Giant screen for huge scientific challenges
© Inria / Photo H. Raguet
New light is being shed on complex sciences on a screen the size of a cinema. This is a portrait of WILDER, the video wall which is taking research into a new dimension.
The aim of the WILDER project is to allow scientists to browse through huge images with unparalleled ease. This wall, which consists of 75 screens, totalling six metres by two, follows on from the WILD project launched in 2009. As well as being bigger and more accurate than its predecessor, WILDER has screens whose edges are almost invisible. Nothing now interferes with the impression of "floating" in this environment. Michel Beaudouin-Lafon, manager of Digiscope, the project which oversees WILDER, admits that this is a fascinating experience: "Your gaze moves much faster on an image wall. Your eyes jump from one point to another in 1/40th of a second. Your neck and body move faster than the mouse. Most of all, viewers create a mental map of the image, even when it is very complex. Their overall vision evolves and their spatial memory improves."
However, the project is far from finished. "It is good to have a giant screen" , he explains. "But it is frustrating only being able to control it with a keyboard and a mouse. We want to imagine it better than that." The objective is to ensure that users can zoom in and out with their fingers, as they do on a tablet. WILDER integrates multipoint touch screens, as well as the possibility of remote interaction. "If we look closely, we can see several infra-red cameras around the screen" , explains Michel Beaudouin-Lafon. "These are used to detect objects fitted with markers, for example, to locate a sensor worn by a scientist. If the scientist comes closer, the image on the screen gets bigger."
The device, which is intended for assisting with scientific discoveries, among other things, also needs to be adapted for group work. "Today, major challenges are tackled in teams. This is not possible using traditional video walls" , explains Michel Beaudouin-Lafon. "Let's imagine a crisis unit after an air disaster. Ten experts are gathered together, including a meteorologist, a pilot and an air traffic controller. The map displayed on WILDER gives them a global vision. They can discuss the situation based on this common reference, but that is not all. Each expert holds a tablet which displays targeted, specialised information, such as a weather map or air corridors. When a piece of data is worth sharing, the expert points his tablet at the screen and places the information in a precise area." With its giant screen, WILDER can synchronise tablets and thus allow researchers to share the same level of information.
To take this further, Michel Beaudouin-Lafon now wants to connect remote video walls. "We have linked our WILD prototype to the LIMSI immersive room, which is located one kilometre from our lab. When their room displays a complex molecule, our wall displays the same molecule, perhaps with other information superimposed. When they move the molecule, it also moves on our screens in the same way. These initial tests are very promising." This innovation is of great interest to industrial players.