AN ASTONISHING new world has been revealed in Rennes with the opening of the world's largest virtual reality suite - bringing the sci-fi future of The Matrix to life.
Users of the Institut de Recherche en Informatique et en Automatique (Inria) can become totally immersed in the Immersia virtual world: touching, feeling handling 3D virtual objects in minute detail on the giant glass wall that is the virtual stage.
The stage measures 10 metres wide by 3m deep and high and, wearing stereoscopic glasses and with their movements captured by infra-red sensors, a person can enter the virtual world and interact directly with it by moving beside objects, climbing inside and handling controls.
The giant scale of the room means other people can enter and see a stereoscopic view of what is being done but not affect the actions.
It gives immediate hands-on experience of working in different environments - from an earthquake zone, to a whole cityscape, to an army firing range to a car workshop and an operating theatre - and could revolutionise training.
The €940,000 project is funded by Brittany region as part of a French and European research project called Visionnaire and would allow researchers from different countries to collaborate and try out their ideas.
Technical director Ronan Gaugne said the 3D room could allow car industry technicians in different parts of Europe to collaborate to work out the best way of assembling a car - without a single solid piece of metal having been made.
He added: "Immersia is to virtual reality what Cern [the particle physics laboratory in Switzerland] is to nuclear research."
The stage is of immense scale and is made up of retro-projected glass computer display screens: a main screen nearly 10m wide by 3m high with 12.5million pixels; side screens of 3m square at 3.8million pixels and a horizontal acrylic ground screen of 10m by 3m, of 3.6million pixels.
It has already allowed researchers from University College London to collaborate on research projects with the Breton university and future links are planned with Danish scientists.
See the project in action on this video from Ouest France newspaper: www.ouest-france.fr