The CAVE is already being used for important research, Sam says. “You can work in nature-based scenarios. We are working on a project with the Tropical North Queensland Drought Resilience Adoption and Innovation Hub (TNQ Hub) on Mitchell grass, for instance,” Sam says.
“The TNQ Hub team had an interesting question around Mitchell grass. In a CAVE you can display and experience how various elements of the environment behave at different temperatures, for example, and adjust the simulation based on these variables."
Digital Workplace Architect Andrew Gray-Spence, who studied a Bachelor of Information Technology at JCU, says that the CAVE could potentially save lives. “Before students and researchers go out to field stations or remote islands, they can actually plan in advance and experience a simulation of what the situation may be,” he says. “This gives them an opportunity to plan out and train what they're going to do.”
Sam says that future projects could, for instance, involve health and safety and environment (HSE) scenarios in the mining industry or even defence-based projects. “The JCU CAVE is recognised as Far North Australia’s satellite centre for the North Queensland Simulation Park (NQ Spark), Townsville’s future collaborative defence industry hub,” Sam says.
Building the CAVE in the Ideas Lab
CAVE team member Kim Bender, who studied a Bachelor of Engineering at JCU, majoring in Electronics and IoT Engineering, and now owns his own business, IOTIS (Innovators in IoT solutions) says, “I came on board to give Sam a hand. I took on more the technical side of things. I helped to install the screens and the projectors in the CAVE and then also built the 3D models and the scenes.”
Kim used Unreal Engine 5, a free real-time 3D software, to create a variety of potential scenarios that the CAVE could be used for, such as a medical lab, and outback and beach environments.
He says that a lot has changed since the early days of computer graphics when people were happy with simple animations on clunky cathode-ray tube monitors. “The resolution in the CAVE is gigantic — it’s around 7680 by 1080 pixels — and Unreal Engine 5 is a powerful tool to create virtual 3D environments for people to use and experience.
“Besides, Unreal Engine 5 also allows us to create 'digital twins' in the CAVE. You could build a digital twin of a building, for instance, such as the JCU Ideas Lab, or a factory,” Kim says, adding that the software can link what happens in the real world to the digital world through the use of sensors or other data that is transmitted to the software.
Kim says that this could be helpful for simulating processes in a future factory, or when testing certain scenarios, such as a cyclone or a flooding event.
Andrew adds that imagination is the only limit to the potential uses of the CAVE environment. “With a CAVE, we have the ability to display any kind of scenario for whatever purpose. That's what makes the CAVE so useful,” he says.