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Julie Wernert

Last modified: Tuesday, November 4, 2003

IU's Advanced Visualization Lab develops, licenses and deploys John-e-Box stereo display systems

Indiana University's Advanced Visualization Lab is deploying its first eight John-e-Boxes, which it developed and licensed.

The John-e-Box is a portable, large-format, 3-D stereo display system that is being used to help scientists and researchers analyze complex data sets and collaborate with colleagues, to help students experience historical spaces and understand important scientific phenomena, and to help artists and designers communicate their innovative concepts and creative experiences.

The 3-D stereo effect of the John-e-Box aids in the understanding of the true 3-D structure of scientific data, medical scans, engineering models and virtual environments. The large 4' x 3' screen allows the 3-D experience to be shared among small groups of users, while the portability of the system allows it to be deployed wherever researchers, educators and artists need these capabilities.

The John-e-Box capitalizes on recent advances in commodity-grade (off-the-shelf) components including small, bright, digital projectors; powerful PC processors and graphics cards; and flexible, open source software tools. The John-e-Box is a key component of ongoing plans to deliver the capabilities of advanced visualization displays directly into the labs, classrooms and studios of the university's researchers, educators and artists, creating a technological bridge to high-end display installations like the CAVE.

"Visualization and virtual reality technologies are having broad and significant impacts across Indiana University," said Eric Wernert, senior scientist and manager of the Advanced Visualization Lab. "Many of the same basic technologies that have brought about revolutions in the gaming, entertainment and home theater industries are being harnessed to bring about significant improvements in the accessibility and affordability of these technologies to the broader university community. The John-e-Box is an important and innovative realization of this trend."

"The John-e-Box represents significant steps forward in usability, maintainability and affordability and is an ideal technology for bringing advanced display capabilities to IU's regional campuses," said IU Associate Vice President for Research and Academic Computing and IUB Dean for Information Technology Bradley Wheeler. An initial deployment of eight systems is under way on the IU Bloomington, IUPUI and IU Northwest campuses as part of a National Science Foundation grant involving faculty, scientific researchers and staff from across the university.

"The increasing power, affordability and usability of these systems allows technology groups to deploy these systems directly into labs and classrooms where they can have maximum impact and can be fully integrated with the university's outstanding IT infrastructure and resources for networking, computing, storage and telecommunications," Wheeler added.

The John-e-Box was developed by John N. Huffman of the AVL, in conjunction with Wernert and John C. Huffman of IUB's Chemistry Department. The project was made possible through funding from the Office of the Vice President for Information Technology and through technical support from the Chemistry Department at IU Bloomington. The John-e-Box has been licensed to and commercialized by CAE-net, an Indianapolis-based company with interests in computer-aided design, collaborative engineering, and video streaming for higher education and distributed learning. Licensing was made possible with help from IU's Advanced Research and Technology Institute.

"We feel that the John-e-Box represents not only an effective merger of computing, display and software technologies, but also an effective merger of the talents, efforts and resources of groups within the university and the state of Indiana," Wernert said.

The John-e-Box is just one of a number of key hardware and software technologies in the areas of visualization, virtual reality, advanced graphics and visual collaboration that the AVL is developing, refining or deploying in its mission to support the research, education and creative activities of Indiana University.

About the Advanced Visualization Lab

The Advanced Visualization Lab is a unit of the Research and Academic Computing division of University Information Technology Services at Indiana University with laboratories at IU Bloomington and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. To learn more about the AVL and its collaborators and ongoing projects, visit