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Displays Science Technology

Visualizing Data Inside the 30-ft Allosphere 131

TEDChris writes "The Allosphere, being created at UC Santa Barbara, is the most ambitious attempt yet at creating powerful 3d visualizations of raw scientific data, such as the structure of a crystal, or how quantum effects take place. Researchers watch from a bridge inside the 30-foot sphere, looking at data projected 360 degrees around them and listening to 3D sound. The first major public demo of the facility has just been posted at Optimists would argue that many of the greatest scientific breakthroughs happened through a new visual way of imagining data. Penicillin and relativity come to mind. So this is either a killer new research vehicle, an incredible toy, or just an insanely expensive art project."
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Visualizing Data Inside the 30-ft Allosphere

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  • Just 360 degrees? Why not 420?

  • by isBandGeek() ( 1369017 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @04:52PM (#27590859)
    I've heard of a UC Santa Barbara [] and a USC [], but I've never heard of a USC Santa Barbara.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by macraig ( 621737 )

      Didn't you get the memo? All colleges in California are now just adjunct campuses of USC, by order of the Governator himself. He said he'd be back if it wasn't done.

    • Maybes its the University of South Carolina at Santa Barbara? Go cocks! (Oh heavens, I can't believe I actually said that...)
    • Just wait until all the Gauchos find out they're going to have to live in Watts instead of Isla Vista.

    • Ooops. Guess I can type faster than think. Too much data ogling. heh.
    • I think it's University South Carolina at Santa Barbara. It was started during the Civil War.
  • by Again ( 1351325 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @04:53PM (#27590869)
    What I want to know is if it can find people with powers. If it can, then I need to build myself an awful looking hat.
  • What they need is the Infosphere []!
  • Just borrow the set from X-Men...

  • IMAX? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by otomotopeia ( 1533291 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @04:57PM (#27590935)
    Seems like it's nothing more than 2 IMAX theaters tied together?
  • Amazing(not) (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Zerth ( 26112 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @04:57PM (#27590937)

    So it is just two CAVEs stuck together? Yup, real advanced technology there.

    I hope nobody tells them about head-mounted displays.

    • Re:Amazing(not) (Score:4, Interesting)

      by MadnessASAP ( 1052274 ) <> on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @06:05PM (#27591803)

      That's what I was thinking. They could just buy some very high density LCD's and pay one of the engineerign students to spend a few weeks rigging them up with a motion detector and headphones? Uses alot less space, power and you get true stereoscopic vision. You would also get many different viewpoints for more then one perspective on the same dataset. In short it looks impressive at first but becomes a colossal waste of when you really think about it.

      • University of Utah has been doing haptics like that for a long time.
      • has a cool little motion detecting LCD setup next to the elevators. (I still haven't figured out if this Allosphere thing is in UCSB or USC)
    • by mikael ( 484 )

      The innovation isn't in the projection system - it is the fact that they are visualizing large amounts of data interactively in real-time, particularly volume rendering. Everything from the Schrodinger equations defining the probabilistic orbits of electrons to functional MRI directly from the scanner in real-time. It is easy to play a pre-recorded movie of a fMRI scan on a number of large monitors, but they want to visualize more complex information such as what effect the increased demand on blood flow ha

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Dachannien ( 617929 )

      Yeah, but head-mounted displays were Dominion technology. They were the bad guys. That's probably why the UCSB folks went with the astrometrics lab from Voyager (only better).

    • Doesn't anyone else remember going on this ride at Disneyworld?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dave420 ( 699308 )
      It seems to be more about the software that represents the data in a visual/audio form than the displays, which as you note - are not fantastically exotic.
  • Mac vs. PC (Score:4, Funny)

    by ( 156602 ) * on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @04:57PM (#27590939) Homepage Journal

    Mac: Hi, I'm a Mac.

    PC: And ... I'm ... a ... PC.

    Mac: Wow, PC. You're really slow today.

    PC: Yes ... I'm ... running ... AlloSphere ... research ... for ... UCSB ... ... today.

    Mac: What exactly is the AlloSphere useful for?

    PC: Scientifically, ... it ... is ... an ... instrument ... for ... gaining ... insight ... and ... developing ... bodily ... intuition ... about ... environments ... into ... which ... the ... body ... cannot ... venture: ... abstract, ... higher- ... -dimensional ... information ... spaces, ... the ... worlds ... of ... the ... very ... small ... or ... very ... large, ... and ... the ... realms ... of ... the ... very ... fast ... or ... very ... slow, ... in ... fields ... ranging ... from ... nanotechnology ... to ... theoretical ... physics, ... from ... proteomics ... to ... cosmology, ... from ... neurophysiology ... to ... the ... spaces ... of ... consciousness, ... and ... from ... new ... materials ... to ... new ... media.

    Mac: Wow, that ... that sounds pretty amazing.

    PC: It ... is.

    Mac: Anything else?

    PC: 42.

    Mac: What does that even mean?

    PC: I ... have ... no ... idea.

  • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @05:00PM (#27590991) Journal
    Really? From what I recall, penicillin was discovered by noticing that mould contaminating a bacteria sample caused the bacteria to die, and relativity came straight out of the mathematics (you can derive special relativity in about one sheet of A4 - general relativity is much harder). Is there some story that everyone except me knows about?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Of course there is no such story. Don't be silly. In fact, forget the whole thing...
    • From what I recall, penicillin was discovered by noticing that mould contaminating a bacteria sample caused the bacteria to die,

      And how do you think Flemming determined that the bacteria were dying? With a revolutionary new imaging system of course: his eyes.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Einstein used to construct mental images, which often became the inspiration for his mathematical theories. For instance, a train traveling at c with a headlamp on the front...and somehow, the light from that is moving at c away from the train. From an external perspective, both the train and light beam are moving at c. Obviously, there's time dilation least, I was always told that he came up with that thought experiment.
      • by Timmmm ( 636430 )

        I'm still not seeing how thought experiments (an imaginary experiment) and data visualisation (finding ways to display complex datasets) are related.

    • by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @05:26PM (#27591341)

      Before Einstein started scribbling stuff down on paper, he performed "thought experiments" [], which are like a form of visualization. For instance, while he was at the Swiss patent office in Bern, he started to try imaging what the world outside would look like, if the street tram he was riding in, was traveling at the speed of light. He imagined that if traveling away from a clock, the hand would never move from his perspective.

      No cats were injured in Einstein's experiments.

      I'll have to pass on the penicillin, although I regularly "visualize" a form of it in my breadbox every week.

      • by Timmmm ( 636430 )

        Thought experiments seem pretty different to data visualisation to me. In fact, how are they remotely related?

        • They're actually fairly similar. You build a model governing a toy universe, and set it to motion from a given state. If the results look like what you see in the real world, that's evidence for the model's accuracy. I have no idea how Einstein intended to observe the time dialation effects at the speed of light, however.

          • by Timmmm ( 636430 )

            Yes you just described a thought experiment. But data visualisation is still unrelated. Einstein couldn't have done it (no computers).

          • To do the visualisation, you'd have to do a kind of thought experiment first - to decide what to display, how to display it etc. But the machine can't do the clever creative/imaginative bit for you. They're two differeent things. IKIGMDFT, but it seems the fancy hardware is redundant. Another solution in search of a problem?
        • Simple, the ones who invested the millions of dollars required for this data visualization, failed to do the thought experiments necessary to see what a collasal waste of money it is was going to be.
    • by necro81 ( 917438 )

      you can derive special relativity in about one sheet of A4

      You can today, because people have picked it apart for over a century. People could have written it succinctly a hundred years ago, but they were still getting their heads around it. They didn't have nicely prepared lecture notes to work from.

  • by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @05:03PM (#27591033)

    So this is either a killer new research vehicle, an incredible toy, or just an insanely expensive art project.

    It's entertainment! It sounds like a great source of revenue to me. Charge admission! Team up with The Discovery Channel and whip up some fascinating images with insightful commentary! Scientists love showing off their research to awed folks who can't really comprehend it.

    I want one! I can't wait for the Slashdot article that describes how to make a cheap, open source version of this!

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Zerth ( 26112 )

      2 hemispheres made of rear-projector material, 2 projectors, 2 webcams, computer with dual video cards or one card with 2 ports.

      Project a grid onto each hemisphere, use the webcams to distort the grid until it projects evenly across each hemisphere as viewed from inside(you'll lose some resolution at the edges).

      Play quake until you vomit.

    • by mikael ( 484 )

      Ever heard of Imax theaters? []

  • by Tiro ( 19535 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @05:07PM (#27591083) Journal
    I recently visited the Morrison Planetarium at the California Academy of Sciences. It's a new facility with impressive technology (and cost).

    However the presentation was all animation, moral harangues, and celebrity voiceover, with little content and no interesting astrophysics science. The whole concept seemed like a watered-down ripoff of the powers of ten video [] I saw in middle school. Remember that? I would much rather have watched that again.

  • by iluvcapra ( 782887 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @05:07PM (#27591087)

    So this is either a killer new research vehicle, an incredible toy, or just an insanely expensive art project.

    All three, you got the superego, the id and the ego all in one machine.

  • ... a LAN party with a cluster of these!

  • Human beings only have about a 120 degree maximum field of view, so 360 degrees isn't that useful. It is easier to rotate the image into your field of view than to turn your head 360 degrees to see it all, IMHO.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by camperdave ( 969942 )
      No, it is far easier to turn your head than to calculate and rotate an image, especially if you have more than one person that you're displaying for.
    • by Red Flayer ( 890720 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @06:07PM (#27591817) Journal
      Rotating the image into your field of view would destroy some of the spatial awareness of the data.

      One of the points is for spatial awareness to more easily come into play when interpreting data.

      Pretend you are a drug researcher, and you're working on developing analogues of naturally-occuring protein substrates. If you have a 360 model of the receptor site of the protein, being able to visualize the space your substrate fits into could help you identify possible analogues.

      For an oversimplified example, look at epinephrine, which is a naturally occuring substance in the body that binds with adrenergic receptors and causes a response. Adding a methyl group in the right spot gives you a different compound that binds with adrenergic receptors more than epinephrine, but causes no response. Thus we have a compound that can be used as a drug to prevent that response. Or, maybe we can build a drug that increases the response.

      Epinephrine drugs are well-understood... but there are many possible drugs that could be developed if we had better modeling and understanding of protein receptor sites. An encompassing 360 view of a receptor site could result in a breakthrough.

      There are a ton of other ways this could be useful, that's just one example.
  • So, what kind of porn can you get on this thing?

  • Really Cool, But... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gpronger ( 1142181 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @05:19PM (#27591251) Journal
    My guess is that it will be seen as an impressive technological feat, with marginal real applicability.

    In the talk on "TED" JoAnn Kuchera-Morin, trumps the ability to fly into the brain, see the tissue as landscape and hear the blood density as sound. It is very unclear the advantage of the projection to the scale they've accomplished (other than to say we've done it).

    They've pulled together impressive super-computer technology, but if it was on a larger PC screen versus a "walk-in" version, is there a real gain?
  • As a scientist (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Hoplite3 ( 671379 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @05:23PM (#27591293)

    It sounds like a cool toy, but choosing the correct way to visualize data is really hard. Generally, picking which quantities to plot against each other corresponds to taking a lower dimensional slice of a data set. Picking the right slice isn't just difficult, it's a really important result of the research.

    There have been lots of advances in trying to automatically determine these sorts of reductions (the Netflix recommendation contest brought a lot of this to public attention), but for many problems, the "interesting" lower-dimensional space that's plotted corresponds to some important symmetry of the data.

    I guess what I'm saying is that in science (like in art) limitations sometimes help guide useful thinking. Just seeing "everything" in 3D 36 degrees with more dimensions represented as sound doesn't necessarily help that.

  • by Siberwulf ( 921893 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @05:23PM (#27591299)
    Honestly, it seems rather useless (in these examples). I won't knock music in general, but does a computer singing a song really going to be helpful in diagnosing something? Just because you have more information, doesn't mean you have any higher level of useful information.

    I will give the presenter props though. That was like a Science Word Bingo caller going for blackout.
  • I see the 3d sound capability as a differentiator vs merely a spherical screen. Dr Kuchera-Morin [] is a musician after all.
  • Epcot Center has one of these...

  • It would be totally useless, but imagine the in depth visuals one could get with that.
    • "It would be totally useless, but imagine the in depth visuals one could get with that."

      At last, a way to appreciate my Roseanne Barr endoscope porn collection in its full glory!

  • The USGS and the oilfield companies could use this to their advantage, predicting major events, to computing more precise strike points for drilling, reducing the chance of having a "dry hole".

  • Yeah, penicillin required looking at a petri dish, but I'm not sure that counts as "visualization".

    Einstein apparently was a visual thinker, but the emphasis there is on "thinking", not plotting, graphing, or other artifacts; visual thinking in mathematics is very different from 2D or 3D data visualizations.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Early reports indicate that the facility is also useful for tracking down mutants.

  • Offhand, I thought of (in the following order):

    Meanwhile, in the non-fictional realm, the VR Lab at the University of Tsukuba (Japan) has been working for years on "Ensphered Vision" [], complete with sound.

  • So when do scientists plan on researching visualization hardware that is forward compatible so that we can observe 1:1 preview samples of the next generation of hardware. The article presented yet another video of an amazing visualization device that I cannot comprehend on my tiny computer display or my HD television set. At least on PBS they try to explain the future with diagrams depicting how it is suppose to work.
  • The first thing I read when I skimmed the headline was "Visualizing Data Inside the 30-ft Allosaur".

    I can't be the only one who thinks it would be cool to somehow store data inside dinosaurs.

    • For some reason, a quote (often attributed to Groucho Marx) comes to mind:

      Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.

      I'm presuming that Marx's comment was a prescient perspective on the future of in-animal data storage and presentation.

  • OMG it's the blueprints to the deathstar. We need to analyze these for potential weaknesses.

    Before you mod me off topic, please watch the video intro.
  • The real question: Would this "flying" through the landscape of data be called Allosoaring?
  • Tommy: Hey, I'll tell you what. You can get a good look at a butcher's ass by sticking your head up there. But, wouldn't you rather to take his word for it?
    Mr. Brady, Customer: [confused] What? I'm failing to make the connection here.
    Tommy: No, I mean is, you can get a good look at a T-bone by sticking your head up a butcher's ass... No, wait. It's gotta be your bull.
    Richard: [embarrassed] Wow.

    Later in the movie:
    [saying it correctly]
    Tommy: I can get a good look at a T-bone by sticking my head up a
  • A multi-story, round room with a bridge in the center used to display 3-dimensional scientific data? Where have I seen this concept before? []
  • I tried to watch the presentation but had to stop because of the nauseating stream of peseudo-technical nonsense that this woman is spewing.
    She's the "inventor of the Allosphere" - the "dynamically varying digital microscope" where the "researchers interact with data by injecting bacterial code" and defy quantum mechanics by showing "where the electron is at any given point in time and space".
    Why not just describe it for what it is - a spherical projection screen for visualizing scientific models.

  • The coolest computer monitor in the world.
  • Hmmm, just like... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by meerling ( 1487879 )
    Not exactly a new concept, just new in that somebody actually built one.
    This kind of thing has been in Sci-fi for ages, everything from Star Trek to X-Men.
  • some 3d glasses are not cool enough for these folks.

  • Makes me think of black mesa..
    We MUST stop this

  • Now *THIS* sounds cool!

    What would make the whole setup complete would be to develop a camera that can take spherical images. They can buy an unmanned drone ( or better yet, build their own) and take flying spherical video!

    I would definitely line up to pay $$$ for a 10 minute "flight" over the Midwest or Sierra Nevada.

  • There has been some interesting progress in visualizing some of the interesting (or spooky) quantum mechanical effects. [] The software which generates it is available for free. It uses mathematics based in Quaternions [] to visualize the mathematics behind spacetime, standard model groups,etc.
  • CAVE-type displays (you're surrounded by rear-projected screens) have been around since 1992. Mechdyne [] (which bought FakeSpace) makes a number of variations on this theme. Their standard CURV display can be purchased in sizes up to a full hemisphere. A full sphere would be a custom order.

    The new California Academy of Sciences building has a "planetarium" which is really a 75 foot dome equipped for full digital projection over slightly more than a hemisphere. There's a writeup in Maximum PC [].

  • Is Professor Charles Xavier behind this project?

  • That would be roughly 9 meters.
  • As in the device in the X-Men movies?

  • so that is what 3DRealms awaits for!!!

"The Avis WIZARD decides if you get to drive a car. Your head won't touch the pillow of a Sheraton unless their computer says it's okay." -- Arthur Miller