Large-Scale, Immersive Virtual Reality and Big Data Exploration Facility at Virginia Tech’s Institute for Creativity, Arts and Technology (ICAT) Acoustic and Audiovisual Design by Arup, Enabled by HARMAN Professional


BLACKSBURG, Va. — The world’s first full-scale (50-feet wide x 40-feet long x 32-feet high) big data exploration facility opened at Virginia Tech on January 30, 2015. Known as the Cube, this four-story, $15 million theater and high-tech laboratory uses powerful motion capture and visual environment technologies, specialized acoustics, real-time audio visual rendering and high-performing computers to create a virtual environment laboratory that allows scientists to model and explore data in sonified, virtual form.

The Cube is a highly adaptable space for research and experimentation in big data exploration, immersive environments, intimate performances, audio and visual installations, and experiential investigations of all types. Acoustics, audiovisual, and 3D audio systems in the Cube were conceived and designed by Arup. The facility is located in the Moss Arts Center and shared by the Institute for Creativity, Arts and Technology (ICAT) and the Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech, and features audio technologies from HARMAN’s JBL Professional and BSS Audio. This environment can also be used by composers and other artists to explore the creative discipline of spatial sound.

According to Benjamin Knapp, Ph.D., director of ICAT, the Cube was initially conceived as a performance space and then reimagined as an incredibly immersive environment, where groups can explore virtual worlds and data of any kind. “Certainly unique to the Cube is the combination of ambisonic and wave field synthesis (WFS) and immersive visual environments, but this is one of the few environments where the virtual experience can be a shared experience,” Knapp said. “I am very excited by the array of immersive audio, immersive video projects that we have already lined up for this space.”

“Virginia Tech has a very progressive, ambitious approach to technology, research and futurism,” said Terence Caulkins, acoustic and audio visual consultant at Arup. “We were inspired to develop this project to pioneer new capabilities, such as multi-user collaborative interaction with spatial audio. This space is unique in its raw number of audio channels and also the height of the space, allowing scientists to do more cross-discipline research and experience phenomena quickly from different perspectives. Our challenge was to make the space extremely quiet and neutral, so we could put the footprint of another acoustical space on top of it and then to place a layer of 3D audio on top of that.”

The Cube features an array of technologies, including virtual and augmented reality (head-mounted display and tablet interaction interface); wave field synthesis and highly directional sound interaction; synchronized data capture, including information retrieval motion capture; audio/video, physiological and interaction signals; and real-time audio/visual rendering. The sound system comprises 124 JBL SCS 8 spatially cued surround coaxial 8-inch loudspeakers wrapped around the walls and ceiling of the Cube in various resolutions. The JBL SCS 8 is a wide coverage loudspeaker that can be positioned in any number of ways and was developed for spatial sound installations. At the backbone of the routing system are three BSS BLU 806 networked signal processors with Dante and BLU Link connectivity.

Commenting on the project, Paul Chavez, HARMAN Professional director of systems applications noted, “Spatial sound is a compelling frontier for audio innovation and is likely to positively impact how and what we listen to in the car, the home and in large venues! The Cube is among the elite facilities for exploration and learning, and we are extremely pleased to be involved.”

Arup ( is the creative force at the heart of many of the world’s most prominent projects in the built environment and across the industry. Its engineers and consultants deliver innovative projects across the world. Arup opened its first U.S. office 25 years ago and now employs 1,000 in the Americas. The firm was founded in 1946 with an enduring set of values that fosters a distinctive culture, intellectual independence and a collaborative approach. The people at Arup are driven to find a better way to deliver better solutions for their clients.

HARMAN ( designs, manufactures and markets premier audio, visual, infotainment and enterprise automation solutions for the automotive, consumer and professional markets. With leading brands including AKG®, Harman Kardon®, Infinity®, JBL®, Lexicon® , Mark Levinson ® and Revel®, the Company is admired by audiophiles, musicians and the entertainment venues where they perform. More than 25 million automobiles on the road today are equipped with HARMAN audio and infotainment systems. HARMAN has a workforce of approximately 17,600 people across the Americas, Europe and Asia, and reported sales of $5.9 billion during the last 12 months ended December 31, 2014.
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