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Collaborative Virtual Design Environments

Collaborative Virtual Design Environments: Introduction

But there are still shortcomings with 2D generated and projected images because they do not provide us with a true immersion in a 3D environment or a feeling of total presence in a real-world situation. To overcome these limitations, more realistic virtual reality (VR) and 3D displays and environments have been developed. They represent the state of the technology and provide a more natural third dimension to stimulate the human senses with 3D sight and sound, and if needed, touch.

Collaborative virtual design environments (CVDEs) are the VR application to product and system design activities, allowing the viewing and review of entire systems, assemblies, and parts. They provide far more realistic 3D displays and even a rotational capability for viewing inside, on top of, beside, or under objects in reduced, normal, or large scale—in local or networked environments. If needed, tactile response systems provide a sense of grasping, rotating, picking up, and movement. Fortunately, these enabling technologies are available at a time when public and private sector organizations are continuously seeking ways to improve productivity and effectiveness in task accomplishment. The primarily objectives are to reduce new product time-to-market and military system operational readiness, and to substantially cut overall development costs.

Several commercially available first- and second-generation CVDEs are now available. Systems that comprise the first generation include: Helmet Mounted Displays (HMDs), the Binocular Omni-Orientation Monitor (BOOM), and stereographic monitor systems. For more information on these technologies and comparison testing of these systems see [2]. Three different second-generation CVDE systems concurrently exist. Each uses large projectors and stereoscopic glasses that allow several users to concurrently view virtual product or system models while simultaneously maintaining near-natural, human communications. In this way multiple viewers share virtual experiences, discovery, and ideas.

One such system is the Cave Automatic Virtual Environment (CAVE) developed by the Electronic Visualization Laboratory of the University of Illinois at Chicago. The CAVE system is an immersive, multiperson, 10x10x10-ft.3 room-sized, high-resolution 3D video and audio CVDE. Images are created for the CAVE environment beginning with CAD engineering data. Through the use of special translation software (presently a time-consuming process), synchronized 3D views are projected on the front and side transparent walls and on the CAVE floor. For more information on this technology see [3]. Another popular second-generation virtual environment device is the rigid Powerwall screen system (called Immersive WorkWalls by Fakespace Systems, Inc.). This system displays completely seamless, blended 3D images projected from multiple video sources. Screen sizes range up to approximately 20-ft. wide by 7-ft. tall. Unlike the immersive CAVE, this semi-immersive system creates a large view on a flat surface for concurrent 3D viewing by a large number of participants.

Many organizations are using a variety of first- and second-generation CVDEs routinely as a foundation for collaborative virtual design and product development.

The final type of second-generation technology is a portable semi-immersive desk-type CVDE with mobility as its primary advantage. These systems are designed to fold up, fit through a standard-sized door, and roll on their own wheels. There are several commercially available systems of this type, notably the ImmersaDesk developed by Fakespace Systems, Inc. These desk-type systems were designed to resemble traditional designer drafting boards, and can be used when one wants to view a virtual model that appears to sit on the surface of a workbench.

Many organizations are using a variety of first- and second-generation CVDEs routinely as a foundation for collaborative virtual design and product development. Examples include domestic and international automotive and aircraft manufacturers interested in evaluating vehicle styling, engine compartment design and serviceability, and customer and user functionality (for example, visibility, seat and head room, and reach). The U.S. Department of Defense recently mandated and is implementing simulation-based techniques and methods for the end-to-end (womb-to-tomb) design and acquisition of all future military systems and vehicles [5].

These organizations and others recognize the two most important measures in a product or system development life cycle—overall time-to-market (or readiness) and product costs—are dominated by decisions made in the early stages of the design process, especially during the concept design phase. For example, it has been estimated that by the time 10% of total funds are expended, approximately 90% of a product's development costs have been established [4]. Another study indicates that 85% of product development costs are determined before the product design is released to manufacturing [7].

In other words, most cost-determining decisions occur in the design phase. During this early period, requirement and design evaluations are made and trade-offs are identified to reduce risk and improve total product quality. This is also the most critical and best time to identify and correct design errors, rather than have them discovered in manufacturing or during customer use when flaws and oversights are considerably more expensive to fix. Due to the timing and cost implications involved in early design activities, organizations need to identify and use CVDE systems and methods that provide collaborative team member (designers, producers, maintainers, trainers, and eventual users) with the capability to make viable design decisions.

As a result of these needs and realizations, several profit-making organizations are using CVDEs to improve their product design, development, and manufacturing processes. For example, the Boeing Corporation used Computer-Aided Three-dimensional Interactive Application (CATIA) software to reduce by 60%–90% design rework for its 777 aircraft [5]. Various auto manufacturers have also experienced substantial improvements and acceleration in vehicle styling and design made possible through the use of CVDEs [6]. Chrysler (now DaimlerChrysler) Corporation's Dodge Intrepid product line was developed using what the company calls "cyber synthesis" that resulted in five new vehicles and three new V6 engines. As a result of the use of CVDE technologies and digital models, the company has reported cost savings of $75 million and a 20% reduction in its Intrepid model development time [5]. Within the public sector, the U.S. Army has used CVDEs for concept reviews of future combat vehicles, a new mobile surgical unit, and existing system upgrades [1]. These applications (and others) have resulted in significant cost savings, reduced development time, and user satisfaction. For these organizations and others, CVDEs have become a reality.

But the widespread use and full acceptance of CVDEs in commercial and military development and acquisition organizations has not been achieved. While the high purchase price and operating costs of some of these systems are part of the problem, another reason is that organizational, operational, behavioral, and research issues remain to be identified, studied, and understood. When these issues are resolved and integrated into processes, there is reason to believe that additional organizations and developers will benefit from improvements made in programs, systems, and product developments through the use of CVDE technologies. Continued application experience, further investigations, and dissemination of knowledge are needed to provide insights into a variety of issues best achieved through partnerships between industry, academic, and government organizations.

This special section reports on a selected set of application and research developments. Randall Smith identifies General Motor's evolving shared vision for new car styling reviews. He addresses the development of large-scale CVDEs at GM that now make routine some operations that were formerly impossible, and others that were expensive (such a reviewing vehicle mock-ups outdoors). These venues have become collaborative meeting rooms, and are beginning to tie global working groups around a virtual shared model.

Bowen Loftin reports on the joint redesign of NASA's Space Shuttle Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS), and the related Reaction Control System (RCS) approved to accommodate a non-toxic propellant. This redesign was accomplished using real-time, 3D graphics to allow engineering teams to visualize the complex system under development and to rapidly explore alternative design options.

Mark Maybury describes a Java Collaborative Virtual Workplace (CVW) capability designed to help the military move toward collaborative virtual environments for distributed analysis and the design and development of plans for mission-critical intelligence and defense. The system enables synchronous and asynchronous collaboration through the use of text chat, audio-and videoconferencing, joint use of whiteboards, and shared and private data spaces. A complementary sidebar by Maybury, Ray D'Amore, and David House briefly describes two systems (Expert Finder and XpertNet) that locate individuals within an employee database and other sources who share an interest and expertise in certain areas needed to support collaborative projects. The systems use natural language processing to extract and correlate expertise information in order to identify employees with various tool skills, publication interests, and previous project experience.

Simon Su and Loftin briefly describe a shared virtual environment called "PaulingWorld" for exploring and designing molecules. This project is part of the ScienceSpace Project dealing with molecular display and manipulation for science education. In the virtual environment, PaulingWorld allows users to examine the structure of both small and large molecules from any viewpoint and in a number of representations.

An expanded capability for facilitating collaborative shape conceptualization in CVDEs is described by Imre Horváth and Zoltán Rusák. They identify the need for concurrent shaping of virtual objects by various users and describe a system that provides for the development of shape conceptualizations and definitions and the personal customization of products in local and networked environments.

Cristian Luciano, Pat Banerjee, and Sanjay Mehrotra depict a new tool and system for the animation of telecollaborative anthropomorphic avatars (or digital human beings) using high-performance, real-time inverse kinematics. This article introduces the application of a more efficient mathematical representation of the kinematics of avatars in a networked Virtual Reality Environment (VRE). The objective of this work is to provide a capability for real-time telecollaborative interactions between two or more geographically distant people, manipulating virtual parts, products, or facilities, while being represented by anthropomorphic avatars that perform human movements in a common VRE.

The primary objectives of this special section are to share CVDE information and provide a status report of the state of the technology. However, space allows only a relatively small sampling of current applications and tool developments. Hopefully, the following articles and sidebars will provide some new insights and serve as a catalyst to encourage others to investigate the potential of CVDEs for their organizational needs and research endeavors.

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1. Bochenek, G. and Ciarelli, K.J. Immersive virtual environment to support system design and acquisition. National Automotive Center Technical Report (U.S. Army TACOM) (2000), 1–10.

2. Bochenek, G.M. and Ragusa, J.M. Study results: The use of virtual environments for product design. IEEE International Conference on Systems, Man, and Cybernetics. (Feb. 1998), 1250–1253.

3. Cruz-Neira, C., Sandin, D. J., and DeFanti, T. A. Surround-screen projection-based virtual reality: The design and implementation of the CAVE. In Proceedings of the Computer Graphics International Conference. (1993), 135–142.

4. Garcia, A.B., Gocke Jr., R.P., and Johnson Jr., N.P. Virtual Prototyping Concept to Production. Defense System Management College Press, Fort Belvoir, VA. 1994.

5. Keller, S.P. Simulation-based acquisition: Real-world examples. Army RD&A (Sept.–Oct. 1998), 25–26.

6. Purschke, F., Schulze, M., and Zimmermann, P. Virtual reality—new methods for improving and accelerating the development process in vehicle styling and design. In the Proceedings of the Computer Graphics International Conference. (June 22–26, 1998), 789–797.

7. Will, P.M. Simulation and modeling in early concept design: An industrial perspective. Research in Engineering Design 3 (1991), 1–13.

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James M. Ragusa ( is an associate professor of Industrial Engineering and Management Systems at the College of Engineering at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, FL.

Grace M. Bochenek ( is a senior research engineer at the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development, and Engineering Center (TARDEC) and National Automotive Center (NAC) in Warren, MI.

©2001 ACM  0002-0782/01/1200  $5.00

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The Digital Library is published by the Association for Computing Machinery. Copyright © 2001 ACM, Inc.


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