Concept: Dan Sandin
The CAVE is a cube measuring 3 x 3 x 3 meters. One side is open; the interior walls constitute its projection surfaces. In the CAVE, several individuals can simultaneously experience a virtual, three-dimensional world.
The CAVE was developed at the Electronic Visualization Lab in Chicago. Ars Electronica Center continually invites artists to design new virtual worlds (i.e. applications) for the CAVE based upon their own artistic conceptions.
The simulation technology installed in the CAVE has reached such a level of sophistication that it actually gives users the feeling of being part of the installation. Doing away with the need for a data helmet - which isolated users from their environment - makes it possible for a group to visit the CAVE installation together - a social act in a virtual space.
Technology: Reality Behind the Virtuality
A magnetic emitter, a large coil which sends out a magnetic field, is positioned above the CAVE. In order to enter this virtual world - that is, to control the spatial system - all that is needed are a pair of LCD shutter glasses and a Wand, a type of 3D mouse, each of which must be equipped with a magnetic field sensor. These sensors register the position of the visitor within the CAVE space and his/her line of sight.
The computer's tremendous processing power enables it to continually produce graphics that accurately depict perspective. The graphics are projected to the left and right eye alternately at a speed of 96 images per second. The glasses are equipped with a battery and an infrared receiver, and are synchronized with the pace of the graphics via infrared signal from the computer. The process of moving about within the virtual world is accomplished by the Wand, a navigation instrument with a pressure-sensitive joystick.
Processing with Power
Artist-scientist Dan Sandin was way ahead of his time. When Sandin conceived the CAVE in the 1980s, the massive computing power necessary for this installation was not even available. It was not until 1992 that the CAVE could make its public debut at the Electronic Visualization Laboratory in Chicago. Since then, the high-tech cube has been placed in service at a number of different scientific and industrial research laboratories - for example, in the product design departments of General Motors and Caterpillar, where the designs for auto interiors or vehicle prototypes can be evaluated before the models go into production. NASA has been employing the CAVE in the space program, whereas the National Center for Supercomputing Applications uses it to visualize complex mathematical and chemical formulas.
The CAVE in the Ars Electronica Center was the first to be installed outside the US, and is one of two in the world - along with the CAVE at the ICC in Tokyo - that is open to the public. The Ars Electronica Center's CAVE has also been involved in research and development projects, including collaborative undertakings with firms such as MCE (Machinery Construction Engineering), VAI, Fronius and Siemens Nixdorf; nevertheless, the CAVE in Linz is one of the few of its kind that has been placed primarily in the service of art.
In light of this commitment, Ars Electronica Center continually invites artists to design new virtual worlds (i.e. applications) for the CAVE based upon their own artistic conceptions. After all, as CAVE-inventor Dan Sandin himself once formulated it: "Artists know better than most engineers how the virtual world ought to be set up."