Coming Soon to Acadiana

The 21st Century is coming to Acadiana in the form of what is known as a Highly Immersive Visualization Environment (HIVE), a 3D virtual reality room that is designed to transform innovative ideas into profitable products.

The Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise (LITE), scheduled for completion in February 2006, will house four collaborative visualization data venues – one HIVE, one 174-seat visualization auditorium, and three visualization conference rooms. These four venues will be made available to small business entrepreneurs such as artists, software designers, Information Technology start-up owners, engineers, and manufacturers who will be able to “experience” their imaginative ideas in a 3D virtual reality environment before their ideas are built – saving time and money. Since LITE will be made available for public use, it will be the only visualization center of its kind in the world.

“The purpose of LITE is to help existing companies grow, help innovators create new businesses, and to transform Acadiana from a traditional economy into a knowledge-based economy,” say Dr. Ramesh Kolluru, Director of the Center for Business and Information Technologies (CBIT) at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Research Park.

The Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise is part of Louisiana: Vision 2020, a statewide economic strategy for ensuring statewide prosperity and global competitiveness by the year 2020 by establishing the necessary technological resources in Louisiana for business creation, retention and growth.

Another large part of the Louisiana: Vision 2020 strategy is a major optical networking project for Louisiana’s universities called the Louisiana Optical Network Initiative (LONI), an economic development tool and a state-of-the-art optical network that will interconnect eight Louisiana centers of higher education throughout the state. LONI is an economic initiative created by Louisiana universities to improve research capabilities and increase national and worldwide visibility for university research projects. Because of LONI and the National LambdaRail (NLR), a nationwide optical network connecting universities and technology companies across the country, the innovative research projects conducted at the Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise can be shared in a “collaborative visualization environment” with scientists and technology experts throughout the U.S. in real time.

The eight university research institutions linked to LONI will be Louisiana Tech University, Southern University, Tulane University, Louisiana State University, LSU Medical Center in New Orleans and Shreveport, the University of New Orleans, and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, which formed a partnership with the State of Louisiana and the Lafayette Economic Development Authority (LEDA) to build Acadiana’s one of a kind $20 million Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise.

“LITE is the kind of facility that a university dreams of having,” says Greg Gothreaux, President & CEO of LEDA. “This 3D visualization technology will have a significant economic and academic impact on the future of our community well into the future,” continues Gothreaux. “With this technology we will have the world’s leading 3D visualization center, and it is the kind of center that will provide cutting edge visualization space for both new and emerging applications.”

Before the idea of building a visualization center was considered by LEDA to be the perfect economic stimulus tool for Acadiana, independent oil & gas company representatives initially petitioned the Lafayette Chamber of Commerce and LEDA for technological assistance to help make them competitive with large oil & gas companies by suggesting that a shared resource and visualization center should be constructed.

According to Gothreaux, “The need was presented to us initially by the oil and gas community as a problem that is being faced by small independent companies – geologists and geophysicists – with the fact that they have don’t have access to this technology. Because this is an emerging technology that is applicable to many fields – archeology, medicine, design of any kind, molecular, architectural – we wanted to develop the idea for economic development applications.”

Over a period of two years LEDA investigated a wide variety of Information Technology research environments located all across the world in search of the best technology and best business practices of three critical elements for their facility; a collaborative visualization data center, a supercomputer, and a research park. After 5000 pages of information were compiled, the best aspects of each element were chosen to create the Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise. And LEDA added one unprecedented critical feature to their version of the best visualization research facility it could create; the facility would be made available to the public to help create new businesses and jobs.

“The other visualization centers around the world are locked up, closed to the public, available only to the company and their customers, or in a peer university environment,” counsels Keith Thibodeaux, Chief Information Officer for Lafayette Consolidated Government, and former Chief Technology Officer for LEDA. “None of the other visualization data centers had a job creation or economic development aspect. LEDA is the first economic development agency to pair this visualization technology with a university for the purpose of creating jobs and new businesses.”

Once inside a Highly Immersive Visualization Environment, project designers are able to “experience” the graphic images they have created with a visualization graphics computer as if the images were “real” by wearing a “headset display,” which is a computer that synchronizes each eye to see the graphics in the three dimensions of height, width and depth. Cyber gloves with “haptic feedback sensors” can be worn on each hand to give the designer the experience of weight and applied force, allowing the designer to “manipulate” the graphics and “feel” the experience of picking up a coffee mug and moving it as if the mug was a real object.

The Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise will use a grid computing environment; in other words, a supercomputer with super high speed data transfer that will transmit a massive amount of data so quickly that huge graphic images generated in the Lafayette-based HIVE will allow fellow project designers in a New York City-based HIVE to “experience and manipulate” the exact same 3D data in a shared “collaborative environment” in real time. The economic and intellectual impact of collaborative visualization technology on the medical industry and engineering design are staggering.

“The economic potential of this visualization technology is incalculable,” says Dr. Kolluru, “and because small business entrepreneurs can participate, we will have the only center like it in the world.”

Allowing small business owners, IT start-up companies, artists, software designers, engineers, and manufacturers to use LITE’s visualization technology means the creation of new technology products, along with venture capitalist opportunities. Eventually Information Technology companies from around the world will choose Acadiana to set up shop when we become recognized as an innovative center for knowledge-based IT companies. And this means new high paying jobs for ULL’s latest graduates, Acadiana residents, and an unprecedented opportunity for any entrepreneur with an innovative idea.

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