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Iowa State's METaL lab develops multiple ways to experience virtual reality

December 8, 2011 | Hogan Keyser
December 06, 2011 by The Iowa State University News Service via ISPR AMES, Iowa -- Iowa State University doctoral students Leif Berg and Ryan Pavlik handed over a Wii Remote and a pair of 3-D glasses.

A visitor to Iowa State's newest virtual reality lab -- METaL, the Multimodal Experience Testbed and Laboratory -- took the tools and began walking the virtual floor of a factory. And there, to the left, were three, yard-long metal pieces ready for assembly.

Berg, who's studying human computer interaction, and Pavlik, who's studying human computer interaction and computer science, offered a few tips for operating in the virtual factory. And then it was time for some assembly work.

The big green frame piece went front and center. Then the smaller blue piece had to be turned and twisted into place, metal clangs marking each time the parts collided. Then, after lots of looks all around the parts and through the holes in their sides, a white pin finally lined up and went through both pieces.

"This lab is similar to what you'd find in industry," said Judy Vance, Iowa State's Joseph C. and Elizabeth A. Anderlik Professor of Engineering and a professor of mechanical engineering. "This is something we use often. We can run over here and fire it up. We can bring projects in here and work with them on a daily basis."

METaL, operating since February, is designed to be a versatile, everyday research tool. It's not meant to be C6, Iowa State's six-sided virtual reality laboratory. The C6 provides an extremely high resolution and fully immersive virtual environment through the use of 24 projectors and 48 computers. METaL provides a partial immersive environment with less equipment and a simpler configuration.

"We have three projectors and two walls and a floor," Vance said. "With one projector per surface, that makes it pretty simple."

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