Ernie Herrera co-PI
This proposal is centered around a consortium led by UNM to work on an array of projects centered on of multi-projector fully digital domed systems (fulldomes). These projects build on our five years of experience in becoming leaders in the production of cutting edge content for these systems and our recent acquisition a small dome for research and development by the ARTS Lab. Our consortium will work in research, exploring new technologies for use in the dome; education, training students and community members in content production, expanding on our work with underrepresented groups that started with the Digital Pueblo Project; and economic development, working with and incubating new and existing companies in the media area. This effort has tremendous support from the State of New Mexico through its commitment to the media industry as exemplified by its support for the ARTS Lab.
There are two major thrusts that we will pursue, although the scope and potential benefits of this work are far more far reaching. One is use of fulldome in an interactive mode. The driving force here is the enormous advances in computer technology, principally through the use of the game technologies, that are driving the media industry. Solving the technology problems associated with adding interactivity will open the door to applications in scientific and information visualization, simulation, informal science education, and entertainment. Key to this effort is working with companies ranging from the Digital Media Group whose efforts to build a studio complex in Albuquerque includes a division focusing on serious game technology; Novint which is developing new haptic devices; Extreme AI which is working with hand held devices; and the new Innovation Center at Intel in Rio Rancho which is interested in information visualization on the dome.
The second thrust will be the production of content for the dome. This area is one in which we have considerable experience and a world-wide reputation. The process is involves a mixture of specialized techniques that we have mastered and the talent of various artists, scientists, and story tellers. We have produced dome content that has ranged from purely artistic to scientific.
This proposal has its basis in five interrelated elements: the State of New Mexico’s Media Industries Strategic Plan, UNM’s Art, Research, Technology and Science Laboratory, the Digital Pueblo Project, and our work with the LodeStar Astronomy Center.
The number of fulldomes has gone from a handful just a few years ago to over 150more than 200 worldwide with new ones opening almost weekly. Although at first these spaces were used only for planetarium shows, UNM has been a leader in exploring the use of fulldomes for other purposes. For the past five years we have developed a community that forms the basis for a content development industry. During the same time the demand for dome content has grown as the number of domes has increased. We are particularly interested in developing content with members of traditionally underrepresented groups.
LodeStar has been leading and driving fulldome interactivity and real-time applications since the nascent technology first emerged. In 2002, LodeStar collaborated with Sky-Skan, Inc. for the first successful demonstration of DigitalSky, the multi-node realtime planetarium software now installed in more than 75 domes internationally. In 2003, LodeStar enabled a collaboration between an Albuquerque-based company and Sky-Skan for the redesign of DigitalSky as an open architecture platform to allow plug-in development. In 2004, LodeStar partnered with gaming companies Lucas Arts, Inc. and Secret Level, Inc. to present the world’s first commercial fulldome gaming experience when Lucas Arts’ “StarWars Starfighter” was presented during DomeFest 2004. In 2005, LodeStar initiated a research project with the ARTS Lab for the development of the first non-astronomical plug-in for fulldome, a real-time fractal generator for public education and entertainment based on the beauty and mathematics of fractals. Finally, in 2006, LodeStar, Sky-Skan and Secret Level, Inc. forged an informal alliance for the conversion of Ogre, a gaming engine, for fulldome use via DigitalSky.
Media and game technology: Over the past few years, the media industry has become increasingly dominated by computer games. While it is well known that revenues from commodity games are now equal to or greater than revenues from traditional films, the impact of the game industry is influencing many other parts of the media industry. For example, the driving force behind advances in personal computers is due to the demand for better performance for commodity games. Graphics processing units (GPUs) exceed the performance of standard processors by most measures (FLOPS, components, power consumption) and have a rate of growth that exceeds standard CPUs (and Moore’s Law!). A new field called general purpose computing on graphics processors (GPGPU) has arisen to take advantage of these capabilities. Fields such as simulation, an area of great importance in New Mexico, are rapidly changing to take advantage of the advances in game technology.
Within New Mexico, the impact of game technology is taking various forms. Small companies such as Novint are developing novel technologies. Others such as Extreme AI are developing games for new devices. Still others such as Game Technology Services and Darkling Simulations are providing specialized services and products to the game industry. The National Laboratories, DOD, and Homeland Security are all interested in using game technology for simulation.
Under this proposal, we plan to apply game technology to the dome. Until recently dome systems used specialized hardware and all planetariums gave their shows by playing back prerendered content from large disk arrays.
Interactive use of the dome
Fulldome technology is a spin-off from the planetarium community which is now technologically pressed to change programmatically from its tradition of publicly presenting a naturalist’s view and interpretation of the night sky to offering modern astrophysics and a universe modeled in three dimensions and traversable via the ability to ‘fly’ through astronomical data sets and models from the solar system, to the large-scale structure of the universe, to the background radiation maps which define our observable universe. These subject areas are beyond expertise of most planetarians and an important and enabling advance in fulldome will be inter-dome interactivity meaning an expert in one theater present a lecture in one dome while ‘driving’ multiple theaters throughout the world.
This same interactivity would also enable concurrent non-astronomical educational programs (such as the Fulldome Fractal Flyer now in development), entertainment programs such as VJing experiences, and collaborative scientific research efforts based in science visualization and simulation.
Beyond the core-mission needs that inter-dome interactivity would provide planetariums and science theaters, the IT research is an obvious response to current and projected trends in media where interactivity and greater control, customizable experiences, and an international venue are becoming the norms.
Interactive use of the dome
Fulldome is almost exclusively branded as an educational venue, though an entertaining and exciting one. Astronomy will remain the principle subject for years, but it’s clear that other sciences and educational experiences will be needed and employed as institutions work to increase their service, draw and bottom-line. Two content areas UNM has expertise—and would be appealing to the fulldome community—are brain/mind research and nanotechnology.
Training and informal science education
The National Virtual Observatory is a treasure-trove of science data just waiting to be ported into fulldome visualization tools… Nanotechnology design and engineering has produced countless 3D models of nanobots and simulations of processes…
Spinoffs Partners, Capabilities and Roles:
Attached is a preproposal for the NSF Partnership for Innovation Program. The focus of the proposal is the development of our fulldome partnership based on both the technical and cultural resources unique to NM. I’d like to make a few points relevant to how your committee may look at this proposal and its chances for success in the ultimate NSF process.
First, we just completed our PFI grant “the Digital Pueblo Project.” There is no restriction on past grantees getting a second PFI. In fact, it is allowable for a PI to have multiple PFI’s grants as long as the topics are distinct.
Second, I have served the past few years on the NSF panels that reviewed the proposals, one of the obligations of having a PFI. These experiences were very interesting and invaluable in learning what kinds of grants have any chance of being funded. Over the past few years, the probability of receiving a PFI grant has gone down to the 10% area. On the other hand, I have seen very few proposals that truly meet the criteria for funding. If a proposal has any chance of receiving funding it must meet all the criteria and demonstrate so very explicitly in the proposal. In particular, a pure research proposal will not fly. Commitments from industrial partners must be real and show commitments of resources from the partners. The inclusion of underrepresented groups must be well thought out and detailed. It is important to have a proposal that isn’t under one of the “topics of the day” whether it’s nanotechnology, genomics, or what ever will be the topic of this year. UNM cannot compete with universities that can offer more resources to the researcher in these areas. However, we can win by exciting the reviewers with a proposal that is unique and builds upon our strengths.
Finally, to brag a bit about our success, which is important to the NSF review process, the outcome of the Digital Pueblo Project has had a major impact on UNM and the State of New Mexico. The DPP model was one of the foundations of the State’s Media Industries Strategic Plan. UNM received $3M of seed money from the Governor to start the ARTS Lab, the key research and education entity of MISP. Hence, there are major commitments from the UNM administration, the faculty, local industry, and state government to the success of the media effort. This proposal is a significant part of that effort. It is these kinds of outcomes that NSF is looking for and the DPP was one of the programs successes.m