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DiVE offers 3-D look at Latin text

You emerge from a cave into a dark, wooded area around dusk. Twigs snap and leaves crunch beneath your feet as you walk forward amid the haunting whispers of dead souls lamenting their fate.

Through the trees, you can make out the misty surface of a turbulent river, and in the distance, a solitary figure in a long wooden boat heads your way.

The Roman hero Aeneas encounters such a scene in The Aeneid, a text studied in Clare Woods' classical studies class. With the help of the Duke Immersive Visual Environment project, her students will soon be able to encounter a similar experience.

Woods, a professor in the romance studies department, has been working with her independent study class to create a virtual reality experience simulating the passage to Hades described in The Aeneid.

Her idea was made possible with the help of the DiVE project. The DiVE, a virtual reality system composed of a series of projectors and six walls in the shape of a cube, is housed in the Visualization Lab at CIEMAS. These projectors display images on the walls that when viewed through special glasses appear three-dimensional.

A sophisticated tracking system allows users to "pick up" objects and fight enemies-transforming a video gaming experience from a button-mashing session into a completely interactive and immersive adventure.

The DiVE, completed in June 2005, was created by Rachael Brady, the director of Duke's Visualization Technology Group, in collaboration with the staff at the Pratt School of Engineering and the Office of Information Technology.

Brady explained that DiVE is a versatile tool that can load an infinite number of environments and has enormous implications across a variety of disciplines.

She cited examples such as allowing medical students to practice dissection, help people get over their phobias by virtually exposing them to what they are afraid of and illustrate educational concepts that are easier to understand three-dimensionally than in a book.

In order to use the DiVE, the user stands in the middle of the cube and manipulates a device similar to a video game controller to select display options.

The virtual reality environments-often referred to as "Caves"-use one to four walls to project three-dimensional images.

Duke's "Cave," however, contains six sides and is one of only seven such facilities in the world.

"A six-sided Cave is a rare thing-it's definitely an all-around experience," explained Robert Duvall, lecturer in the computer science department. "With a four-sided cube you don't have a ceiling, and you don't have a floor. So you look up and the illusion is gone."

The DiVE features state-of-the-art technologies like brand new projectors that have not been released on the market yet, an advanced tracking system that uses ultrasonic waves to pinpoint the user's location in the DiVE and 3-D glasses with liquid crystal displays synchronized to the projectors.

DiVE's myriad applications have led to nearly 70 individual departments to contact Brady about ideas for programs.

One project already in the works is the result of collaboration between the cognitive studies department and the clinical therapy department at Duke University Hospital.

Brady said the group is designing a virtual "crack house" to try and help people get over their addiction to heroine. They are studying how individuals suffering from addiction react once placed in certain environments.

Brady, however, appreciates the DiVE primarily for how it can enhance the educational experience for Duke students, like with the "DiVE Underworld" project.

Using passages from the text and historical accounts of life in Ancient Greece and Rome, the students are working to create an authentic environment for the user.

Duvall estimated some form of the Underworld program will be completed by the end of this summer, but Woods and her students hope this will be an ongoing project.

"Ideally, I'm sure it's going to take a few years, we will have a huge interactive system with a bunch of myths all built around this little piece," said Jake Pelley, a senior and one of the four students in Woods' independent study class.

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