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Short History

Former Staff

About the VRL: Short History

The Virtual Reality Laboratory (VRL) at the
University of Michigan (UM) was a research facility within the College of Engineering and operated by the Department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering. Research and development at the VRL concentrated on industrial applications of immersive virtual reality, augmented reality, and other variations of virtual reality. Additional projects include architectural walk-through models, free-form shape design, accident simulations, medical applications, training simulators, archeological modeling, educational events, academic outreach activities, and more.

The VRL was created in April 1993 with initial funding from the automotive industry in Detroit. The Laboratory expanded rapidly into a facility with state-of-the-art equipment and was widely recognized for its pioneering work in areas like virtual prototyping of automotive interiors and other designs, simulation of manufacturing processes, and related engineering and non-engineering applications.

The unique characteristics of immersive virtual reality provide an unrivaled instrument for the analysis of spatial arrangements as found in complex mechanical systems. The VRL developed theses technologies into revolutionary concurrent engineering tools for the entire spectrum of industrial design and manufacturing processes.

A focal point of the Laboratory's research was the rapid creation of virtual prototypes from CAD/CAM databases and the modeling of behavior and functionality of these prototypes for operational simulations, engineering analysis, as well as simulation of assembly, production and maintenance tasks. In addition, the use the World Wide Web standard VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language) for distributed virtual reality and collaborative team work over distances became an important part of the VRL's activities.

The VRL cooperated with many other schools and colleges on the University of Michigan's campus and assisted in the exploration of non-engineering applications of virtual environments. The Laboratory organized educational events and demonstrations and was host of an International Internship Program. Strong ties and working relationships have been developed with industry, government agencies, and other national and international institutions. In addition, the VRL played a visible role in student recruiting, minority programs, and K-12 education. More than 20,000 individuals visited the VRL and experienced the illusions of immersive virtual reality first hand.

Testing the Virtual Car Setup

Summer Camp CAEN Visitors

Visit by Michigan Governor Engler

With the retirement of its founder and director Klaus-Peter Beier, the VRL closed its doors in 2008 after a most successful operation for more than 15 years. Part of the VRL's work is now being continued by the University of Michigan 3D Lab.

About the VRL: Former Staff

More than one hundred undergraduate and graduate students, international interns, visiting scholars, university affiliates, and permanent VRL staff worked at the Lab over the many years. Their contributions were essential for the Lab's success and are highly appreciated. Thanks to all of you!

From the early days of the VRL:
Former staff members Anita, Joe, Avinash, Baljit, Ralph

Steffen, Lars, and Diganta with Director
Beier (back) and our NW Airlines Sponsor (front)

List of Former VRL Staff Members

Last Update: November 19, 2008, kpb
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