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University Builds Virtual-Reality Factory Simulation

Two students in METaL lab (Iowa State Univ.)

Two students in METaL lab (Iowa State Univ.)

Iowa State University in Ames has built a simulated factory lab based on virtual reality technology. The lab, called Multimodal Experience Testbed and Laboratory or METaL, seeks to create natural interactions in virtual reality for industrial purposes, such as to design new parts, explore design functionality, or develop better assembly methods.

METaL consists of two walls and a floor in a 4 x 3 x 3 meter space. The technology, for a virtual reality lab, is relatively simple: one projector for each of the three surfaces. Engineering professor Judy Vance, a faculty associate in Iowa State’s Virtual Reality Applications Center, says this simplicity helps make it more accessible. “This is something we use often,” says Vance. “We can bring projects in here and work with them on a daily basis.”

Vance notes that the lab will be used to study and develop the integration of 3-D visual display technology, audio effects, and force feedback. “One of the reasons I like to work in this space,” says Vance, “is the ability to walk up to a virtual image of a 3-D object and explore it from many different angles.” Vance adds that “The physical sensation of moving your body provides you with additional spatial information about the products you are examining.”

METaL was built by Mechdyne Corp., in Marshalltown, Iowa founded by graduates of Iowa State and former graduate research assistants in the Virtual Reality Applications Center. In addition to faculty and graduate students, the lab is used by undergraduate researchers, and groups of high school student engineers.

Read more: Virtual Reality Used to Study Food Addictions

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