UH nets $5 million grant for data visualization lab


The Laboratory for Advanced Visualization and Applications (LAVA) at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa is set for a major software upgrade, funded in part by a $5-million grant from the National Science Foundation.

LAVA consists of 1,200-square feet of space equipped with the world’s highest resolution hybrid reality visualization system called the Destiny-class CyberCANOE, which stands for cyber-enabled Collaboration Analysis Navigation and Observation Environment. The system was created by Information and Computer Sciences Professor Jason Leigh.

LAVA also is flanked by numerous ultra-high-resolution stereoscopic 3D and 2D, touch-enabled display walls. And it is the software running these walls, SAGE2 (Scalable Amplified Group Environment), that is getting a big boost from the grant.

Jason Leigh gives a Cyber-CANOE tutorial at Kamehameha Schools.

The grant beneficiaries include UH, the University of Illinois at Chicago and Virginia Tech University, and will go toward developing SAGE3, which will essentially add Artificial Intelligence (AI) to the mix.

SAGE2 was first designed for research scientists who had lots of data they had to make sense of. Through the years, technology costs dropped so rapidly that now almost anyone with a computer and three monitors can put together a SAGE wall.

Leigh and Assistant Professor Mahdi Belcaid are co-lead investigators for the new grant. Leigh said the grant for SAGE3 takes the technology to a whole new level by incorporating AI, turning the wall into a smart “co-pilot.”

“The applications for this technology are endless.” Leigh said. “It will be tremendously useful to enable evidence-based response during natural disasters, like the current COVID-19 pandemic.”

Leigh added: “It will make it easier for scientists to use AI to analyze large amounts of data to make discoveries faster. It will help teachers use and teach AI concepts to future generations of students. It will also help film makers and video game designers brainstorm over new ideas more effectively by being able to analyze how films and video games in the past relate to each other and which ones had the greatest popularity and why.”

SAGE3 provides scientists with an intuitive framework that integrates state-of-the-art AI technologies with applications, workflows, smart visualizations and collaboration services to help them access, share, explore and analyze their data, come to conclusions, and make decisions with greater speed, accuracy, comprehensiveness and confidence.

In its grant announcement, the National Science Foundation wrote:

“SAGE3 augments every step of the scientific discovery enterprise—from quickly summarizing large data, to finding trends and similarities or anomalies among one or more linked datasets, to communicating findings to scientists, public policy and government officials, and the general public, to educating the next-generation workforce.”

It is the scientists and future scientists who must harness the big data revolution to solve the nation’s grand challenge problems that will benefit society as a whole, Leigh said, including studying the diversity of life on Earth, understanding the Earth and its systems from satellite imagery of its poles, developing response scenarios for natural disasters such as landslides and pandemics that impact the citizens and economies of the world and more.

Hollywood film producer Chris Lee, founder of UH’s Academy for Creative Media System, has long been a supporter of SAGE2, helping Leigh construct SAGE2-based tiled display walls, or CyberCANOEs, throughout Hawaii.


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