Introduction

For the Technical University Eindhoven (TU/e) VR Lab has developed a Virtual Laser Lab. This is essentially a simulation of a real laser laboratory.

The client

The TU/e is a leading research university in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, that specializes in engineering science & technology. The university has a laser lab on their campus, where students and researchers can experiment with (high-powered) lasers and use various optics to manipulate the laser beam and the path that the beam travels. However, people are only allowed to use the laser lab after (safety) training. It’s not practical to have all students take this training.

The assignment

The TU/e came to VR Lab asking whether we could build a Virtual Laser Lab that can be used by students without training. The initial target was to create a Virtual Reality application for HTC Vive in which the user is inside a laser lab, can switch a laser on or off, put various optics on a table and fine-tune the position and angle of the optics. The beam path should end in a beam dump, after which a display shows the time (in nanoseconds) that the beam travels from emitter to beam dump. Students are told to solve an exercise to extend the travel time of the laser beam by a specific number of nanoseconds and to find the optimal solution to the exercise, using the least number of optics. The current application supports mirrors and refracting prisms.
The experience mirrors the actual Laser Lab and includes safety features such as not being allowed to move the optics when the laser beam is on.

Challenges

The biggest challenge in the development of the Virtual Laser Lab was the interaction with the optics. We needed to implement a UI that allows placing objects on the table, fine-tuning the location of the optic on the table. Furthermore, we needed to add functionality to turn the optic step by step to set the angle for the optic. We have added two actions for this: one that allows to turn the optic with large steps and one to change the angle with very small steps. Depending on the location of the Vive controller, relative to various part of the optics, the UI actions become available. After testing out various ways of handling this interaction we now have implemented something that works well inside the limitations of the medium.

Future

This initial project was setup as a pilot and it is a work in progress. There are many ideas on how to extend and improve the application for the students of the TU/E. Next to that, this application can be used by other universities as well and made to fit their specific needs.