Texas A&M Viz professors offer a
glimpse of animal vision, hearing



In a twist on Dr. Dolittle’s talking-to-the-animals abilities, a team of Texas A&M University professors has created a virtual environment that allows humans to see and hear some of the extreme ranges of vision and hearing that animals have.

For example, the immersive exhibit gives a glimpse of birds’ ultraviolet vision or whales’ ultrasonic hearing, says Carol LaFayette, who leads the team from the Visualization Department in Texas A&M’s College of Architecture. Professor Fred Parke designed the immersive system, and faculty collaborators were Philip Galanter (sound design) and Ann McNamara (modeling).

LaFayette says she hopes the program changes the way museums teach about the natural world.

Participants at the international SIGGRAPH (short for Special Interest Group on GRAPHics and Interactive Techniques) conference in New Orleans had the opportunity to experience the program, titled “I’m Not There,” by donning 3-D glasses and using a Wii controller to navigate through the exhibit.

Surround-sound recordings of animals in the wild enhance the experience, and LaFayette drew from her specialty in fine art and collaborated with scientists to flesh out her exhibits with scenes set on Cocos Island, located southwest of Costa Rica.

“The Viz lab is about the synthesis between art and science, so we inserted artistic elements into these scenes to make them more realistic and interesting,” LaFayette says. “We take ultra- or infrasonic sound and ultraviolet and infrared light and scale it down so humans can sense it. It’s still not the same way animals experience it, but it gives a sense of what they see and hear.

“Being in an immersive system gives you a different sense of space and sound. You experience practically everything but the scents, and we could probably integrate those, too.”

A similar show is planned at Agnes Scott College in Atlanta this winter. Meanwhile, Professor Fred Parke is working on an LCD version of the system.

LaFayette envisions installing similar systems in museums. “The projects we created, we envision using in a science or natural history museum so more people can experience it,” she says. “Think of all the exhibits that could come to life – and in a very green way. I call it the end of taxidermy.”

Contact: Carol LaFayette, associate professor of architecture, at 979-845-3465 or lurleen@viz.tamu.edu or Kelli Levey at 979-845-4645 or klevey@tamu.edu.

About research at Texas A&M University: As one of the world’s leading research institutions, Texas A&M is in the vanguard in making significant contributions to the storehouse of knowledge, including that of science and technology. Research conducted at Texas A&M represents an annual investment of more than $582 million, which ranks third nationally for universities without a medical school, and underwrites approximately 3,500 sponsored projects. That research creates new knowledge that provides basic, fundamental and applied contributions resulting in many cases in economic benefits to the state, nation and world.


- Posted: May 5, 2009 -

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