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Advanced Visualization Lab repurposes technology across IU campuses

Installing a large, multi-panel tiled video display system, or "IQ-Wall," can be challenging. They are made up of several large, individual, high-resolution flatscreen monitors. The screens are heavy, fragile, and expensive. Some IQ-Walls are mounted in a fixed position, with their screens almost touching, perfectly aligned to create a single huge video image. Other IQ-Walls are designed to be mobile, reconfigurable, and interactive, with their screens mounted onto a chassis in a 4-screen-high column. Multiple columns can be arranged and rearranged into different shapes and for different utilizations, from a widescreen 8x4 experience to multiple outward facing columns.

Chris Eller, Sr. Technical Lead in the UITS Advanced Visualization Lab (AVL), knows a thing or two about IQ-Walls. He's the expert who designs and builds them on all IU campuses. Over the summer, when it came time to relocate three IQ-Walls to new homes in a "technology trickle-down," even Eller had to pause and consider the challenges the project posed. He explains, “First, we had to coordinate timetables to avoid technology logjams at the three hosting sites. Second, we had to exercise extreme care when disassembling, moving, and reassembling the IQ-Walls. Third, since the IQ-Walls are large installations with particular needs, we needed to coordinate with each hosting site to make any needed changes regarding available power and cooling.” 

Within the rare window of opportunity presented by the summer months, the plan was to begin by upgrading the Scholars’ Commons 4x4 stereoscopic IQ-Wall in the Wells Library to an interactive 4x2 multitouch version that had seen much success in Room 414 of IUPUI's Informatics and Communications Technology Complex building (ICTC), which is currently being remodelled.

Interactive 4x2 touchscreen
Interactive 4x2 touchscreen

IUPUI has touch-enabled IQ-Walls in the Hine Hall Idea Garden and Medical Library’s Nexus lab; IU Bloomington, however, had no such facility. Touch adds interactive capabilities to the IQ-Walls’ scale and resolution, offering tremendous benefits to research and pedagogical communities. The Scholars' Commons was a perfect fit for the technology, offering the Wells Library community new ways of sharing educational and artistic resources. The multi-touch wall also adds high-quality video conferencing capabilities, with much less heat and noise than the previous iteration.

Kalani Craig of the Institute for Digital Arts and Humanities (IDAH) reports a notable improvement in speed and responsiveness for the new Scholars’ Commons IQ-Wall. Craig notes, “Having a large-scale display that breaks into lots of smaller pieces has become a central piece of IDAH’s consulting workflow. In fact, we’ve even been able to do more effective Zoom-based consulting for IU folks who are scattered to the wind by combining the new video capabilities with the split-screen approach.”

4x4 IQ-Wall and mobile display columns

The Scholars' Commons upgrade meant its 4x4 IQ-Wall 3D needed to be relocated, and the Mathers Museum, with its video display from 2009, was the perfect candidate. Their IQ-Wall allowed the museum to visualize cultural artifacts and virtual recreations of ancient cultures and locations, and had served as a technological centerpiece for many high-profile events. But after a decade, even the most resilient technology will decline, wear out, and eventually fail, and their old wall was to be scheduled for end-of-life removal. 

The new-to-them 4x4 IQ-Wall 3D was similar in size and resolution to the previous version, but added stereoscopic 3D capabilities for viewing their digitized collections. With a few equipment upgrades, this tiled display system will provide at least 4 more years of visualization utility and service to the museum, reinforcing a strategic partnership with UITS.

The IQ-Wall lets us see photographs in stunningly high resolution. This allows for some new and different types of analysis to take place—you can count the beads in a design, easily read medals, or see the stitches on a quilt. It has also allowed us to host talks that have been enhanced by the ability to have such high res photos.

Sarah Hatcher, Head of Programs and Education at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures

But what happened to the museum's old IQ-Wall? Normally, A/V equipment and computers would be removed and surplussed according to IU's policies and, in this case, much of the old gear followed this well-worn path. But not all of it. Some of the displays were put into service once again as a mobile display column welcoming visitors or detailing Museum events, workshops, or outreach efforts. Instead of adding to a landfill, they add to the museum experience.

By September 2019, the Great IQ-Wall Migration was over. Each of the walls had a new home, new appreciation, and hopefully a bunch of new users. 

The AVL is always innovating and looking to the future, but we don’t lose sight of the past. Repurposing aging but still useful technology helps us get even more value from our efforts while spreading AVL expertise to a widening audience both within IU as well as the greater academic community.

Chris Eller, AVL Senior Technical Lead