New Mexico Innovators Join Forces on Fulldome Research
The most common experience many people have with “fulldome immersive environments” is with planetariums such as the LodeStar planetarium at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. In today’s digital age, however, it’s not surprising that the technology used in producing such immersive environments is evolving quickly and that New Mexico is playing an important role.
A new, statewide research partnership called “PFI: Consortium for Fulldome and Immersive Technology Development” received $597,220 in funding March 1 from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) Partnerships for Innovation program. PFI grants promote innovation by bringing together colleges and universities, state and local governments, private-sector firms, and nonprofit organizations. PFI helps these organizations form partnerships that support innovation in their communities by developing the people, tools, and infrastructure needed to put new scientific discoveries to practical uses.
The new consortium will develop the hardware and software that will make it possible to use fulldomes as interactive, multisurface environments that help people visualize, simulate, or experientially comprehend a wide range of information, from educational and artistic material to evaluating scientific data and complex systems.
Two of UNM’s most creative labs are cornerstones of the consortium – the Advanced Graphics Lab in the Electrical & Computer Engineering Department of the School of Engineering, and the multidisciplinary ARTS Lab. The other two cornerstones are based in Santa Fe: the Santa Fe Complex and the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA).
The project leader is Pradeep Sen, Assistant Professor in the Electrical & Computer Engineering Department (ECE@UNM). He holds a joint appointment with the school’s Computer Science (CS) Department and is co-founder and director of UNM’s Advanced Graphics Lab (AGL).
“One of the key challenges with trying to grow a sustainable industry is to develop a critical mass of interested people,” Sen said. “With the partnership we have formed between the Santa Fe Complex, IAIA, the ARTS Lab, and the Advanced Graphics Lab, we now have the critical mass to move forward. We are very excited to see what we can accomplish together.”
NEW MEXICO BRAIN TRUST
“We have assembled a diverse team for this project,” Sen said. “For example, David Beining, the associate director of Immersive Media at UNM’s ARTS Lab, has been working on and promoting dome technology for years. We would not have gotten this grant without people like him leading the way with these exciting technologies.”
Sen’s partners on the project are Beining, ARTS Lab founding director and CS Emeritus Professor Ed Angel, and IAIA Dean Ann Filemyr. Other senior contributors include ECE@UNM Professor Tom Caudell, Santa Fe Complex researchers Stephen Guerin and Steve Smith, CS Assistant Professor and AGL co-founder Joe Kniss, School of Engineering Interim Dean Arup Maji, and IAIA Chair of New Media Arts Carlos Peinado. Additional partners include the Institute for the Study and Integration of Graphical Heritage Techniques (INSIGHT) and Sky-Skan Inc., manufacturer of the world’s first true fulldome digital video system and of the ARTS Lab’s fulldome.
The team from UNM’s Advanced Graphics Lab will focus on the technical aspects of the project and will work closely with researchers at the Santa Fe Complex, particularly Stephen Guerin and Steve Smith, to contribute to innovations in immersive technologies.
The Advanced Graphics Lab is the research laboratory at UNM that focuses on cutting-edge work in the technical aspects of computer graphics and digital media. The video-game development program that Sen started through AGL is ranked by Princeton Review as one of the top 50 video-game development programs in the country.
The Santa Fe Complex provides a collaborative workspace that fosters applied complexity science through interdisciplinary education, outreach, and development of innovative technologies to address real-world problems, enable social cooperation, and create economic opportunities.
“SFComplex is an open community project incubator applying complexity research in the intersection of science, technology and art,” said Stephen Guerin, who serves on the Complex’s board of directors and is president of the Santa Fe-based Redfish Group. “We’re excited to work with our colleagues at UNM and IAIA to explore new applications in interactive dome projection and ambient computing that will help realize ‘AnySurface’ applications where whole rooms become interactive.”
The project team aims to innovate and develop fulldome projection technology scaled and priced in a way that makes it accessible to everyday users. The new technology is expected to drive innovation and foster growth of the digital media industry in New Mexico, including the state’s burgeoning film industry.
MAKING IMMERSION ACCESSIBLE
“Domes are naturally an immersive medium,” Sen said. “Your entire field of view is covered by the computer-generated imagery. We propose to explore new ways to produce dome content efficiently as well as study how a team would use the dome to interact collaboratively with data.”
Part of the Fulldome and Immersive Technology project will focus on developing novel technologies that make immersive environments possible without having to construct dome structures. The researchers believe that this will not only make immersive environments helpful in understanding complex scientific data, but will also lead to more commercialization opportunities for the technology.
“Not everyone has a fulldome at home,” Sen said. “The way to make these technologies more accessible is to develop ways to turn any ordinary environment, say the corner of a room, into an immersive projection environment. Once everyone can get an immersive environment in their home, immersive content will naturally follow.”
The project rests partly on the foundation already laid down by the ARTS Lab in putting together fulldome environments both at the LodeStar digital planetarium in the Natural History museum and at the ARTS Lab itself.
UNM had a previous PFI grant, “The Digital Pueblo Project,” for which Ed Angel served as principal investigator. The project initiated efforts to build upon the scientific, artistic and cultural resources of New Mexico to create a sustainable distributed media industry. This project was the beginning of the collaboration on expanding fulldome technology under leadership of David Beining, who was then director of the LodeStar Astronomy Center. The Digital Pueblo project was a major factor in establishing the ARTS Lab, with seed funding from the Governor’s Media Education Fund, and it led to collaboration with the Santa Fe Complex, which was seeded by the City of Santa Fe, and with IAIA and its New Media program. Angel currently chairs the Santa Fe Complex board of directors.
“These immersive environments create powerful science communications for both public education and scientific research,” said Beining. “In the Fulldome and Immersive Technology project, we intend to create both tools and professionals that can evolve into economically beneficial businesses as well as educationally supportive programs.”
Research at the Santa Fe Complex will be centered on extending dome technology to ambient computing, an environment that includes projections on arbitrary surfaces such as the interior of rooms. Multiple cameras and projectors would allow the environment to react to users without the aid of devices such as computer mice or headsets.
Sen plans to start the AGL’s portion of the work by creating a flexible software framework that will help programmers develop dome and immersive software. The framework will act as a middle layer between the developer’s application and the display software to give the programmer flexibility in creating new uses for immersive environments.
“In traditional computers, developers use platforms such as OpenGL or DirectX to decouple their code from the display,” Sen said. “We need to do something similar for projection domes, where the software infrastructure will automatically adjust based on the configuration of the environment.”
EXPANDING WORKFORCE SKILLS
The project will help develop an educated workforce for a new high-tech industry in New Mexico, and both UNM and the Institute of American Indian Arts will have a key role in this area.
UNM classes taught through the ARTS Lab will use dome technologies for student projects. In Santa Fe, students at IAIA will gain hands-on experience by working with a multi-surface immersive environment that will be set up on their campus using UNM fulldome expertise and funds from the PFI grant.
“With the new dome facility at the Institute of American Indian Arts,” said IAIA Academic Dean Ann Filemyr, “we are hoping to extend our reach in serving Native communities with cutting-edge technology for educational purposes ranging from indigenous astronomy to new ways to share traditional stories.”
IAIA’s mission is to empower creativity and leadership in Native arts and cultures through higher education, lifelong learning and outreach. The IAIA installation will also broaden the range of spaces in which fulldome technology is currently being applied. In this case, the uses of the fulldome will include educating students in STEM-related areas: science, technology, engineering and math.
“The Institute of American Indian Arts, through its New Media Arts Department, is taking bold steps to ensure that our students have access to leading technologies in order to empower themselves as future storytellers,” said IAIA New Media Arts Chair Carlos Peinado. “Our partnership with the University of New Mexico, the Santa Fe Complex and other PFI stakeholders will allow our students access to project-based materials that will investigate the creation and application of immersive media, a subject that holds interesting possibilities for a myriad of challenges facing Indian Country.”
“This PFI grant recognizes New Mexico’s unique technological, cultural and artistic resources,” said consortium co-leader Ed Angel. “It also recognizes New Mexico’s leadership in an area of enormous potential for a sustainable industry, and the commitment of multiple institutions and government to the success of the project.”
New Mexico Innovators Join Forces on Fulldome Research
March 12, 2010
About UNM’s Advanced Graphics Lab
The Advanced Graphics Lab (AGL) was founded by UNM assistant professors Pradeep Sen (Electrical & Computer Engineering Department) and Joe Kniss (Computer Science Department) in fall 2006 with the mission of researching the science and technology of computer graphics and digital media. Aside from the two faculty members, the lab hosts a set of associated researchers, visiting professors, and eight full-time graduate students.
The AGL team does research in areas as diverse as high-end rendering, computational photography, computer vision, and visualization. Research by Dr. Sen and his students has been published at SIGGRAPH, the leading conference in computer graphics, as well as peer-reviewed journals such as ACM Transactions on Graphics, IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics, and the Eurographics Computer Graphics Forum.
The video-game development program that Sen started through AGL is ranked one of the top 50 video-game development programs in the country in Princeton Review’s April 2010 issue and in Gamepro magazine. Sen plans to leverage the success of his game development program to build a team of students that can develop content for the Fulldome and Immersive Technology project.
About the UNM ARTS Lab
The ARTS Lab — Art, Research Technology & Science Lab — has been involved in fulldome research and production since its inception in 2004. It is UNM’s state-of-the-art facility for interdisciplinary research in digital media, and it actively develops creative relationships connecting art, science, business and technology in New Mexico’s unique environment. Its vision is to be a catalyst for education and research that will grow and sustain an advanced media industry in New Mexico. Formed in response to the state’s Media Industries Strategic Plan, it supports innovation and growth in film, new media, simulation, telehealth, game technology, image processing, scientific visualization, national security applications, and new markets for content.
The ARTS Lab maintains a Digital Media Garage, which is a black-box space outfitted to support performance, experimentation and research in digital graphics, sound, and real-time immersive projection systems. It includes a 15-foot-diameter hemispheric domed projection surface, a Vicon motion-capture system, a 30′ x 40′ green screen studio, and an AV production suite.
DomeFest, ARTS Lab’s annual festival and conference, brings together artists and researchers from around the world to see and discuss work that expands the medium and helps build the fulldome community. In addition to this annual juried show, ARTS Lab produces fulldome work, most recently a sequence from the NSF-funded “Tales of the Maya Skies.” The Fulldome and Immersive Technology project builds on this work and on industry relationships to develop new content and display capability for fulldome and other potential environments.
UNM Computer Science Emeritus Professor Ed Angel, a co-leader in the Fulldome and Immersive Technology project, is co-founder and former director of the ARTS Lab,
About the Santa Fe Complex
The Santa Fe Complex is a private, nonprofit think tank known for its work with complexity science. Its mission is to create a collaborative workspace that fosters applied complexity science through interdisciplinary education, outreach, and development of innovative technologies to address real-world problems, enable social cooperation, and create economic opportunities.
Thanks to the influence of the Santa Fe Institute, which pioneered much of the research into complex systems, Santa Fe is internationally known for its complexity-science-based businesses. The Complex taps the wealth of talent in New Mexico’s scientific and technological community, much of it nurtured by the presence of two major national laboratories in the state. The Complex also works with New Mexico’s expansive arts community, in which the growing use of computers and other intelligent electronics are blurring the distinction between traditional arts and new technology. Exchanging ideas across this boundary opens the door to new and innovative ways of looking at the world.
The Complex’s Redfish Group and Los Alamos Visualization Associates will contribute to the Fulldome and Immersive Technology project.
About the Institute of American Indian Arts
IAIA’s New Media Arts Department offers a rigorous and comprehensive program of study that trains students in all aspects of digital media. Students learn the principles from which new media have evolved as well as the tenets of the digital environment. Classes use the latest, industry-standard hardware, software and development tools to further their own creative ideas and stories.
IAIA serves tribes locally and nationally through liberal studies and professional degree programs that provide Native students with general knowledge and critical skills to make personal and career decisions throughout their lives. IAIA is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, and is one of only three Congressionally chartered U.S. institutions of higher education.
About UNM’s Electrical & Computer Engineering Department
With 32 tenured and tenure-track professors, the Electrical & Computer Engineering Department in UNM’s School of Engineering is the largest ECE department in the state of New Mexico.
The department’s two graduate programs, Computer Engineering and Electrical Engineering, are ranked among America’s Best Graduate Schools by U.S. News & World Report, the only such programs in New Mexico that are ranked. Both undergraduate programs are accredited by the national Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.
The department has a range of 16 research concentrations and offers graduate degrees in 14 areas; it confers more than 100 degrees annually; and it has an average enrollment of about 400 students.
ECE@UNM is celebrating its centennial in 2010.
The University of New Mexico is the state’s largest university, serving more than 32,000 students. It is North America’s only institution designated both by the U.S. Department of Education as Hispanic-Serving and by the Carnegie Foundation as a research doctoral university “with very high research activity,” the highest level of research that Carnegie designates.
About NSF’s Partnerships for Innovation
The National Science Foundation’s “Partnerships for Innovation” support research that both spurs technological innovation and creates economic development for the state by commercializing technology and developing workforce skills.
PFI brings together colleges and universities, state and local governments, private-sector firms, and nonprofit organizations. These organizations form partnerships that support innovation in their communities by developing the people, tools, and infrastructure needed to put new scientific discoveries to practical uses.
The goals of the PFI program are to:
1. Stimulate the transformation of knowledge created by the national research and education enterprise into innovations that create new wealth, build strong local, regional, and national economies, and improve the national wellbeing;
2. Broaden the participation of all types of academic institutions and all citizens in NSF activities to more fully meet the workforce needs of the national innovation enterprise; and
3. Catalyze or enhance enabling infrastructure necessary to foster and sustain innovation in the long term.
PFI partnerships may focus on a specific technology, industry, or geographic area, and may request total budgets from NSF of up to $600,000 for 2 to 3 years. Proposed partnerships must include academic institutions and private-sector organizations. Partnerships that include state/local government are strongly encouraged. Each partnership uses the specific educational and economic strengths of its community to advance local economic and educational opportunities.
PFI: Consortium for Fulldome and Immersive Technology Development:
UNM Advanced Graphics Lab
Pradeep Sen, PhD
UNM Electrical & Computer Engineering Department
UNM ARTS Lab
Associate Director of Immersive Media
UNM ARTS Lab
505-277-2253 or 227-1086
Santa Fe Complex
Institute of American Indian Arts
Communications and Marketing Director
Sr. University Communication Rep.
University Communication & Marketing
Public Relations Specialist
UNM Electrical & Computer Engineering