be projected.
The passive stereo CAVE on the Airbus site is gigantic 7,5 metres wide, 3 metres deep and 3 metres high. With these dimensions and with the concentrated power of 16 Christie LU77 projectors, the Airbus CAVE is considered to be one of the world’s largest.
A part of a building was built on the Airbus premises specially for this installation. The CAVE can, for example, project the interior of the Airbus A380 main deck in its entire breadth in a 1:1 scale. The A380 is the world’s largest passenger aircraft. VR and simulation expert Viscon has accompanied the project from beginning to end – from planning and design right to mounting and servicing the installation. “A CAVE of that scale is an absolute novelty even for us,” says Eric Küpper, Managing Director at Viscon.
It was a challenge for the VR expert to procure the huge acrylic panes that were needed for the rear projection. The floor projection alone called for a pane of 7.70 x 3.50 metres that was 70 mm thick. The projection pane that was finally custom-made for Airbus weighed 2 tons and had to be transported by crane – without getting so much as a single scratch. This was a logistic feat that only very few companies can realize.
Due to the CAVE’s size, the installation covers two storeys. 16 projectors are placed around the five sides of the CAVE: Four at a time illuminate ceiling, back wall and floor. The smaller side panels on the left and right are fed by two projectors each. In order to give the impression of immersion, pairs of projectors are stacked on top of each other to create a stereo pair per channel. The soft-edge blending function of the Viscon VisController II matches the pictures back together to one uniform image. The content is delivered by one HP workstation each which are part of a PC cluster. Software also plays a decisive role in VR quality. The installation uses software packages by vrcom and RTT.
The building that contains the CAVE also hosts the VR lab. Experts are working here to test new VR functions, e.g. during pilot projects for design studies and ergonomics research. People who walk into the CAVE have the impression of standing right inside the aircraft. You can move in the cabin, walk the aisles or marvel at a virtual bar. It all seems so real that you tend to duck when approaching a (virtual) obstacle. Of course, the colour or arrangement of the seats can be changed at the press of a button, which is interesting for potential customers.
The VR management at Airbus are particularly interested in using the CAVE for engineering and ergonomics studies. This includes examining the product for maintainability, e.g. testing the exchangeability of parts or the elbow-room of maintenance staff. One Airbus engineer at a time can control the action in the CAVE. He or she must wear tracked “passive” 3D glasses, which deliver stereoscopic images from all sides and enable him or her to enter deep into the VR scenery. Interaction with the virtual world takes place via a data glove, which is also fitted with a tracking system, allowing the computer to track each and every move. Additional personnel can participate in the virtual world by wearing 3D glasses, but they cannot influence it.
Eric Küpper of Viscon chose the Christie LU77 projector not only because of its 7,700 ANSI lumens, its UXGA resolution and its fine colour management. “Christie’s technical support is excellent,” smiles Küpper. Besides, the four-lamp system of the LU77 gives him the added security of an extremely reliable application: If one lamp fails, the equipment switches to another lamp immediately.
Airbus have been using VR operatively since 2001. For demonstration and verification of the cabin designs they have been using a Power Wall with four Christie LCD projectors for many years. Besides its daily operative usage the CAVE represents a continuous pilot project that explores the potential of virtual reality.