Maxine Brown and Tom DeFanti have prepared a position paper on tele-immersion.
“We are moving in rapid steps toward an age of a single, global economy and a single, global scientific enterprise…One small and important step is to recognize the internationalization of scientific and engineering endeavors and to create the associations, institutions, and infrastructure which properly support the changes that are necessary and inevitable.”
The Role of NSF/CISE in the Global Scientific and Engineering Enterprise
As a result of working on scores of virtual reality (VR) projects, consulting with industrial partners, and comparing results with other practitioners of VR research and distributed computing, the Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL) at the University of Illinois at Chicago has developed a multi-year research and development effort for “tele-immersion.”
Tele-immersion is defined as collaborative virtual reality over networks, an extension of the “human/computer interaction” paradigm to “human/computer/human collaboration,” with the computer providing real-time data in shared, collaborative environments, to enable computational science and engineering researchers to interact with each other (the “tele-conferencing” paradigm) as well as their computational models, over distance. Current tele-immersion research focuses on providing easy access to integrated heterogeneous distributed computing environments, whether supercomputers, remote instrumentation, networks, or mass storage devices using advanced real-time 3D immersive interfaces.
Several years ago, after the I-WAY experiment at Supercomputing ’95, we were asked by the organizers of the G7 Global Interoperability of Broadband Network (GIBN) initiative to poll I-WAY participants to find out if they had international collaborations they would like to pursue. We immediately received 55 responses (http://www.ncsa.uiuc.edu/General/GIBN/); international academic researchers were literally waiting in the wings, all ready to go. This list will soon be updated, but it is clear that an applications community exists; the connections and support were all that was needed to thrive.
In the spring of 1997, the networking infrastructure started to be put in place. The NSF CISE Networking and Communications Research and Infrastructure (NCRI) division funded the creation of STAR TAP, the Chicago Science, Technology And Research Transit Access Point, a persistent infrastructure to facilitate the long-term interconnection and interoperability of advanced international networking in support of applications, performance measuring, and technology evaluations. Refer to http://www.startap.net
The STAR TAP anchors the international vBNS connections program. STAR TAP works closely with the Internet2 community and the Next-Generation Internet (NGI) initiative so that national developments are reflected as much and as quickly as possible in the international offerings. (DeFanti is a member of the Internet2 Technical Advisory Committee and Larry Smarr, chair of the STAR TAP External Advisory Council, is a member of the Presidential Advisory Committee on High Performance Computing and Communications, Information Technology, and Next-Generation Internet.)
The Canadian Network for the Advancement of Research, Industry, and Education (CANARIE) is already connected to STAR TAP. Connectivity with universities in Japan, Singapore, and Taiwan is imminent. Many other consortia and countries have expressed interest in connecting, notably the Asian-Pacific consortium APAN, Brazil, Russia, NORDUnet (the academic network covering the Nordic countries Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden), and the French Education and Research Network (RENATER).
The goal of tele-immersion is to make researchers more productive by eliminating the barriers of space and time so they can interact with computer models, and each other, synchronously or asynchronously, without the delays and expense of conventional travel or time-dependent studies. A clear interest in using CAVEs for collaborative virtual prototyping over distance has been voiced by industrial clients and researchers in national and international laboratories.
Recent and rapid evolution of the Internet in the USA, South America, Europe, and the Far East have led to vastly increased expectations for bandwidth, quality of service, and connectivity. Applications in high-energy physics, space exploration, environmental hydrology, cosmology, nanotechnology, molecular biology, manufacturing, and chemical engineering are expecting to use technologies such as remote instrumentation control, tele-immersion, real-time client server systems, multimedia, tele-teaching, and digital video, as well as distributed computing and high-throughput, high-priority data transfers. These applications and underlying technologies will depend on end-to-end delivery of multi-tens-of-megabits bandwidth with quality of service (QoS) control, and will need the capabilities of emerging Internet protocols for resource control and reservation.
The STAR TAP project assists with high-end collaborations with networking and applications support and provides stable configurations of emerging networking technology. It has enough switching capacity to provide for today’s needs and the future. The principal contribution of STAR TAP, now being developed, is the design and enabling of a truly integrated approach to the management, performance measuring, scheduling, and consumption of geographically-distributed network, computing, storage, and display resources, with specific focus on advanced computational science and engineering applications.
In order to encourage applications, a better level of communication among network engineers, application programmers, and scientists needs to be supported. The nomenclature and styles of networking access and engineering are essentially totally disjoint from the way application programmers and computational scientists write programs and use computers. Security and Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) considerations are typically idiosyncratic at computer sites, yet need to be uniform, or at least interoperable, for networks to support applications.
Most important, support for network engineering, applications programming assistance, and Web documentation for USA scientific researchers and their international partners is key to the formation of long-lasting, productive, international research relationships. We encourage NSF CISE’s support of applications-driven integration testbeds to stress test the constantly changing network technology.