Campus: Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo -- December 14, 2000

$50,000 Grant Helps Bring 'ImmersaDesk' to Cal Poly
Undergraduate and Disabled Student Projects Come to Life With Immersive Visualization Technology

Cal Poly has become the first institution of its kind to offer undergraduates the use of an ImmersaDesk, a unique educational workbench that embodies virtual reality technology.

A $50,000 donation from Pacific Bell helped to fund the state-of-the-art "Fakespace Immersive Workbench" technology. It will enhance the university's "Immersive Visualization Project," which has been in development for more than 3 1/2 years. The workbench allows students to immerse themselves in an environment they have designed. The installation incorporates head-mounted 3-D "stereoscopic glasses," "pinch gloves" to hold virtual objects, and special projection systems.

The ImmersaDesk transforms the traditional drafting table into a 21st Century design tool. Its open table layout and screen allow for powerful virtual modeling displays that can accommodate collaborative work groups with easy access to any segment of a computer model.

Cal Poly's Immersive Visualization Project involves a collaboration among undergraduate student teams from the Architecture and Computer Science departments and provides hands-on experience in keeping with Cal Poly's learn-by-doing philosophy.

"Working together in an immersive environment, today's undergraduate students will become fluent in the use of this cutting-edge technology," said Martin Harms, dean of the College of Architecture and Environmental Design. "This donation embodies the spirit of Pacific Bell and its employees, and the funding of the ImmersaDesk has made this innovative project an extraordinary success."

"We are very proud that this donation will expose students to the latest advancements in technology, so they are better equipped to enter the workforce," said Vic Montalban, Pacific Bell's external affairs director for San Luis Obispo. "Pacific Bell is committed to local communities and projects that benefit the student body. It's even more gratifying to know that it enables underserved students, such as those that are disabled."

Cal Poly has made it possible for this new technology to benefit students such as fifth-year architecture student Darric McCormick. He is a former contractor who is confined to a wheelchair because of a diving accident that left him a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the neck down. The ImmersaDesk has helped him solve design problems by simulating the interiors of wheelchair-accessible buildings.

When McCormick first put on the 3-D glasses, he says, "It felt like being on the job again. I was able to see errors early in my design process, which I might not have caught in the design development or production stage."

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