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A Platform For Research

Faculty from across the Rensselaer campus already are identifying ways EMPAC will further existing research and make new projects possible:

Assistant Professor of Computer Science Barbara Cutler is developing modeling and simulation tools that will allow architects to design greener homes and offices. Cutler will project a visualized design environment onto movable partition video screens to create a makeshift “room” in EMPAC.

Architects could then make real-time design adjustments such as moving walls, resizing or moving windows, or modifying virtual blinds to test how their alterations would affect the space’s natural lighting.

Selmer Bringsjord, professor and head of Cognitive Science, recently created a virtual character that resides in “Second Life” and has the reasoning abilities of a 4-year-old human child. He hopes to use EMPAC to create a “holodeck” where humans can interact with cognitively robust synthetic characters in real time.

Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Suvranu De is working with Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering Professor Shivkumar Kalyanaraman to develop “teletouch,” the ability to send the sensation of touch over long distances.

Ken Jansen, professor of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering, is developing computational models of blood flow that simulate different cardiovascular surgery options that are specific for each patient a doctor might be planning a surgery for, providing a prediction of blood flow, thereby virtually identifying the procedure that will produce the most favorable result. This information provides valuable insight that will one day enable doctors to use the simulation tools developed to pair their experience with quantitative data specific to each patient.

“Even with this breadth and depth of activity, we are just beginning to scratch the surface of what EMPAC can provide to our research community,” says Kolb.

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During EMPAC’s opening weekend, audiences will be able to view an installation by the renowned collective The Wooster Group, titled “THERE IS STILL TIME..BROTHER,” which was made possible, in part, due to the work of Jonas Braasch, assistant professor in the architectural acoustics program.

The 20-minute film, directed by Elizabeth LeCompte and developed with Jeffrey Shaw for his Interactive Panoramic Cinema, will be shown on a 40-foot-round, 15-foot-high 360-degree screen that surrounds the audience, and the 360-degree environment could be likened to being in a busy cafe or office with multiple conversations taking place between people.

Each screening is controlled by a single viewer from a swivel chair. Wherever the chair is pointed at any given moment, the film is clear and the audio is full, while the rest of the screen is blurred and the sound muffled.

With the film, Braasch takes the technology of Interactive Panoramic Cinema to a new level of sophistication. “With the screen that size, it becomes very important that the sound comes exactly from the same direction as the visual,” he says. “In theater production you record everything with microphones close to actors but your recording doesn’t have any information about their location. We designed a system that would record the sound and take the data of where it’s located.”

Commissioned by EMPAC, the piece was written and performed by members of The Wooster Group, an influential New York City-based theater troupe founded in the 1970s. According to producer Cynthia Hedstrom, EMPAC’s commission reversed their normal approach to technology. “We tend to start with content and then find ways that technology can enhance it. Here we were starting with technology and finding content for it. That was unusual.”

Braasch is looking forward to future projects at EMPAC. “It is one of the few centers that has the right balance of people involved in the arts and involved in engineering. That’s very difficult to have, without one side dominating the other,” he says.

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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter by the Office of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180-3590. Opinions expressed in these pages do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or the policies of the Institute. ©2008 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.