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Advanced Imaging Magazine

Updated: July 8th, 2008 05:26 PM CDT

Virtual Engineering Fosters Real Collaboration

New visualization software and hardware re-establishes that personal connection.
Virtual Engineering Fosters Real Collaboration
Photo courtesy of ACUITIV Software
Virtual engineering gives users the ability to interact with simulation data in a virtual environment.
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Virtual engineering environments can include desktop systems as well as specialized immersive virtual reality (VR) environments, with the eventual goal of collaborating across heterogeneous systems. The costs of these systems have fallen with advances in computing and graphics horsepower. Once a research and development curiosity, VR hardware is now a viable everyday tool. A desktop system can be augmented for stereoscopic viewing for a few hundred dollars. A stereo projection wall can be built for under $20,000, including the computer to drive it.

The software to display and analyze engineering data in virtual environments is available both commercially and in the academic community. Many engineering application developers retrofitted their software for display in virtual environments, and other new applications were built from the ground up to maximize the benefits of immersive technologies. The best applications include a user interface that is accessible in the virtual world so that the user?s engagement and presence in the virtual world is not interrupted.

THE FUTURE OF VIRTUAL ENGINEERING
Realizing the larger goals of virtual engineering requires further development of its key components. Starting with the current ability to visualize high fidelity models like computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and finite element analysis (FEA) data, and ending with a cross-industry standard in virtual engineering, five levels of success can be envisioned.

As each level is achieved, benefits to engineering design are expected. Virtual engineering holds the promise of recreating the collaborative experience of physical design reviews but at earlier stages and throughout the design process. With more information and responsive analysis tools at the ready for collaborative decision-making in an intuitive virtual environment, faster and higher quality design engineering will naturally follow.

Dr. K. Mark Bryden is Assistant Professor at Iowa State University. Dr. Bryden can be reached at kmbryden@iastate.edu. Dr. Karen Ringel is Manager Applied Computing, ACUITIV Software (Batavia, IL), a provider of Computational Fluid Dynamics Visualization solutions. Dr. Ringel can be reached at kringel@acuitiv.com.



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