The CAVE® Virtual Reality Environment at Rowan University

The CAVE® is a room sized, virtual reality (VR) environment inside which a group of users wear stereo glasses to visualize, navigate and interact with a 3‐D virtual environment that is created using a combination of digital light processing projectors, infra‐red precision‐position tracking system, data gloves and associated computer hardware and software. The CAVE® presents an immersive surroundscreen, surround‐sound virtual world which viewers can explore by moving around and grabbing objects using the data glove. Unlike users of the video‐arcade type of VR system, CAVE®‐users do not wear helmets to experience VR. Instead, they put on lightweight stereo glasses and walk around inside the CAVE® as they interact with virtual objects (see Figure 1). Multiple viewers often share virtual experiences and easily carry on discussions inside the CAVE®, enabling students and faculty to exchange discoveries and ideas. The real power of the CAVE® environment is the ability to mix virtual reality imagery with real devices (like one’s hand, for instance).


Fig. 1: Students simulate a NASA rocket engine test inside the CAVE® at Rowan University.

The CAVE® was designed at the University of Illinois in Chicago to be a useful tool for scientific visualization and can be coupled to remote data sources, supercomputers and scientific instruments via high‐speed networks. The name “CAVE,” is both a recursive acronym (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) and a reference to “The Simile of the Cave” found in Plato’s Republic, in which the philosopher explores the ideas of perception, reality, and illusion.

Applications of the CAVE® for Urban Environments

Since the development of the CAVE® in the 1990s, the technology has matured and made an impact in numerous applications including virtual prototyping of automobiles and aircraft, molecular modeling and drug discovery, mathematical modeling and visualization, and more recently medical visualization.

At Rowan University, student and faculty researchers have used the CAVE® for simulating rocket engine tests for NASA, modeling unmanned aerial vehicles for the US Navy, visualizing 3‐D cross‐sectional representations of the human body (in collaboration with Cooper Hospital) and developing flood‐control methods for the City of Camden (see Figure 2).

Fig. 2: A student visualizes the effects on flooding in the Von Neida Park area in North Camden inside the Rowan University CAVE®.

Fig. 2: A student visualizes the effects on flooding in the Von Neida Park area in North Camden inside the
Rowan University CAVE®.

Rowan students are developing an immersive, interactive and navigable tool using 3‐D virtual reality systems for modeling flooding and remediation in cities in Southern New Jersey. In its first innovative application of the CAVE® technology to the urban environment, Rowan’s College of Engineering recently created a 3‐D immersive model of a 50‐block section of the Cramer Hill neighborhood in the City of Camden, which suffers from a severe, chronic flooding problem, in order to identify effective, cost efficient solutions. This model is not only a visually accurate representation of the neighborhood (buildings, streets, topography and greenery), but is also an accurate functional simulation of rainfall events.

There is considerable potential in expanding this work to visualize other urban environments. Application of the CAVE® VR technology has the potential to:

  1. Provide practical, cost‐effective solutions to chronic infrastructure problems;
  2. Act as a tool for efficient resource allocation, particularly when available city/state/federal resources are limited;
  3. Allow for city planners to ask “What if?” questions, and simulate a variety of scenarios including population growth, traffic patterns, proposed new development, etc.

For more information:

Shreekanth Mandayam, PhD
Associate Provost for Research and Executive Director of the South Jersey Technology Park
Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ 08028
(856) 256‐5333,