So we’re some years off reporting on the invention of warp drive, or the development of a working medical tricorder, but our Star Trek future is getting ever closer - this might just be the closest we’ve ever come to seeing the holodeck. Named the ‘Reality Deck’ and built over four walls at Stony Brook University (SBU) in New York, it’s made up of 416 Samsung LCD high-resolution displays (each of 2560 x 1440 pixels), which brings in a total resolution of over 1.5 billion pixels.
Opening last week within SBU’s Center of Excellence in Wireless and Information Technology (CEWIT), the Reality Deck was funded by a $1.4 million research grant from the National Science Foundation and an added $600,000 grant from the University itself. But far from being merely every geek’s favourite plaything, the deck will serve a very real purpose, notably in allowing scientists, engineers and physicists to visualise vast amounts of data; including but not limited to advanced medical imaging, astronomical exploration and climate and weather modelling.
Displaying the massive gigapixel images in combining a 20-node visualisation cluster packing 240 CPU cores providing 2.3 Terraflops of computing power with 1.2TB of distributed memory, and a further 80 GPUs pushing a further 220 Terraflops of performance with 320GB of distributed memory, the deck also has a vast surround sound system with 22 individual speakers and four sub-woofers. Another feature, the “infinite canvas”, uses a state-of-the-art tracking system paired with a Microsoft Pixelsense table (carried by the user) to allow those in front of the display to have some control over what is being displayed. A step toward the wall may zoom in, and a step backwards vice versa, for example.
“The Reality Deck is the next generation virtual reality display at the vanguard of visual computing, with the ability to handle tasks involving huge amounts of data,” says project director Dr. Kaufman, PhD, Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Computer Science Department and Chief Scientist of CEWIT. “In the Reality Deck, data is displayed with an unprecedented amount of resolution that saturates the human eye, provides 20/20 vision, and renders traditional panning or zooming motions obsolete, as users just have to walk up to a display in order to resolve the minutiae, while walking back in order to appreciate the context that completely surrounds them.” Awesome.