Immersive Virtual Reality at UC San Diego Takes Researchers to Far Away Worlds

“It’s a whole new frontier of discovery for us,” Rissolo said.

NBCUniversal, Inc.

A new high-tech tool at UC San Diego’s Qualcomm Institute allows researchers to virtually view the world in a whole new way. Dubbed the SunCAVE, it is the world’s highest resolution walk-in virtual reality environment.

Researchers can also walk right into the SunCAVE to study everything from the physical structure of proteins to ancient archaeological ruins.

“This is a very unique ability that we have here that allows scientists to really immerse themselves in their data,” said Dr. Dominique Rissolo, a research scientist at the Qualcomm Institute.

Rissolo’s latest project centers on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.

“We’re exploring now in the SunCAVE a real cave. One that’s underwater, deep below the surface of the Yucatán Peninsula,” Rissolo said.

He said only the most experienced divers can physically access the 140-foot-deep cave, but the data they capture can be used to recreate it virtually and visit it over and over again.

“It’s a whole new frontier of discovery for us,” Rissolo said.

The SunCAVE, which stands for Cave Automated Virtual Environment, is made up of 70 4K, 3D screens connected to 35 computer nodes.

“The computers get used for image segmentation, that’s how we do the organ detection. They get used for looking at NASA weather data so we can try to come up with predictive models. Also, a lot of these computers are getting used for the WiFIRE project, where they’re actually doing simulations of wildfires when they happen,” Polizzi said.

“Very few places have high-end visualization systems, and nobody has a visualization system like this one,” said Visualization Engineering Technician Joel Polizzi.

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