Britain sends VR to Russia, with love

Professor Bob Stone from the virtual reality company VR Solutions has a good deal of experience at building VR simulations for large British industrial companies who are taking the technology very seriously. More recently, however, he could be found in Russia, in Star City and the Gagarin Space Training Centre, giving a major presentation on VR and associated technologies.

In Russia, Stone worked with a Moscow-based agency, the Advanced Simulation Research and Development Centre, to build a model of the MIR Space Station. With over 17, 000 polygons, the model is one of the most ambitious ever attempted on a PC. It contains detailed instrument and control panels, as well as any details that will help cosmonauts familiarise themselves with the space inside the module. The virtual MIR station also has many interactive elements. Boxes open and shut, videos can be operated, and a virutal earth can be seen through the station’s viewports.

A mock-up of MIR costs around $1billion, so VR naturally has cost advantages. But by immersing both the instructors and the trainee cosmonauts, the same experience is shared. Phase II of the project aims to add more detail and interactive elements. The team hopes to create a VR model of the International Space Station before it is launched next year.

The Russians were able to get hold of computer processing power not readily available in the CIS, as well as special VR hardware and techniques such as texture mapping and levels of detail management. But Professor Stone was also impressed: `Despite having to contend with old-fashioned mainframes, 386 PCs and Russian-based silicon hardware, their achievements in the field of simulation and their considerable software expertise are amazing.’

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