NASA creates virtual air traffic control tower with SGI workstation

Scientists at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., needed high-fidelity displays for a new virtual reality air traffic control tower installed at the center early this year.

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Scientists at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., needed high-fidelity displays for a new virtual reality air traffic control tower installed at the center early this year.

They got what they needed from an Onyx2 workstation from Silicon Graphics Inc., also in Mountain View. The system, which costs $1.5 million, processes 3D graphics, imaging, and video data in real time from such sources as high-resolution satellite imagery, digitized photographs, and architectural data.

The airport virtual tower is an accurate approximation of real air traffic control towers at such large airports in Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, and Atlanta, NASA scientists say.

"With runway accidents growing 15 percent a year and passenger traffic expected to double by 2015, this research facility allows airports to widen the safety envelope and push the capacity envelope," says Yuri Gawdiak, project manager for NASA`s Aviation Safety Program. "SGI`s Onyx2 makes it as real as it gets without endangering lives. Controllers, pilots, and airline operators can test air and runway scenarios without the risks of trying it live."

SGI`s Onyx2 "allows us to simulate any of the world`s airports with an unequaled fidelity," adds Nancy Dorighi, operations manager for the virtual airport tower at Ames. "By simulating San Francisco`s airport, for example, we can determine if changing traffic patterns in arrival and departure corridors under certain weather conditions could increase safety. We can also use the simulator`s panoramic IMAX theater-type view of airport terrain to optimize the deployment of emergency vehicles and communications systems."

The system, housed behind a wall of glass, has 16 processors, 2 gigabytes of memories, and six graphics pipes. Each pipe has four raster managers. Information on the virtual airport tower is available on the World Wide Web at http://www.surface.arc. nasa.gov.sdtf. — J.R.

For more information about the Silicon Graphics Onyx2 workstation contact the company by phone at 650-960-1980, by fax at 650-933-0316, by mail Silicon Graphics Inc., 1600 Amphitheater Parkway, Mountain View, Calif. 94043, or on the World Wide Web at http://www.sgi.com.

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Virtual reality in air traffic control: NASA Ames Research Center uses Silicon Graphics workstations for 3D simulations.

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