The Digital Innovation Facility at the University of Liverpool, a new home for academic research into emerging technologies such as autonomous systems, robotics, data analytics and artificial intelligence, has been equipped with state-of-the-art 3D projection equipment provided by ST Engineering Antycip.
Part of the university’s Institute for Digital Engineering and Autonomous Systems (IDEAS), the £12.7 million (€15.2m), 1,500m² Digital Innovation Facility (DIF) comprises multiple research laboratories, immersive visualisation facilities, and work and break-out spaces for academics and collaborative partners. Motion-capture specialist Target3D, which had been commissioned to build two of the DIF’s labs, called on ST Engineering Antycip, a leading global provider of simulation, analysis, modelling, display and virtual-reality solutions, to supply and configure a cutting-edge projection set-up for the mixed-reality laboratory, which houses the UK’s first active stereo projection system capable of rendering multiple unique tracked viewpoints.
Robert Jeffries, commercial director for Target3D, explains that the integrator chose to partner with ST Engineering Antycip on the project for its expert “knowledge of complex projection and CAVE [cave automatic virtual environment] installations”.
In order to achieve a result that would enable users of the lab to view their own content, from three distinct perspectives, on a floor-to-ceiling immersive 3D display, ST Engineering Antycip supplied a Digital Projection INSIGHT Satellite MLS 4K HFR 360 projector, part of the company’s Satellite Modular Laser System (MLS) range, with Multi-View technology.
Multi-View, explains John Mould, commercial development manager for ST Engineering Antycip, “ushers forth a capability that VR display solutions have been desiring since they first emerged: the capability to support ‘true’ collaboration within the virtual world. The ability for three individuals to be immersed within the same 3D content, and to navigate freely perceiving the visual corrected to their own eyes, means each user is able to point to the same exact location in space and no longer has to share and follow a primary single user.”
Other ST Engineering Antycip-supplied equipment installed in the mixed-reality lab, which also houses haptic gloves, VR headsets and a purpose-built spatial sound stage, includes two rack-based, 10,000-lumen Satellite MLS modules; three PC-based image generators featuring NVIDIA Quadro RTX 6000 GPUs; a bespoke 5m × 2.63m rear-projection screen; and 30 pairs of Volfoni high-speed 3D glasses.
Matt Horwood from Digital Projection explains that the INSIGHT Satellite MLS 4K HFR 360’s unique design, which results in a very compact size, low noise and flexibility solved the logistical challenges presented by the Digital Innovation Facility, which has limited space in the rear projection room.
John Mould illustrates how this works: “Satellite MLS represents a unique opportunity to operate a high-lumens native-4K laser projector without the requirement for 32-amp single-phase power supply to drive the projection system. This is made possible by the non-traditional approach of dissociating the laser light source from the projector chassis so the two can be powered separately, enabling standard mains outlets to feed the projection head unit and the separate laser light modules housed and managed within the equipment rack.
“The benefit of this approach is to reduce the resulting operational noise from the projection system while also removing much of the exhausted heat that requires to be managed. This configuration allows the projection head unit’s physical dimensions to be more compact, addressing different mounting approaches with the full flexibility for orientation.”
In addition to working around the shortage of space, a challenge for the ST Engineering Antycip team was the fact the lab is located on the first floor. “The installation had to be achieved within a room space which was not upon a ground floor, and so it was less accessible for the unloading of large solid materials,” Mould continues. “The final room location drove the decision to go with a flexible screen surface that could be transported to the floor level. The end client decided that they required the rear projection space to be physically separated from the main viewing space, which was a decision taken post-contract award to integrate the screen more effectively. Working with all parties, we managed to find a solution extending the mechanical structures and substrates to provide such a partition.”
Horwood says the success of the University of Liverpool project is testament to the versatility of the Satellite MLS system, which is ideal for installations where space is at a premium, as well as multi-sided CAVE set-ups: “I can see a multitude of projects benefiting from Digital Projection’s Satellite MLS, especially three- or four-sided CAVEs (Multi-View or standard stereo). The RGB laser source also improves the user experience through better colour saturation and uniformity.”
Similarly, Mould says he is “genuinely excited by the possibilities this type of new technology brings us, as it injects new opportunities for many different markets”: “You could conceivably use the same display real estate for multiple different applications, increasing productivity, or to enable new experiences, such as creating three virtual prototypes or designs which you could switch between as simply as the time taken to swap over the glasses between engineers.
“For entertainment and education,” he adds, “you could create virtual fly-throughs of an existing location but generate three different data sets, each separated by time, and the audience could choose the glasses to instantly see the past, present or to enter the possible future – yet all of these experiences would be delivered to the display surface simultaneously.”
“The Digital Innovation Facility is very excited to be home to Europe’s most advanced large-scale virtual-reality powerwall, which enables multiple participants to simultaneously engage with our visualisations,” adds Dr Simon Campion, virtual reality and immersive environments specialist at the University of Liverpool, who manages the mixed-reality laboratory. “This is absolutely key to the innovative collaborations we facilitate between research and industry across the north west [of England], enabling industry leaders to make clear and informed decisions for improved processes through a collaborative approach.”
Ashley Keeler, technical director of Target3D, commented: “We’re delighted to have been part of the creation of the University of Liverpool’s new Digital Innovation Facility. What it has to offer is world class in terms of the technology and its ability to bring collaborative research to Liverpool. We look forward to returning to discover how the researchers are utilising the labs.”
“It was a pleasure to work with the Antycip team again,” concluded Target3D’s Jeffries. “Their willingness to go above and beyond in what has been a complicated procurement process stood out.”