Researchers can get into the FRAVE for a total-immersion experience (Photo: TUM)

Researchers at the Technical University Munich (TUM) have developed a virtual reality system that is more flexible, costs less and doesn't take up as much space as previous technologies.

The so-called Flexible Reconfigurable Cave (FRAVE) allows full immersion by an engineer or a designer who can get physically inside the system to envisage the interior design of, for example, a vehicle.

Because the FRAVE's information is displayed on end-user devices such as plasma TV monitors, the system is considerably less expensive. And screen technology takes up less space than the backward projection used in older virtual reality systems.

The FRAVE is made up of 10 plasma screens that can be arranged in different ways. The screens at the side can be opened wide, with a tracking system automatically adapting the image display to the movement of the side sections. They can also be moved in any direction.

TUM said use of standard TVs provides a significant cost savings, "an advantage that could promote more widespread use of virtual reality systems."

The university provided two examples of research projects where the FRAVE is being used.

In one, the landscape of Saudi Arabia is displayed virtually as part of a project run together with the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. In the project, the system is able to show images above and below the earth's surface, something other software cannot do.

In another joint research project, the FRAVE is being used to simulate CO2 separation and storage processes to optimize crude oil extraction.

The FRAVE uses 10 3D Panasonic plasma screens; 12 NVidia and Tesla graphics cards; and six dual quad core computers.