UALR Lab Translates Big Data Into Dollars

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, Mar. 3, 2014 12:00 am  

Grad student Mohamed Messaoudi enters a virtual world as he interacts with the EmergiFLEX 3-D data visualization equipment at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Emerging Analytics Center. (Photo by Russell Powell)

Clay Gordon, executive vice president and chief development officer of Nabholz Construction Corp., praised the facility.

In designing a project, Nabholz uses building information modeling, or BIM, software that translates two-dimensional information — drawings, blueprints — into three dimensions.

Nabholz sends its 3-D models to the Emerging Analytics Center and then brings a project team — the designers, architects, engineers and owners — to the center’s lab, which has transformed those models into virtual reality. “Instead of looking at that model on a computer screen, we’re able to put it in that facility and — as you probably experienced yourself — you’re able to put on the glasses and literally walk around that [virtual building],” Gordon said.

“When you combine what we do with building information modeling, and putting it on a real-live scale, you’re able to really, truly show the client and ourselves and the design team what that end product is going to be like before we ever put a shovel in the ground.”

Some people struggle to visualize designs — of a home, an office building, a hospital — represented in only two dimensions. The EAC and its Virtual Data Lab can put people into what appears for all the world to be a three-dimensional home, office building or hospital. “Visualization is huge,” Gordon said.

“If we’re on a project and we discover something in the course of construction, it obviously has potential to stop a job, cost time and cost money to make those changes,” he said. But with the use of BIM and the help of the Emerging Analytics Center, “we’re able to — in a short, simple way — save a lot of time and money by making decisions sooner and avoiding changes” and potentially costly change orders.

Nabholz previously had been a customer of UALR’s original Virtual Reality Center with its Cave Automatic Virtual Environment, or CAVE system. The firm used the CAVE system to display the new Magnolia Regional Medical Center that Nabholz was building.

The hospital CEO, a board member and the head of nursing used the CAVE to explore the design of their new hospital. “And it was tremendously beneficial for the head of nursing, because she was able to really get a feel for the space,” Gordon said, such as the distance between nurse areas and patient rooms.

Since then, Nabholz has used UALR’s virtual reality systems more than half a dozen times, including with clients CARTI and Southwest Power Pool.

The health care industry also sees the benefits of UALR’s Virtual Reality Lab. The lab, using actual patient MRI data, can put a doctor “inside” a patient’s body, enlarging a spine many times and projecting it in three dimensions for enhanced analysis. A haptic interface allows users to interact with and “touch” the images.

Ahead of the Game

In many ways, UALR got a jump-start on the big data revolution with its early emphasis on information science and information quality, as realized in the 1999 founding of the Donaghey College of Engineering & Information Technology. The school’s first Virtual Reality Center became operational in 2001, and the college partnered with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2006 to create the nation’s first academic program in information quality.



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