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VMS VIRTUAL LAB
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Introduction

Virtual Laboratory, or VLAB, is a project to develop the technology and methodology for remote access to a research facility employing an interactive, virtual reality interface. The emphasis is on the user's perspective; a virtual environment wherein the user interactively defines the specific data and display configuration that will afford the most productive participation in the experiment. The design allows multiple independent “players”, each at a different remote site, each defining their own custom display.

VLAB is being prototyped in the Vertical Motion Simulator Facility (VMS) and its first use is a flight simulation application. However, the concepts being developed have a much broader applicability - essentially to any remote access, virtual control room situation, such as wind tunnels, flight test facilities, and multiple, interoperable labs.

As several division and branch managers participate in demonstrations from diverse functional areas such as program planning, flight operations, and system design, many suggestions are made that the VLAB concept could “play” in the Integrated Design System, remote flight test, HEDS, and a myriad of other programs.

The first fully functional VLAB was used by researchers at Johnson Space Center, connected to a Space Shuttle simulation running in the VMS at Ames the entire month of June, 1997.

Photo of a monitor showing an aerial display, which is connected to a Space Shuttle simulation Photo of a monitor showing a virtual lab display connected to a Space Shuttle simulation
Monitoring the Orbiter's Approach and Landing.


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The VLAB System

The VLAB system consists of several elements that can be thought of as a suite of options. Referring to the diagram, there is the “core” element represented by the server/client pair of computers.

The client is where the virtual environment is created for the researcher at a remote site. This element provides an interface that is familiar, intuitive, and has all the critical data display elements. The user navigates around a 3-D virtual world and defines his or her particular data sets and displays, which can be saved into retrievable configurations.

The server/client pair is “core” since its features can stand alone, providing a remote researcher all the essential monitoring, control, and data functions.

For applications requiring high resolution video, such as the pilot's out-the-window scene, an MPEG 2 video encoder/decoder pair are being used. This Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) system can be programmed to operate at various data rates - our tests will define a rate that optimizes data rate versus resolution. For high quality audio/comm functions a set of COTS audio encoder/decoders are being employed. Again, our tests will determine the level of fidelity required for different operations. A pair of SGI O2’s are being used to provide two-way video conferencing, shared whiteboard functions, and remote data file access. The video conferencing, was invaluable in the installation, test, and training phases of the project. The LAN at Ames is, in part, a connection through DARWINnet. The WAN solution, a DS3 level data path, was provided by the NREN Project. NREN has funded the “Sprint cloud” network services for about three months.

VLAB in various configurations has been demonstrated to many people in NASA and industry. Presentations and demos have been given to Aeronautics Directorate management and NREN (code I) personnel at Ames. People from NASA Headquarters and Sikorsky participated in demos. At Johnson Space Center, about 50 NASA and contract personnel have gotten exposure to VLAB.

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Last Updated: April 5, 2017

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