ESA > Join & Share > Technology Projects > VRES Project

VRES Project

Project Title   Virtual Reality System for Earth Observation Applications
Project Acronym   VRES
Contractor(s)   ACS (I), EADS - S&DE (F), ACRI (F), INRIA (F)


Project Objectives
          How it Works


Objectives   Top

Earth Observation and Geographical data are usually represented in two dimension (2D), shown on video screen, map, poster or paper, while these data often have height as a third dimension (3D) and potentially time as a fourth dimension (4D). The 2D data representation may fail to capture and to show many subtleties present in 3D/4D (space / space + time) data sets. Furthermore the data fusion and interaction representation between several data sets become difficult and limited in 2D. Today's' 3D/VR techniques permit powerful data presentation and more natural user interface, better suited to facilitate the understanding of multiple, complex, interacting data sets.

These techniques would permit the creation of a VR Environment for Earth Observation data manipulation in 4D (3D plus time), using VR presentation, interaction techniques and dynamic links to external processors or models. This VR Environment would include a "Visual Studio" (VRES), a "Virtual Theatre", distributed 3D stations and an enhanced training room.

The main objectives of this project are to define the overall architecture and the internal and external interfaces of the VR Environment (identifying and solving in this environment the problems associated with management, including ingestion, formatting, archiving, retrieval, internal / external manipulation and immersive presentation with advanced user interaction methods, of "3D/4D Data", including Earth Observation data) and to implement a demonstrator of its first component: the "Visual Studio".

The VR Environment, and in particular the "Visual Studio", shall be a multi-purpose open system supporting different Earth Observation data types and applications with 3D/VR rendering and interaction functions and aimed at serving various user categories, including researchers, operational entities (e.g.: civil protections), product developers, mission planners, public relation teams, and trainers.

The objective of VRES is to collect Earth Observation data and display them in "4D" on the Earth surface and in the atmosphere, mixing and matching them at wish, in order to underline their relationships and show different scenarios.

Application of VRES can be diverse. One is of course meteorological virtual reality presentations, such as "El Nino". Moreover it is very probable that, exactly like what is happening with multimedia authoring systems, authors themselves will invent new kinds of applications once they have acquired familiarity with the tool.



Context   Top

The general context around the system includes users and system elements, which include hardware, display systems, software packages, data, processors, etc.



We can identify several categories of VRES users:

  • Author: who chooses the data and prepares the "shows". He is the user of the authoring services.


  • Presenter: who presents the show to an audience. He is the user of the visualisation services.
  • Audience: people that watch to the "show" presented by the presenter or to a movie generated by VRES.


  • Remote users: that access VRES through the remote exploitation services.

The author, has the most difficult task, because he has to take a lot of decision in order to prepare the show. However the system shall be designed in such a way that no precise knowledge of virtual reality techniques, nor of system engineering is required from the author. The only necessary experience required from the author concerns the data to be displayed during the show, and the common knowledge of the GUI of the platform on which the system shall be run.
Regarding data, only general knowledge (about the topology, the number of channel, the resolution, etc) shall be necessary. However, a deeper knowledge of the data will help to produce show of better quality. Likewise, the knowledge of virtual reality techniques will help to produce show of better quality.

The presenter can use VRES in a very simple way: he has to know only how to manage the visualisation user interface in order to get his goals.

The audience is a passive listener of the presenter.

The remote user has only to know the simple remote interface.

The same person can play several roles depending from the particular moment and needs. The important thing is that VRES can hide complexity to some users separating the moments of data ingestion and preparation from data visualisation.

The different ways, in which VRES will be targeted to different audiences, will depend from the purpose of the author. For example a presentation to scientists will be different from one to students, but the difference will be decided by the author of the presentation that will have at his disposal several ways of representing Earth Observation data into VRES.


  • Interactive
  • Non-interactive

In interactive mode it is possible to specify input and output devices: Mouse and single monitor. This is the usual working mode on the direction station, on the user terminal and in the remote exploitation.

In non-interactive mode, it is possible to specify two further categories:

  • Passive audience of an interactive show.
  • Video viewers.


System Elements

Image   The Virtual Theatre is a type of multi-screen visualisation hardware (a set of projectors) that is described into the Technological Assessment Note (TAN) document.

The Training Room is intended as PC class machines that are used by ESRIN for training (see VRES Statement of Work).

Mission Planning Data Provider is mainly related to the communication capabilities of VRES to interact with an external package that provide real time data.

The CAD Modeler connection is intended for VRES to integrate 3D avatars of objects (like satellites or generic 3D objects).

The Archiving Peripheral is a generic mass storage peripheral (tape or CD-WORM) to let the archiving of large amount of data.

The Remote Station is a machine connected via HTTP protocols to VRES via an Internet-like data pipeline, with all the limitation that apply.


Architecture   Top

VRES will run on a Direction Station and a User Terminal. As a consequence of those choices, VRES shall run on any SGI machine that will use the IRIX operative system (so also less powerful and expensive machines like Octane2, but still more powerful that a PC), and on Linux operated PC. These Linux PC with 3D hardware in order to achieve the minimum performances required (see TAN for a list of boards).

Direction Station
  The Direction Station is the most powerful machine available. Every part of VRES can be executed on it. It is the reference machine for the project.
For the Direction Station an SGI Onyx class machine has been chosen.
User terminals
  It is possible to interact with a low-end version of the 3D show, using a remote connection and an inexpensive terminal.
The User Terminal is not a expensive machine, possibly of PC class, that is connected to the Direction Station, or at least to the data repository, through a high speed local area network.
For the User Terminal a Linux based PC has been chosen.
Virtual Theaters
  This is the working mode of the so-called "virtual theatres" or CAVEs, that are basically multi-projector big screens (flat, curved or at right angles), or of the "virtual workbenches", that are screens on a table (horizontal, tilted or split between the two). Other visualisation devices, like helmets or BOOMs, are basically personal multi-projector systems, in which a single person looks into a couple of screen, and then for public shows they have to be coupled to a projection system.
For both visualisation modes stereoscopic vision can be added. Multi-screen/multi-projector with joystick/3D mouse or other 3D interaction devices.


How it Works   Top

Due to the large variety of Earth Observation data, the large amount of visualisation possibilities and, last but not least, technological limitations of hardware and software, the overall VRES structure is complex because data have to be prepared before they can be shown in 4D both in local and in remote. Therefore So we can identify 4 main sets of functionalities to be provided by the system.>

  • Ingestion and pre-processing: in which the data coming from different supports and formats have to be collected into VRES and possibly uniformed at least in the same reference system of coordinates and measurement units for homogeneous data in order to let them to be later mixed and shown together.
  • Authoring: in which data to be shown in 4D are selected, combined, re-sampled in space and time, if needed, and visualisation appearance is chosen.
  • Visualisation: where data are displayed with a high degree of details and interaction to an audience on a "direction station", a "user terminal" or "virtual theatre".
  • Remote exploitation: where data are displayed on remote stations with a lower degree of details and interaction, due to machine performance and low bandwidth.


This is a simplified general architecture showing the high level data flow among the various components:



Output   Top

The visualization services let the data to be displayed in full 3D/4D and let the user to interact with them with several I/O devices (from single monitor/mouse to full virtual theatre).

A "background" and a basic display environment will be available before any satellite and/or data are shown in user selected ways.



The "background" will be the Earth with the day/night light effects, the atmosphere flare and the sun position. Clouds will be shown upon request.


Basic Display Environment

The basic display environment will be a variable resolution rendering of the Earth both for images (textures) and for 3D terrain. Furthermore it will show vector layers such as nation boundaries.



Image It will be possible to visualize a chosen set of satellite information (trajectories, station visibility and coverage, instruments foot prints and line of sight) obtained from a mission planning tool.



Data are presented as colour maps. If data are present in the volume, the plane can be moved to show several layers. The colour maps can be also put directly on Earth surface. Example
The data are presented as isolines. If data are present in the volume, the plane can be moved to show several layers.
The isolines can be also put on Earth surface.
Data are presented as color maps. If data are present in the volume, the plane can be moved to show several layers.The streamlines can be also put on Earth surface. Example
Data can be represented as iso-surfaces, either monochrome or coloured, when more than one variable has to be shown. Example
Volume data can be rendered using multiple perpendicular slices of transparent maps. Example

Contributors to this page: andreadv .

Page last modified on Wednesday 22 of December 2010 16:11:47 CET by andreadv.