Category Archives: Technology

ACTION LAB, ECHO’s Newest Exhibit Space Opens Designed for Teens and Adults with Cutting Edge 3D Technology

ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, will be celebrating the opening up its newest exhibit space, Action Lab Saturday, May 18 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m..

ECHO’s new Action Lab exhibition, located on the top floor at ECHO will be open every day! What is an Action Lab and why create one? It is a space specifically designed to encourage and teach citizen science participation to teens and adults using a combination of state-of-the-art technology and hands-on experiments!

”ECHO’s decision to build this space has evolved over the past ten years. We listened to the community and we heard them say the same thing, they all want Lake Champlain to be a healthy resource for everyone, including all the animals and plants that call it home. The Action Lab allows the community to be engaged in making a positive difference in the health of the Lake. They will be able to fully understand all the Lake’s dynamics – from the origin of a blue-green algae bloom to the threats to the spiny softshell turtles that inhabit the Lake,” said ECHO Executive Director, Phelan Fretz.

Julie Silverman is ECHO’s Director of New and was the developer and construction manager for the Action Lab.

“What the new Action Lab allows us to do is to continually pioneer ways to engage our guests in local issues facing our community and the diverse breadth and beauty of the Lake Champlain Basin. By using cutting edge technology tools and ever-changing citizen science programs we are able to introduce dynamic ways our citizens can be involved in Lake stewardship,” said ECHO’s Director of New, Julie Silverman.

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Picture of a server network

Dealing with Big Data

Picture of a server network

Since we’re creating 3D visualizations from large datasets, this raises a very interesting larger question of data management for projects like ours. We (the world at large, and our project in particular) are moving into the era of “Big Data”. As you may know, NSF now requires a data management plan with all proposals (our proposal was submitted prior to this requirement). At the time when we submitted the proposal, I would have said, truthfully, that the data we are using comes from a variety of sources that follow standard archiving and preservation practices, and that we would not duplicate those efforts.
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A New Interface for Navigating a 3D Experience

Immersive 3D doesn’t get any better than the KeckCAVES at UC-Davis.  With four projectors that throw a 3D image on 4 surfaces, 3 walls and the floor, the CAVE utilizes a tracking system that can track a single person and change the projection’s point of view based on the user’s orientation. Ensuring this 3D illusion follows your sight line, the tracking system is incorporated into a pair of active shutter 3D glasses.  The effect is both exhilarating and slightly disconcerting (at first).   This is just one of many interface options in the CAVE.

At the the Lawrence Hall of Science, we’re attempting to create a much cheaper version of this experience using a single, commercially available 3D flat screen that uses passive 3D. As we transition to affordable setups, we depend on the expertise of our UC Davis colleagues to help find budget concious and unique interfaces for our limited 3D visualization setup.  Burak, a postdoc at KeckCAVES, introduced us to the Razer Hydra, a dual controller, motion tracking system.  He journeyed down to the Lawrence Hall of Science to set it up(and to give us some new 3D data sets!).

Image of the Hydra Controller
The Hydra controller uses motion tracking to allow someone to interact with a 3D virtual environment.

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3D Visualization of the Tahoe Basin

The 3D Visualization team is using a suite of applications developed by the KeckCAVES group (UCDavis) to create 3D visualizations.  These visualizations can be projected in an immersive 3D visualization environment, such as a CAVE, in an non-immersive 3D environment, such as a 3D TV, or in 2D on a desktop computer.

Here are a few examples of how we are using KeckCAVES applications to create visualizations to teach science center visitors about freshwater ecosystems.

Exploring the Tahoe Basin with a Virtual Globe Application

Crusta is a visualization application that combines elevation models and imagery on a virtual globe.  Imagery, including air photos, land cover, and geologic maps, and satellite imagery, can be draped over 3D topography.  The 3D globe allows users to take virtual field trips to inaccessible field sites, and geologists can virtually map and measure geologic features.

In this fly through using Crusta you can see how variable resolution imagery is displayed, with low-resolution imagery covering the entire globe, and high-resolution imagery as we zoom in on the Tahoe Basin.  The imagery is turned off and back on to show how just the bare surface can be displayed, which allows highlighting landform features.

Watch Peter Gold explore the Lake Tahoe region in the UCDavis KeckCAVES using Crusta.
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More about that magic sandbox

The augmented reality (AR) sandbox is a hands-on exhibit that teaches geographic, geologic, and hydrologic concepts.  It combines a real sandbox with virtual topography and water by using a 3D camera and a digital projector.

Users create topography models by shaping real sand.  In real time, the sand surface is scanned into a computer from a camera above, and then an elevation color map, topographic contour lines, and simulated water appear based on the surface below.

The Augmented Reality Sandbox was designed to be used as a hands-on exhibit in science centers and museums with minimal supervision.  Accompanying materials will encourage museum visitors to explore:

1) How 3D landforms are expressed on 2D maps, and

2) How landforms influence water flowing through a watershed.

Visitors will be encouraged to construct landforms, observe how they interact with simulated water, and relate what they see to real topographic maps.

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