19 Apr Next generation simulations? Not on the Internet you're used to
Madison, Wis. — A crowd wearing paper goggles gasped frequently as they watched a human cadaver being dissected – in a 3D image sent live from La Crosse to Madison.
It wasn’t just a display of graphics technology that could form the foundation for educational software on anatomy. It was also a demonstration of WiscNet, the high-bandwidth alternative to the common Internet that allowed an audience in the Monona Terrace in downtown Madison to watch a real-time demonstration of software running at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, which developed the 3D visualization technology in a partnership with Stanford’s National Library of Medicine.
UW-La Crosse’s Steven Senger demonstrated several of the university’s next-generation Internet applications on Wednesday for the Wiscnet Future Technologies Conference.
Senger used a 3D input device to explore the cadaver by digging through muscles to find ribs and organs, and assigning colors to particular blood vessels, bones and other parts of the body. Besides the cadaver, the audience got to see a rotatable image of a human hand in various stages of dissection, which Stanford produced to show the anatomy of tendons, and a cross-sectional view of the human body that can be displayed on PDAs.
The technology could form the basis for a variety of educational programs on anatomy. “All of the apps need some kind of pedagogy built on top of them,” Senger said.
“Folks like Steve are growing their need for bandwidth,” said David Lois, executive director of WiscNet. “We need to build greater connectivity.”
To do that, WiscNet is bridging educational institutions with high-speed network connections in a statewide segment of the national network called Internet2. WiscNet’s link to Internet2 currently flows between Madison and Chicago, though redundant links elsewhere are being planned.
All University of Wisconsin and technical college campuses are on the network, as are 75 percent of K-12 districts, Lois said. The other 25 percent opted out. The Monona Terrace has a connection, too, because of its proximity to the Madison university campus and frequent use for demonstrations.
A “northern tier” network is in the works, which would run connections from Madison through Minneapolis and other northern cities all the way to Seattle. Then there’s Boreas, which would connect Midwestern institutions in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Missouri and Iowa.
Besides meeting the high bandwidth requirements of applications like the digital cadaver demonstration, WiscNet allows institutions to set up connections quickly and flexibly, said Patrick Christian, who is working on WiscNet and the Boreas project for UW-Madison. “Some connections I might need for a week, and I can’t just get that from my telephone company,” he said.
Senger and his colleagues are still trying to find a way to make their bandwidth-intensive applications accessible to more people. There’s no way to get a WiscNet connection to your home, for example, and the immersive 3D applications developed at La Crosse can take up to 10 times the bandwidth of the fastest home DSL connection available today.
Then again, using a lot of bandwidth was one of the goals of the National Library of Medicine project to begin with.
“NLM was interested in having people build things that require unusual networks to run,” Senger said.