At the heart of the VCC building is the Imaging Hangar. The behaviour of animals can be observed in a reactive, 3D environment of 1.900 cubic meters. Pioneering technology on this scale allows the study of swarming birds, insects and mammals in controlled environments. Their reactions to virtual influences, such as projected predators, can be tracked with high precision in real-time providing a manipulable environment with natural observations. In addition to expanding the insight on animal networks, the imaging hangar contributes to the development of computer vision. With its adaptable design, new technology can be easily implemented, such as motion capture and computer vision technology.
The imaging hangar is an outstanding foundation for research on collective behaviour that allows scientists to study the phenomena that occur within animal groups, and further develop cutting-edge research tools.
Similar experiments on a smaller scale can be conducted in the Fish Labs, where different aquatic species can be observed in full detail while being exposed to crafted virtual reality environments under precisely controlled conditions.
Computer Graphics Labs
Since no state-of-the-art technology for reactive virtual 3D environments is currently available, we research and test solutions in the Computer Graphics lab. This comprises testing of high-resolution projection technology and real-time tracking devices as well as data processing needs for the real-time interplay of these components. Also, development and optimization of the virtual terrain simulations are conducted here.
Network Analytics Lab
Tracking the animals in the Imaging Hangar and fish labs in the anticipated high level of detail generates massive amounts of data. External data sources such as tracked wild animals for example from the ICARUS project add to that amount. Thus, efficient data storage and subsequent computational processing are crucial for the scientific prowess of the VCC. The Network Analytics Lab is where we work on these challenges. We also research formal representations of the interaction networks derived from the data collected.
Virtual Reality Lab
A big step in collective behaviour research is the transfer of knowledge derived from animal behaviour to the human domain or human-controlled networks such as logistics or traffic. Testing hypotheses gained from the observation of animals on humans requires the ability to expose testees to an equally controlled setting as the animals. The Virtual Reality Lab provides this capability using different technologies enabling a fully controlled virtual 3D environment for probands. A setup of multiple Virtual Reality headsets such as the Oculus Rift for fixed-position experiments or the HTC Vive for full freedom of movement will allow experiments with several probands simultaneously in a shared virtual environment. In addition, mixed reality technologies such as the Microsoft Hololens allow the augmentation of real and tangible experimental setups with virtual effects to confront a test person with new situations and stimuli. Compared to real-world experiments, conducting virtual and, respectively, mixed reality experiments allows for a much more controlled environment with far greater possibilities to track the actions of probands, as all actions can be recorded directly with minimal sensor uncertainty.
Control Room and Analytics Lab
In addition to creating reactive virtual environments with real-time steering and data collection, the third major task is the exploration and knowledge generation from the collected data. The majority of the datasets consists of tracked movements of collectives. Due to the complexity of the data and tasks, a combination of computational and visual analysis methods is required for an effective exploration of the data. Novel tools, visualizations, and specifically designed hardware setups are put to test in the Control Room and Analytics Lab, where a flexible environment is provided to create and compare different solutions. Amongst others, multi-display setups, flat and wall-mounted high-resolution touchscreen assemblies, and novel interaction technologies, such as eye and motion tracking, are available to the users.
If the Imaging Hanger forms the heart of the VCC, the Data Theatre can be seen as its brain. The 160 square meters sized room is designed to bring together scientists from all involved disciplines to collaboratively explore and analyse collective behaviour data on a 7m x 3m sized ultra-high resolution projection system. Due to its extremely high pixel density, this exceptional setup provides the possibility to interactively explore very large amounts of data. At the same time, the physical size of the Data Theatre display allows to coincidentally review the big picture and very small details, making it ideal for joint analyses of multiple experts or individual presentations to an audience of up to 130 people.