Virtual Laser Lab

Discover the world of lasers and optics

Platforms

HTC Vive / Oculus Rift S (soon)

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. 

A safe virtual laser lab

After having seen the potential of Virtual Reality at an open day at the VR Lab, one of the teachers at the TU/e asked us whether a virtual laser laboratory would be feasible,

Could we build a Virtual Laser Lab that can be used by students without safety training or without training in the application?

Optics

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.

Optics

Hold left mouse button on the 3D model
and drag to rotate.

Challenges

The first version of the application supported mirrors and refracting prisms. The VR training application mirrors the actual Laser Lab and includes safety features such as not being allowed to move the optics when the laser beam is on.

After the initial version various enhancements have been made to the Virtual Laser Lab. Many more types of optics have been added and users can now store configurations that they have build. They can reload them at any time to continue working on them. A teacher can also load the configurations for assessing and/or grading them.

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 and 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 pretty well within the limitations of the medium.

Why VR and VR Lab?

Virtual Reality is an excellent opportunity to allow students to work with a laser lab. Other than working in a real laser lab, it is the only real option for students to experiment with lasers and optics. The immersion of VR and the interactivity of the application make it a very believable simulation, thus providing the best possible approximation of the laser lab.

At VR Lab we have all the necessary skills to develop a project like this. This project did not only require 3D modelling and VR development skills, but also the development skills for implementing the mathematical calculations for the optics. All of these are available in the VR Lab team. Our agile development approach made it possible to iterate quickly so multiple ways of handling the interaction could be tested and refined.

The TU/e and VR Lab have plans to extend and refine the application. Next to that, this application can be used by other universities as well and made to fit their specific needs. The software will soon be available for licensing by other universities.