The world’s first full-scale (50-feet wide x 40-feet long x 32-feet high) big data exploration facility opened at Virginia Tech on January 30, 2015. Known as the Cube, this four-story, $15 million theater and high-tech laboratory uses powerful motion capture and visual environment technologies, specialized acoustics, real-time audiovisual rendering, and high-performing computers to create a virtual environment laboratory that allows scientists to model and explore data in sonified, virtual form.
The Cube is a highly adaptable space for research and experimentation in big data exploration, immersive environments, intimate performances, audio and visual installations, and experiential investigations of all types. Acoustics, audiovisual, and 3D audio systems in the Cube were conceived and designed by Arup. The facility is located in the Moss Arts Center and shared by the Institute for Creativity, Arts and Technology (ICAT) and the Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech, and features audio technologies from HARMAN’s JBL Professional and BSS Audio. This environment can also be used by composers and other artists to explore the creative discipline of spatial sound.
According to Benjamin Knapp, Ph.D., director of ICAT, the Cube was initially conceived as a performance space and then reimagined as an incredibly immersive environment, where groups can explore virtual worlds and data of any kind. “Certainly unique to the Cube is the combination of ambisonic and wave field synthesis (WFS) and immersive visual environments, but this is one of the few environments where the virtual experience can be a shared experience,” Knapp said. “I am very excited by the array of immersive audio, immersive video projects that we have already lined up for this space.”
“Virginia Tech has a very progressive, ambitious approach to technology, research and futurism,” said Terence Caulkins, acoustic and audio visual consultant at Arup. “We were inspired to develop this project to pioneer new capabilities, such as multi-user collaborative interaction with spatial audio. This space is unique in its raw number of audio channels and also the height of the space, allowing scientists to do more cross-discipline research and experience phenomena quickly from different perspectives. Our challenge was to make the space extremely quiet and neutral, so we could put the footprint of another acoustical space on top of it and then to place a layer of 3D audio on top of that.”
The Cube features an array of technologies, including virtual and augmented reality (head-mounted display and tablet interaction interface); wave field synthesis and highly directional sound interaction; synchronized data capture, including information retrieval motion capture; audio/video, physiological and interaction signals; and real-time audiovisual rendering. The sound system is comprised of 124 JBL SCS 8 spatially cued surround coaxial 8-inch loudspeakers wrapped around the walls and ceiling of the Cube in various resolutions. The JBL SCS 8 is a wide-coverage loudspeaker that can be positioned in any number of ways and was developed for spatial sound installations. At the backbone of the routing system are three BSS BLU 806 networked signal processors with Dante and BLU Link connectivity.
Commenting on the project, Paul Chavez, HARMAN Professional director of systems applications noted, “Spatial sound is a compelling frontier for audio innovation and is likely to positively impact how and what we listen to in the car, the home and in large venues! The Cube is among the elite facilities for exploration and learning, and we are extremely pleased to be involved.”