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The Allosphere

Exterior photo of the AlloSphere

Visualizing, hearing and exploring complex multi-dimensional data provides insight that is essential for progress in a number of critical areas of science and engineering, where the amount and complexity of the data overwhelm traditional computing environments. The need for richer and more compelling visualizations continues to receive attention as a US national science priority.

The AlloSphere is a unique scientific instrument that is a culmination of 26 years of Professor JoAnn Kuchera-Morin's creativity and research efforts in media systems and studio design. She approached the design of the AlloSphere in much the same way that she composes a piece of music.

Professor JoAnn Kuchera-Morin worked with renowned architect Robert Venturi from 2001-2003 to plan the AlloSphere's location within the new 62,000 square foot California NanoSystems Institute building (Elings Hall) at the University of California, Santa Barbara. McKay, Conant Hoover, Inc. served as the acoustical consultant firm, while Auerbach and Associates were involved in the visual consulting process. During the extensive meetings with the architects and design consultants the construction plans for the instrument underwent many changes as nothing like this facility had ever been built before. The original AlloSphere design proved not to be implementable. It took two years of research with the architects and visualization experts to understand that they could not defeat the 180 degree horizon issue and project from the back of the sphere. This realization turned out to be fortuitous in that the new AlloSphere design was truly revolutionary and provided the means for more complex and much more varied research uses.

The AlloSphere was physically completed in February of 2007. The AlloSphere is situated at one corner of the CNSI building, surrounded by a suite of machine rooms and staging areas for media researchers.

The AlloSphere space consists of a 3-story cube that is treated with extensive sound absorption material making it one of the largest anechoic chambers in the world. Standing inside this chamber is a 5-meter-radius sphere constructed of perforated aluminum that is designed to be optically opaque and acoustically transparent.

There are currently twenty-six high-resolution projectors mounted unobtrusively below the bridge and above the walkway entrance, approaching eye-limited resolution on large areas of the inner surface. The loudspeaker real-time sound synthesis cluster (140 individual speaker elements plus sub-woofers) is/will be suspended behind the aluminum screen resulting in 3-D audio. Computation clusters include simulation, sensor-array processing, real-time video processing for motion-capture and visual computing, render-farm/real-time ray-tracing and radiosity cluster, and content and prototyping environments.

The AlloSphere Research Facility is differentiated from conventional virtual reality environments by its seamless surround-view capabilities and its focus on multiple sensory modalities and interaction. Building the AlloSphere was not an off-the-shelf enterprise. Designing a large-scale multimedia environment to deliver rich, coherent, interactive, high-resolution 3D video and audio streams from voluminous amounts of scientific data, all in real-time, was a non-trivial computational and systems engineering task that involved a significant number of faculty from diverse disciplines. Creating subsequent next generations of the instrument will again require genuine creativity to solve significant research and design challenges.

Professor Kuchera-Morin and her research colleagues and graduate students are now primarily engaged in building the computing platform and interactive display parts of the instrument.

The AlloSphere is funded in part by the National Science Foundation under grants #0821858 and #0855279.