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The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa is now a leader in data visualization.

“Which is basically techniques for turning data, into imagery, to help people make sense of these large amounts of data,” said Jason Leigh, a UH Mānoa computer science professor.

UH’s new prominence in the futuristic field is thanks to the successful recruitment of Leigh, the university’s second Hawaiʻi Innovation Initiative hire.

Leigh came from the University of Illinois at Chicago where he was an internationally recognized leader in data visualization. He helped develop Cave Automatic Virtual Enviromment (CAVE) and CAVE 2: a 2-D and 3-D, 320-degree panoramic, virtual reality environment made up of 72 flat screen LCD panels, 20 Ambisonic speakers and 36 high-speed computers.

Jason Leigh

“You step into it and it is projected with three-dimensional computer graphics and objects appear, or data appears, as if they were real, floating in front of you,” said Leigh. “So the computer helps you make those picture, make those connections between all of the different pieces of data that you are trying to fuse.”

CAVE 2 is being used in medical research, chemistry, automobile design, to name just a few. Leigh has secured funding to build a smaller prototype of the next generation of the technology at UH Mānoa. It will be called the Cyber-CANOE.

“It stands for collaborative, analytics, navigation and observation environment,” said Leigh, adding that UH is perfect for the Cyber-CANOE because of its world renowned programs like oceanography and astronomy. For example, data visualization can be used to quickly and better analyze massive amounts of data being collected by UH oceanographers.

“They can literally swim in this virtual ocean and observe their data as it is being collected,” said Leigh. “I mean, that is one of the voids on this campus, right? And so I am filling that crucial void right now.”

The ultimate goal is to build a Cyber-CANOE on each island, connected with high-speed networks that will enable faculty and students to share information, data and classes across the state and the world.

“The CANOE sort of works really well as a metaphor because these were the vessels of discovery for the Polynesians,” said Leigh. “And now these electronic CANOEs are the vessels of discovery for Hawaiʻi to explore the new data age.

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