UTS takes big data research into 3D with surround sound and vision

The men of 3D data Darren Lee (L) & Ben Simons, photo Joanne Saad

The men of 3D data Darren Lee (L) & Ben Simons, photo Joanne Saad

In summary: 
  • Opened this week, the sensory augmenting and 3D capabilities of the UTS Data Arena allows researchers to discover new insights into big data
  • Guests at the opening experienced a mind-boggling animated 3D concept reel produced by animation and visual FX studio Animal Logic

UTS is poised for break-through research discoveries across a range of disciplines and sectors with a new Data Arena that enables full 3D sensory immersion in and visualisation of big data.

Formally opened this week by NSW Minister for Innovation the Hon Victor Dominello MP, the sensory augmenting capabilities of the Data Arena allow researchers to observe interrelationships, patterns and anomalies not normally seen in data portrayed in a 2D format.

(L) The Hon Victor Dominello, DVC Research Glenn Wightwick, VC Attilla Brungs (L) The Hon Victor Dominello, DVC Research Glenn Wightwick, VC Attilla Brungs

Guests at the opening included representatives of a wide range of industries and sectors that could  benefit from deeper understanding of what massive data collection might tell us, things previously invisible, yet potentially of great significance.

Unique to Australia and the front runner of a limited few other facilities world-wide, the Data Arena promises to simplfy out attempts to understand and benefit from a vast amount of complex and diverse data collected every day around the world.

Guests at the opening gained a first-hand glimpse of the facility’s capabilities through special presentations including a mind-boggling animated 3D concept reel produced by world-leading animation and visual FX studio Animal Logic.

UTS Vice-Chancellor Professor Attila Brungs said the facility which features six powerful 3D projectors was a finely-tuned masterpiece of interplaying computer and AV technologies. He said analysts in many sectors could use it to visualise and manipulate data, if not indeed touch it. If required, temperature variations, smell and other sensory effects could also be added to enhance the facility’s immersive and multidimensional experience.

“In the massive numeric data sets produced by government, industry and university research there are trends and other phenomena waiting to be discovered, together with the implications these may pose,” Professor Brungs said.

“This facility is breaking ground both in terms of data visualisation, manipulation and comprehension, and in fundamental human computer/data interaction.

“UTS is crossing traditional boundaries of knowledge by harnessing new technologies such as the Data Arena. The technology is so new even we don’t know what the limits of its potential may be, whether for research, adding new knowledge to what we teach or how we can work in new ways with industry.

“It’s a bit like inventing a microscope, looking into it for the first time and realising tiny life forms exist in a drop of water. Each time researchers and industry partners first experience the Data Arena’s capabilities; new ideas are born about how this new way of seeing the world can give our research maximum impact.”

The Data Arena is a 360-degree interactive data visualisation facility where viewers stand in the middle of a large cylindrical screen, four metres high and ten metres in diameter.

A high-performance computer graphics system drives six 3D-stereo video projectors, edge-blended to create a seamless three-dimensional panorama. Picture clarity is made possible from an image that’s 20,000 x 1200 pixels.

(L) Animal Logic CEO Zareh Nalbandian, The Hon Victor Dominello, Data Arena Technical Director Ben Simons (L) Animal Logic CEO Zareh Nalbandian, The Hon Victor Dominello, Data Arena Technical Director Ben Simons

The user experience is made 3D with special active-shutter glasses that present separate left/right views to achieve a stereo-visual effect. A 16-channel audio system with speakers behind the 360-degree enclosing screen creates a truly surround sound to enhance the visual effects.

Ben Simons, lead developer of the Data Arena said the facility literally turns numbers into pictures. Simons has a long history as a feature film visual effects and animation innovator, working at times with leading-edge film makers, Animal Logic among them.

“As we’re getting into bigger and bigger data, it becomes more and more important to figure out what we’ve got and what it can tell us,” Mr Simons said.

(L) Animal Logic Artistic Director Toby Grime & DVCR Glenn Wightwick by Joanne Saad (L) Animal Logic Artistic Director Toby Grime & DVCR Glenn Wightwick, photo Joanne Saad

“The way to make sense of all this big data is to visualise it. The larger the data sets become, the harder it is to track changes that may be occurring.”

Animal Logic CEO Zareh Nalbandian said the animation created for UTS was a thrilling and immersive journey taking viewers past Sydney landmarks, around the world, into outer space and back again leaving few in doubt of the Data Arena’s capabilities.

“Partnering with UTS on the creation of a 3D concept reel provided a powerful sandbox for the talented artists and technicians at Animal Logic to push the boundaries creatively and technically,” Mr Nalbandian said. “The UTS Data Arena points to the way we will see data in the future, revolutionising the way we conduct research forever.”

Work started on the Animal Logic production when the Data Arena itself was under construction and demanded discovering new ways of visualising initial concepts and testing these from an audience’s point of view.  Producers drew inspiration from the façade of UTS’s Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology building that is encased in a stainless steel exoskeleton characterised by a ‘binary code’ design and bold green neon lights.

The Data Arena is now operating on the ground-floor of UTS’s engineering and IT building on Broadway, Ultimo. Don't miss watching the following video clips and interviews.

UTS Data Arena Video

Animal Logic Data Arena Concept Reel

UTS Life Sciences Research

Visualising Strutures – Water Pipes

Technology and Design