Calit2 'Vroom' Debuts as KAUST Booth at SIGGRAPH Computer Graphics Conference

San Diego, Calif., Aug. 24, 2011 — The annual SIGGRAPH computer graphics conference is all about ‘rolling out’ new technology, so a team of researchers from the University of California, San Diego decided this year to take that challenge and give it a literal spin.
The Vroom is the world's first booth made out of ultra-narrow bezel LCD screens.

UCSD’s “Vroom,” which was built in partnership with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) – is a 20’x20’ totally virtual, self-contained “booth-on-wheels” capable of being rolled in and out of the conference venue.

“We wanted to create the world’s first booth made entirely out of ultra-narrow bezel LCD screens,” says Thomas A. DeFanti, director of visualization for UC San Diego’s California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2). “We wanted to prove we could build something that was elaborate and different, but also very transportable and configurable — sort of an Erector Set™ for screens.”

For the 38th annual Special Interest Group on Graphics and Interactive Techniques (SIGGRAPH) Conference earlier this month,  DeFanti and his team assembled an outward-facing octagonal display made entirely from 32 46”-diagonal screens. The Vroom harnesses the Calit2-developed OptIPortable technology to group 32 screens into eight arrays of four, for a total resolution of 33 megapixels.

Todd Margolis interacts with CalVR software on the Vroom
Calit2's Todd Margolis uses the Vroom to  interact with CalVR, an open-source virtual reality software package developed by Calit2.
Each 2x2 OptIPortable array is attached to a custom frame and self-contained motorized system designed by Calit2 Design Principal Engineer Greg Dawe, which incorporates a linear actuator to raise and unfold the display. The arrays fit inside eight custom wheeled road cases, narrow enough to fit through standard office doors. The team from Calit2 had the Vroom up and running at the conference within 4 hours. Take-down only required 90 minutes.

The Vroom was completed in partnership with KAUST, which partially funds this Calit2 research and sent representatives to SIGGRAPH to assist with demonstrating, branding and recruiting. Throughout the course of their three-year collaboration with KAUST, researchers in the Calit2 Virtulab (as well as their colleagues at the Electronic Visualization Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Chicago) have consulted on KAUST’s large-scale Visualization Laboratory, which is home to some of the highest resolution displays in the world.

DeFanti, who served as chair of SIGGRAPH from 1981-1985, says the Vroom actually proved to be a cost-saving measure for KAUST at the conference.
Toshiro Yamada leads an audio demo on the Vroom
Calit2 audio engineer Toshiro Yamado uses one side of the Vroom for audio demos developed jointly with KAUST and Calit2.

“Because it was made entirely out of screens, it required no booth furniture,” he adds. “Booths can get really expensive to construct for one-time usage — but the screens are 100% reusable.”

Not only does the Vroom’s physical configuration pack a visual punch, it’s also capable of streaming numerous datasets at the same time, and Calit2 took full advantage of this capability to wow the approximately 16,000 artists, research scientists and gaming experts — some from top-notch companies like Pixar and Nvidia — at this year’s conference. 

While the “corners” of the Vroom were used primarily for digital signage, the screens on one side of the booth were used for the world premiere of CalVR, an open-source virtual reality software package written by Calit2 researchers Jürgen Schulze and Andrew Prudhomme. CalVR will simplify future integration of VR with the Calit2 StarCAVE, NexCAVE, OptIPortables and other visualization environments through its open-source approach.

The software framework is also used by KAUST to unify running virtual reality applications in their various 3D display systems. With CalVR, VR programmers can focus on the content of their applications without having to think about which 3D display and user input hardware will be used to interact with the software. This will enable 3D applications to function — without modification — in KAUST’s CORNEA and also its NexCAVE, the highest resolution projection- and LCD-based VR systems in the world.

The Vroom set-up crew
The team from Calit2 and KAUST had the Vroom up and running at SIGGRAPH within four hours. Take-down took only 90 minutes.  
Another side of the Vroom was dedicated to audio demos developed jointly with KAUST’s Zachary Seldess and Calit2 researchers Peter Otto, Toshiro Yamada and Suketu Kamdar, and a third set of screens displayed CGLX, the Calit2 software developed by Falko Kuester’s team to stream multiple images at high resolution. CGLX is similar to CalVR in that it allows programmers to focus on their applications instead of the display hardware, but instead of VR, CGLX’s focus is on displaying ultra-high resolution images and video on distributed visualization systems at interactive frame rates. Such high resolution is invaluable in understanding large datasets, such as those from satellite imagery or LIDAR (light detection and radar) laser scans.

The fourth and final wall of the Vroom featured a huge 4’x14’ touchscreen running EVL’s interactive Paint Program, as well as EVL’s SAGE (Scalable Adaptive Graphics Environment). The touchscreen, which makes the OptIPortable look and feel like a giant iPhone®, drew a constant stream of attendees to the booth.
All told, the Vroom was a hit at SIGGRAPH, and even caught the attention of the Vancouver Sun, which featured a photo of the interactive touchscreen on the front page of its Business section on day three of the five-day conference.
A young girl interacts with the Vroom's touchscreen and EVL's Paint Program
A young attendee at SIGGRAPH interacts with EVL's interactive Paint Program on the Vroom touchscreen.

"The Vroom was one of the highlights of the 2011 SIGGRAPH exhibition for me,” says Professor Andy van Dam of Brown University, who co-founded the SICGRAPH conference that eventually became SIGGRAPH. “I was impressed by its engineering cleverness and by the quality of the images; in particular the ultra-thin bezels and absence of the usual edge-blending artifacts across the bezels.  I hope to see the head-tracked stereo version at next year's show."

The Vroom will find a permanent home later this year at Calit2’s headquarters in UCSD’s Atkinson Hall, where a former “black box” theater space will be devoted to housing the giant display. In its incarnation there, the Vroom will feature 32 55” diagonal inward-facing screens flanked by the 32 46” screens shown at SIGGRAPH, for a total resolution of 100 megapixels. It is scheduled to be ready for use by Calit2 researchers, artists, and set designers in December, with a special “sneak preview” slated for the KAUST booth at Supercomputing 2011 Nov. 12-18 in Seattle, Wash.

by Tiffany Fox, (858) 246-0353,

Related Links


King Abdullah University of Science and Technology

Electronic Visualization Laboratory