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The GEOMAR Marine institute expands with new projection dome

The world-leading marine research institute has continued its expansion with the installation of a new projection dome, known as ARENA2, at its east shore campus

Since its opening in 1987, the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel has established itself as a world leader in the investigation of the chemical, physical, biological and geological processes of the seafloor, oceans and ocean margins and their interactions with the atmosphere.

The institute, which is a foundation under public law that is jointly funded by the German federal (90%) and Schleswig-Holstein state (10%) governments, has approximately 1,000 employees spread among two campuses within the city of Kiel. In the digital age, a large research facility like GEOMAR relies on powerful visualisation tools not just for scientific data exploration, but also for communication of findings within the scientific community and to the public.

A key asset of GEOMAR’s visualisation infrastructure is the recently installed projection dome, known as ARENA2, delivered by German dome and calibration software experts VIOSO. The company provided the media server, projection system and dome, as well as the 7m x 7m x 6m indoor structure that contains the visualisation lab itself.

The ARENA2 lab is the successor of the ARENA (Artificial Research Environment for Networked Analysis) simulator and is designed to improve scientific workflow by facilitating visual data exploration. 

Measurable impact
A key aspect of the brief for this project was to deliver an easy to use system, with a minimum to zero learning curve, and a measurable impact on the desired scientific outcome.

The initial brief, as Dr Tom Kwasnitschka, staff researcher at GEOMAR, explains: “To deliver a 6m suspended dome with 60fps stereo, 4.5k resolution, head tracking, and full resolution, 60fps live ingest, including the ability to arbitrarily projection map to any surface in case the projection system would be used outside the main dome application.

“One of the most interesting features of the dome is that it is suspended from a truss system, which allows researchers to adjust the tilt and height above ground for various applications. Furthermore, a combination of a real-time tracking and visualisation system – realised in collaboration with VIOSO and More3D – allows users to import almost any OpenGL based scientific visualisation software to the dome. Thanks to VIOSO Autocalibration, Wings VIOSO RX media server and Wings AVIO (for hardware control), using the lab is as easy as walking to the printer!”

When asked about challenges, Kwasnitschka replies: “To comply with all the safety regulations within budget and to figure out what kind of graphics hardware would allow us to get both real-time and playback performance.”

The fibreglass-reinforced projection dome within GEOMAR’s Lithotek is equipped with five Barco F50 projectors, while two VIOSO Domemaster servers support 3D content playback, with up to 4,400 x 4,400 pixels resolution. Completing the set up are a 24/7 show controller hosting Wings AVIO, as well as a master server for rendering applications from research and visualisation.

“Due to the flexibility of the dome in its hanging positions, the projectors need to be frequently re-calibrated,” says Emanuel Züger, COO and founder of VIOSO. “The customer identified VIOSO Anyblend and Wings VIOSO as being the easiest solution to do this smoothly, while at the same time complying to the highest visual standards.

Züger continues: “The further requirement to drive in-house VR applications on the very same system led to the decision to use VIOSO Domemaster servers, since VIOSO Anyblend displays every third-party application instantly in the dome (and not just pre-rendered video content, for example). In addition, we provided an OptiTrack optical tracking system coupled with active shutter 3D glasses. The requirement to control all aspects of this installation from a single user interface led to Wings AVIO show control, which seamlessly integrates VIOSO Anyblend and Wings VIOSO RX.”

Project constraints
A tricky balance of the brief was the balance between usability and functionality. Kwasnitschka comments: “Key to this is the high degree of hardware and software automation that the Wings AVIO system offers. For sure, we will need to hire a dedicated person setting up and maintaining all those setups to make the user experience seamless.”

On top of the long list of requirements for this project, VIOSO also had to work with a number of constraints – space limitations, budget and time being chief among them. The key to working successfully under these conditions, according to Züger, was “efficient sourcing, strict planning and fast execution.

“The overall complexity of the requested technology was quite challenging, and we also had to cater for a few last-minute changes during tendering stage. As a vendor of both hardware and software solutions, we were able to handle the entire task in-house using the experience and expertise of our own highly qualified staff.”

On the time restrictions in particular, Züger adds: “Time restrictions are very common in our industry and this is why we are used to it. With our experience and competence in project planning and execution, we are able to handle tight schedules and therefore we knew how to handle this challenge.”

Kwasnitschka says: “VIOSO definitely went the extra mile to optimise the outcome of this project. In choosing our vendor, it was important to know that they sought pride in the end result in the same way we do. To this date, our relationship remains responsive, sincere, and casual.”

Züger concludes: “This project combined the requirements of a typical AV installation with the requirements of data science and visualisation – a balance that is not easy to strike. VIOSO were dedicated to this project because it touched the very core of our product portfolio. We are extremely proud of the end result; this is typically the type of project that helps us increase our capabilities to provide better consulting and planning services for our customers.”