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Idaho State University

Geosciences researchers see world in 3D, thanks to CAVE

November, 5, 2010

Geosciences researchers at Idaho State University’s Boise Center Aerospace Laboratory are now able to study the Earth’s surface with greater accuracy, thanks to a sophisticated 3D imagery system called CAVE or Cave Automatic Virtual Environment.

The $25,000 system—a portable version of the world’s first CAVE invented two decades ago at University of Chicago—consists of six infrared cameras that project 3D graphics on a large television screen. Researchers wear special eye glasses and manipulate software to view, navigate and interact with the images.

Idaho National Laboratory at the Center for Advanced Energy Studies in Idaho Falls donated CAVE systems to BCAL, Boise State University and University of Idaho.

Nancy Glenn, geosciences research professor and BCAL director, and her team are using CAVE to enhance remote-sensing or LiDAR data gathered in southern Idaho in recent years.

The original data measured changes in vegetation and topography in 2002, 2005 and 2010. With CAVE, researchers can see in precise detail changes in the vegetation and in the Earth’s surface between 2002 and 2010.

“We are able to get a more accurate estimate of vegetation change from one year to the next,” explained research associate Luke Spaete. Accurate estimates are important when monitoring environmental disturbances such as fire or a changing climate.

Glenn said CAVE is a research tool that can enhance research funding opportunities and strengthen partnerships with the Idaho National Laboratory. CAVE’s use isn’t limited to the geosciences.

Some universities and medical centers have used CAVE technology to create interactive, multidimensional versions of the human body allowing scientists to study the progression of disease. Others have used the technology in energy development, biology, the arts and archaeology.

“I can see great potential for the technology at ISU,” said Glenn.