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NEWS
Re-creating a Tornado In 3-D
February 25, 2015

When The Weather Channel meteorologist Jim Cantore stepped into an EF-5 tornado re-created in 3-D in a four-story immersive installation at Virginia Tech, his perspective was that of someone 7,000 feet tall. Beneath him was the landscape of Moore, Oklahoma. Around him was the storm that killed 24 people in May 2013.


The Weather Channel's Jim Cantore dons a sophisticated virtual reality headset alongside Bill Carstensen (left), a professor and head of the Department of Geography at Virginia Tech. With them is Ben Knapp, director of the Institute of Creativity, Arts, and Technology. A Virginia Tech doctoral student (right) queues the simulation. Photo courtesy of Logan Wallace/Virginia Tech.

With support from Virginia Tech’s Institute of Creativity, Arts, and Technology, a student and faculty team from the geography department in the College of Natural Resources and Environment created the storm in the Moss Arts Center facility known as the Cube — a highly adaptable space for research and experimentation in immersive environments.

Cantore was tipped off by Kathryn Prociv, a Virginia Tech geography graduate who is now a producer at The Weather Channel.

She had been a storm chaser with the Virginia Tech team for three years before completing her master’s degree research on the effects of changes in land surfaces on rotating storm intensity in the Appalachian Mountain region.

When Prociv asked her former instructor Dave Carroll what was happening at her alma mater, he told her about the tornado re-creation in the Cube. Cantore promptly made arrangements to visit, accompanied by Greg Forbes, The Weather Channel’s severe weather expert.

The project was born when Bill Carstensen, professor and head of the Department of Geography, told Benjamin Knapp, director of the Institute of Creativity, Arts, and Technology, about Carroll’s 3-D images of storms.

“We could build a tornado in the Cube,” Carstensen told Knapp during intermission at an event at the Moss Arts Center. Knapp urged him to write a proposal. Subsequently, a $25,000 Science, Engineering, Art, and Design grant from the institute made it possible to hire Kenyon Gladu of Troutville, Virginia, a junior majoring in meteorology, and Trevor White of Henrico, Virginia, a master’s student in geography.

Gladu worked with radar data and White did the programming to retrieve the needed NEXRAD (Next-Generation Radar) data and render it appropriately. Institute staffer Run Yu of Beijing, China, a computer science doctoral student in the College of Engineering, placed the storm in the cube.

The Cube allows complete tracking of where a subject is standing, moving, and looking. An Oculus head-mounted display provides an image of what the subject would see from any vantage point. If there are two people in the cube, they will see each other as avatars and will be able to see different points of view and exchange information.

“It will be a valuable tool for researchers, forecasters, and students,” said Carstensen.

This story can be found on the Virginia Tech News website.


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