NASA equipment finds new home at UTC
Dr. Joe Dumas, UC Foundation Associate Professor of Computer Science,
spent the summers of 1996, 1997, 2000, and 2001 as a faculty fellow
in a NASA lab at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
While he worked on "virtual reality" or real-time, computer-based,
man-in-the-loop simulation used by NASA for training and human factors
design evaluation, he noticed lab equipment that would no longer
be used by NASA, but could have a new life in the hands of faculty
and students at UTC.
NASA decided to donate computers that will help simulate activities
in the real world, including space flight, operating vehicles or
machinery, and walking through a building, along with peripheral
devices that will allow a human user to interact with these simulations.
“The computer systems are Silicon Graphics workstations which
are optimized for high performance computer graphics. This is important
because most of our interaction with the world is visual—so
the more realistic the simulated world is visually, the better the
simulation,” Dumas said.
Another acquisition for the department is a device called a "data
glove". This glove allows the computer to identify gestures
a user makes with his or her hand. Fiber optics are used to sense
the amount of bend in each of the user's fingers; this allows the
simulation of objects being grasped or released, which adds realism
to the simulation as the user is able to interact with the simulated
A Polhemus Fastrak tracker is another item on the gift list. It
has sensors that can be attached to the body and tracked remotely
using a magnetic field; its tracking unit periodically reports position
and orientation to the host computer so the state of the simulation
can be updated.
“This equipment will allow us to work on collaborative projects
with NASA and possibly other outside agencies, as well as to pursue
investigations of our own in the area of real-time simulation and
virtual reality. Upper-level undergraduates and graduate students
will be able to work on these research projects with faculty, giving
them an opportunity to learn techniques and concepts that they ordinarily
wouldn't be exposed to in the classroom. It is even possible that
we might be able to use the equipment in conjunction with existing
courses, or develop a new course or courses around it,” Dumas
The NASA equipment can be used with equipment and expertise acquired
from previous grants, including the Wolf Aviation Fund grant that
helped develop a virtual Space Shuttle simulator and the Lupton
Renaissance grant for information visualization through virtual
“We are saving this NASA equipment from gathering dust in
the lab, being discarded, or becoming surplus for pennies on the
dollar, and giving it a good home where our faculty and students
will be able to use it for research projects,” Dumas said.