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May 2002

News about Science, Technology and Engineering at Iowa State University

ISU unveils flexible virtual reality environment
Iowa State University's Virtual Reality Applications Center (VRAC) has opened a new flexible system for use in researching virtual reality and collaboration. The "immersive projection system" can create a viewing area as large as 36-feet wide and 9-feet tall, about equal to the display area of 380 standard 17-inch computer monitors. Called the C4, the facility replaces VRAC's C2 system. Like its predecessor, the C4 can also be made into a 12-by-12 foot room with images projected onto three walls and the floor. "C4 is a new and improved C2, with better, brighter projectors," said Carolina Cruz-Neira, VRAC associate director and an Iowa State associate professor of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering. "But in a matter of minutes, we can reconfigure it into one of the largest 3-D projection screens in the world. That greatly expands the types of applications we can run on it."

VRAC also houses the C6, one of the world's leading VR facilities, with six-sided projection and wireless interaction devices. A nearby auditorium is also equipped with 3-D projection and display capabilities, enabling large audiences to interact with virtual worlds. "Put them all together, and we now have the ideal environment in which to research collaboration over long distances using virtual reality," Cruz-Neira said.

The C4 was designed and built in cooperation with Mechdyne Corp., Marshalltown, Iowa. It is driven by high-performance computers from SGI. For more information contact Cruz-Neira, at (515) 294-5685,; or Robert Mills, IPRT Public Affairs, (515) 294-1113.

Taking transportation data collection up, up and away
The Center for Transportation Research and Education (CTRE) at Iowa State University is taking transportation data collection to new heights. A CTRE team led by Reg Souleyrette, associate director for transportation planning and information systems, and Shauna Hallmark, transportation engineer, is exploring the use of tethered balloons as data collection platforms. From the balloons, data can be collected on roadway infrastructure, operational safety, and perhaps on critical roadway infrastructure protection, a security issue. Still images can be captured in color, black and white, and near infrared, and video imagery can be captured in digital and film formats. The research team also plans to explore the use of thermal imagery.

To learn how to use balloons as a potentially viable platform for transportation data collection and surveillance, CTRE has partnered with the ISU HABET Team (High Altitude Balloon Experiments in Technology). HABET is part of the Spacecraft Systems and Operations Lab at the Iowa Space Grant Consortium.

The CTRE team is learning about the many logistical issues involved with ballooning, such as weather, cost, equipment, planning, safety, etc. One student team member, Sitansu Pattnaik, is receiving the formal training required to operate these balloons in FAA airspace (altitudes higher than 500 feet). For more information, contact Souleyrette at (515) 294-5453; Michael Cook, HABET, (515) 294-2672; or Michele Regenold, CTRE, (515) 296-0835.

Research focuses on road water structures
Roy Gu, an Iowa State University associate professor of civil and construction engineering, recently received a $150,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration to develop low-water stream crossings. LWSCs are economical structures that permit water to flow over, and sometimes under, a roadway crossing. LWSCs are applicable where stream flow is minimal or irregular, eliminating the need for a costly bridge.

There are three common types of LWSCs. Gu said an unvented fjord (no pipes) is dry most of the year or with a normal water depth of less than 6 inches. A vented fjord has pipes under the crossing that accommodate low flows without overtopping the road -- high water will periodically flow over this crossing. Low water bridges are the third type of LWSC. Gu said the selection among these depends on stream geometry, discharge, importance of the road and budget availability.

Gu said LWSCs are predominantly used on roadways where traffic volumes are low, and have relatively small initial costs when compared to bridges. Gu said LWSCs have been used sparsely over the years. "There's a need to update the existing information and develop a systematic approach for the LWSC," Gu said. "We want to provide a process to formalize their selection, design, and construction, which can be used as a guideline by federal and state agencies." For more information, contact Gu at (515) 294-4534, or Bridget Bailey, ISU News Service, (515) 294-6881.


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