Since its inaguration, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (BA) has set for itself the goal of becoming a window upon knowledge for all those who seek it. Accordingly, BA has taken a strong initiative towards reviving scientific research in Egypt by Launching the Virtually Immersive Scientific and Technology Applications (Vista) project to meet the modern digital challenges.
Simulation is becoming an important step in scientific research in a vast number of applications for fields as diverse as medicine, engineering, architecture, socio-economic analysis, seismic interpretation and well planning, biotechnology research, manufacturing and design, fluid dynamics, and chemistry. It can help the researchers to do what can not be physically done, to do what is unsafe or too expensive to do, or to see the variables that can not be measured. Accordingly, scientific experiments become much more powerful when simulation is integrated with theory, observation and experimentation.
Virtual Reality is one of the exceptionally practical tools of visualization during research and scientific simulation. With virtual reality, or immersive visualization, researchers are able to experience simulations of natural or human-engineered phenomena in a way that provides new insights and understanding. Often eliminating the need for physical models, work within virtual environments has been shown to save time and resources in both commercial and scientific research.
The VISTA provides researchers with the simulation and visualization infrastructure they need to cooperate and work closely with researchers from all over the world and it can pave the road for further future collaboration. Thus, the R&D environment will be enhanced as the strategic means to securing sustainable development and growth in Egypt and the region.
The project is currently based on the latest generation of CAVE (Computer Aided Virtual Environment) systems, a system known as FLEX™. The FLEX™ is the world's first commercial re-configurable visualization solution for those whose viewing, collaboration, and presentation requirements cannot be met within the confines of a single visualization technology. It was first developed in 1992 in the Electronic Visualization Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
The VISTA System displays 3D stereoscopic images generated from a state-of-the-art PC cluster, on three 10-ft × 10-ft vertical walls and the floor. The system is configured with two vertical walls and a floor to form the corner of a cube, while a third vertical wall moves at the press of a button to change the environment from an immersive room to an L-shaped theater type configuration enabling viewing by a large audience. Five workstations are linked together to form a powerful data processor and image generator. The four projectors used in the VISTA render 1400 × 1050 pixels each and have a very bright light output rated at 7200 ANSI lumens.
Using special 3D glasses, people using the VISTA can actually see objects floating in the air. These glasses are synchronized with the projectors so that each eye only sees the correct image with slightly different perspective. To the CAVE viewer who is using the special stereo glasses, the screens become transparent and the 3D image seems to come to life and extend to infinity. With the CAVE system, objects such as tables, teddy bears or any other object seem to be real touchable objects. To the viewer, these objects really exist in the room until they actually try to touch them.
New software engineers were recruited to manage VISTA. Also, staff training was carried out and the VISTA engineers attended a software training course by Virginia Tech in July 2006. The equipment is currently running while new applications are being developed.