SGI opens new Reality Center

Silicon Graphics Inc. last week officially opened a new Reality Center in Orlando Fla. The new facility dedicated to virtual reality and simulation demonstrations and development is the first such domestic center outside the company's Mountain View Calif. headquarters. Its location is strategically placed near a number of the company's key Defense Department customers.

Florida Governor Lawton Chiles called the new facility "a cornerstone in the [Central Florida] National Center for Simulation."

Vendors such as Harris Corp. Science Applications International Corp. and Lockheed Martin Corp. have facilities in Central Florida. But by far the most significant presence are the many DOD simulation facilities in the area. These include the Army's Simulation Training and Instrumentation Command (Stricom) the Navy's Naval Warfare Center/Training Systems Division (NAWC/TSD) and facilities for the Air Force and Marine Corps. "Defense is the theme of the facility and of the day " said Ken Marcks a Florida sales manager for SGI's U.S. field operations who is responsible for SGI's presence in Florida.

The 25 000-square-foot facility is powered by a Silicon Graphics Onyx2 InfiniteReality eight-processor system along with O2 and Octane Graphics workstations. It should be capable of running virtually any simulation package from the company's partners customers or third-party developers. The outputs include a 9-by-25-foot SEOS Displays spherical screen with a 160-degree field of vision three projectors digital display and surround-sound stereo.

"It's equipped with the latest in visual display technology graphics supercomputers and other graphic products...to allow users customers and partners to experience highly realistic simulation " Marcks said. "We've created a very intense sensory experience."

Real-Time Interaction

The facility will allow participants to interact with real-time 3-D environments and it maximizes the sensory experience with the most technologically advanced graphics and sound available according to the company. It enables everything from distributed interactive simulation battlefield simulations and firearms rehearsal to distance learning and aircraft modeling and simulation. The goal is "to create a center for both learning and simulation including industry government and academic partners " Marcks said. While the site does have product-development facilities most of the work will be in presentation and demonstration at least at the beginning he said.

"It's a site devoted to people looking for solutions to problems " said Donald Campbell executive director of Florida's Training and Simulation Technology Consortium. "They want customers to come in and say `We want a solution.' " The facility's grand opening was held Nov. 5 but SGI personnel moved in July and the facility had been running since early fall. The site has been open to customer visits for several weeks.

The Reality Center will be used for demonstration and research according to the company. "Demonstrations will be a higher percentage [of the work] especially at the beginning but the working lab will be significant " Marcks said. "Orlando has become the center - the hub of military simulation. It makes perfect sense for us to be here the Defense business is one of our core businesses."

Ever since the joint Army/Navy effort that would become Stricom relocated from New York to Florida in 1965 "Central Florida has become a central point for industry academia and military services " said James Skurka deputy commander of Stricom.

"Florida is the catalyst because of the synergy between industry academia and military " Campbell said. "There's a high-tech corridor here. Florida has made training and simulation a business sector and Silicon Graphics is going where the business is." More than 150 companies involved in simulation have facilities in the area with many more within the state.

"Stricom deals with many companies in many locations " Skurka said. "The benefit of co-locating is the ease of communicating and sharing ideas and technology. Leveraging commercial technology is a high priority for Stricom."

SGI's recently announced management changes and corporate restructuring have made the facility more important not less the company said. "We are streamlining some operations and building up others. This is one we will be building up " Marcks said. "Our realignments will make us more focused and strategic but the bottom line is that the government is a very key area - an area where we will see more investment even as other areas see less."

"Silicon Graphics has got to pick where it wants to play " said one observer who asked not to be identified. "They've made this investment and they don't want it to go down the tubes. This is a ball game they want to be in."

-- Lazar is a free-lance writer based in Tenafly N.J.

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