Inside the Duderstadt Library is a three-dimensional virtual world open to all departments, including the Michigan Immersive Digital Experience Nexus and one of its latest projects — the human cadaver.
Just one pair of 3D glasses and a joystick gives users full access to the hologram-like human body. When the user steps onto the platform, the image seems to appear within centimeters of their eyes and they are able to control and perceive a variety of cross-sections within the organs, tissues and bones anywhere within the body.
“It seems like it would only be in movies you could do this, but you are doing science,” said Assistant Dentistry Prof. Alex DaSilva, the director of the Headache & Orofacial Pain Effort lab. “You are learning and doing research — you are going one step further into a learning experience.”
According to DaSilva, the MIDEN is a tool that has helped him to further his research in a way that no other experience has. He brings residents from the School of Dentistry as well as doctoral students to work inside the virtual reality lab.
“It’s a creative but effective way to see information,” DaSilva said. “These are real slices of data, and you can enlarge them, rotate them and expand the area in which you are interested. Cuts that you can see here are extremely hard to do in a traditional lab. The slices and ways you can dissect and look at the cadaver is amazing.”
According to the software developers, the 3D illusion occurs from a process called active stereo. Two images are projected onto the screens, and the images switch back and forth at about 110 times per second. The lenses on the glasses are liquid crystals that alternate from dark to clear and are synchronized with the images projected on the MIDEN screens, powered by six computers. The glasses are accompanied with trackers, delivering a 3D illusion to the individual’s two eyes at his personal location within the MIDEN.
“It’s similar to the way we can make a moving image out of stills because you have persistence of vision — your brain stitches them together into motion even though it’s a bunch of still pictures,” said software developer Ted Hall. “It’s a similar idea — if we can switch back and forth between the left and right images fast enough, you can perceive the images in 3D.”
The human cadaver is one of many demos used in the MIDEN. Students and professors in the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, the mechanical engineering and civil engineering departments within the College of Engineering and the School of Art & Design, among other schools, have also used the MIDEN for a variety of projects.
“I would say hardest thing is that we have to deal with very large data sets, in terms of performance and backing up memory,” said software developer Sean Petty.
DaSilva has been working extensively with Eric Maslowski and the other developers. He has high hopes that these types of experiences with real data will be applicable outside of the lab environment and eventually within classrooms and other accessible learning areas.
“This notion of these virtual reality ‘caves’ (such as the MIDEN) has been around since the early 1990’s,” Hall said. “For me, it’s sort of the holy grail of virtual reality visualizations.”