Press Archive

SDSC Demonstrates First Use of VRML Behaviors in the "Cave" Immersive Virtual Reality Environment

Published 12/07/1995

The San Diego Bay project is developing the necessary software tools to help public policy makers monitor and regulate the commercial and recreational use of natural resources, such as San Diego Bay. It is a collaboration among the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC), the San Diego Bay Interagency Water Quality Panel, and some 30 organizations collecting data in the field about the ecology of the bay. This project was demonstrated Thursday morning at SUPERCOMPUTING '95 in the CAVE, a three-sided immersive environment designed to help researchers understand more about their scientific data by literally being surrounded by it. Each wall of the CAVE is 10 feet wide by 10 feet tall. Interaction with the data being presented in the CAVE is managed by the viewer via a hand-held wand. The project team includes computational ecologists John Helly and Richard Marciano, and T. Todd Elvins, Dema Zlotin, Robert Russ, John Moreland, Max Pazirandeh, Dave Nadeau, and John Truong.

The demonstration started with a fly-over of the bay, accompanied by the sound of the surf, then an audio-visual dive through the water's surface and a swim along the floor of the bay. This experience is based on bathymetry and water quality data gathered by the U.S. Navy that have been integrated with a digital elevation model.

The demonstration allowed the viewers to visualize the different types of data being collected. One type was water temperature data, being gathered at 18 sampling locations in the bay, that revealed stratification and seasonality in the water column, alternating in characteristic patterns. Periodically, an intrusion of cold water from the ocean into the bay as a result of the tidal cycle was revealed.

Another type of data displayed was sediment chemistry data, particularly copper, mercury, and arsenic. Viewers could determine the locations and quantities of these compounds present individually and in groupings of two and three in the sediment. A third type of data was the concentration of eelgrass collected by the U.S. Navy using side-scan sonar, which was color-coded by relative density.

This project demonstrates the first integration of CAVE and Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) technologies, which takes advantage of a new behaviors capability developed by SDSC that enables objects on the screen to respond to user actions in different ways (for example, become animated). SDSC, as a leader in VRML research and technology development, will host VRML '95, the First Annual Symposium on the Virtual Reality Modeling Language December 13-15, 1995.

This project is collecting, normalizing, and making all this data publicly accessible on a World Wide Web server maintained by SDSC. Further, it is developing a 3-D hydrodynamic model of the processes in the bay to help policy makers run "what if" scenarios to predict the potential impacts of regulations under consideration and evaluate the effectiveness of policies after the fact.

SDSC, a national laboratory for computational science and engineering, is sponsored by NSF, other federal agencies, the State and University of California, and private organizations; is affiliated with the University of California, San Diego; and is administered by General Atomics. For more information, see or contact Ann Redelfs, SDSC,, 619-534-5032.

For more information, contact:
Ann Redelfs
619-534-5113 (FAX)