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Audivisual Technology: 7thSense in rhythm with Chicago Museum of Science and Industry Giant Heart


Creative design house 7thSense, the specialist in AV media serving for visitor attractions, 3D theatres, planetariums and digital signage, has supplied four of its Delta media servers to the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago for the new Giant Heart within the YOU! The Experience  exhibit, which opened Oct. 8, 2009.

A state-of-the-art AV installation using multiple projectors, the project imposed a unique set of technological demands, which obliged 7thSense to develop and customise Delta in very specific ways.

The largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere, the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry’s YOU! The Experience, located in the Museum’s Abbott Hall, is one of the first and most comprehensive exhibitions that showcases the connection between the human mind, body and spirit in the 21st century.  The 15, 000-square-foot exhibit provides a fascinating, hands-on opportunity to explore and optimize your personal health, fitness and well-being.  The 13-foot-tall Giant Heart is a focal point of the exhibit, and allows guests to see different interior and exterior views of this amazing virtual organ—and it can even beat in time with guest’s own pulse.

One of the major technological and architectural achievements in this project was the steel “XURF” developed by Milgo / Lalvani and created by custom fabricator of architectural metal, MILGO/BUFKIN who is based in Brooklyn, New York.   The strategy for the design and production of the Museum’s more than 13-foot-tall Giant Heart was conceived by Tom Hennes, principal of the New York-based firm Thinc Design, which was responsible for the overall exhibit design. AV systems integration was carried out by BBI, Inc.  Computer-generated 3D animated media for the Giant Heart was produced by scientific animation specialist firm XVIVO.

Across the front of the Giant Heart is a large steel surface, which has a seamless moving image projected onto it by two F12 and three F22 high-resolution projectors from Norway’s projectiondesign.  Behind this surface, and invisible in normal operation, is a two-channel rear-projection screen, also powered by projectiondesign F22 projectors, which can show the internal workings of the human heart.  A soft, central image mask within the external projection surface can be faded up to make the internal rear-projection visible.

Ian Macpherson, co-founder and director at 7thSense, offers this overview of the Giant Heart’s AV design: “For this project, we used four Delta servers configured in Mesh Mode, into which a custom 3D mesh and movie texture from XVIVO, is read and can be placed in 3D space, exactly where the physical mesh is located in the real world.  Virtual projectors are placed around the mesh where the real projectors are located, and the resultant output from the multiple PC cluster is geometrically matched to the real world, so that little additional distortion correction is required.  The Delta outputs are soft-edge blended to bring the projected images into a single, seamless image.”

A series of four different movies for the external projection surface can be selected by the guest using a touch screen console programmed by BBI.  These are a default general anatomical view, blood vessel highlighting, and a special 10-second infarction movie to show what happens during a heart attack.  Complementing these are four additional sequences for the internal rear-projection screen, namely default internal structures, blood flow visualisation, valves in operation, and electrical activity.

“Because any of these movies can be selected at any time, we engineered a flexible Sequence Control mechanism which can swap out movies without pausing, ” explains Macpherson.  “Since we are serving a 2200 x 4000 movie from each PC, this is not a simple requirement, but by creating an innovative mechanism of swapping from high-resolution via a low-resolution version, we allow the visitor to see a ‘smooth fade’ from one movie to another, without pausing.”

For the real-time mask control that allows guests to fade the external view down at the same time as the internal view fades up, 7thSense added a Dynamic Transparency feature to Delta. This enables the guests to use a simple slider control to adjust the level of the internal view, relative to the external one.

Another key element of the Giant Heart – and perhaps its single most compelling feature – is its ability to synchronise its beat with that of the guest, so that the audio and video of the pre-programmed movies are matched to the visitor’s heart rate, as read into the system via two handgrips on the touch console.  This amazing interface between a guest and the Giant Heart was made possible by BBI and Chicago-based leading fitness manufacturer and pulse capture interface company, LifeFitness.

For 7thSense, this posed yet another technological challenge, as Macpherson explains: “Delta was designed as a fixed-rate movie server, but for this project we added the ability to send in a simple external control command which alters the playback rate to the incoming demand immediately.  Not only does this keep the audio in sync with the video, it corrects its pitch in real time so that the sound itself is not altered as the tempo changes.”

BBI proprietor Mark Roos concludes: “7thSense technology is extremely capable to begin with, but for this project the company really went the extra mile – adding unique features to Delta, assisting with the on-site integration and alignment, and generally making themselves available whenever we needed them.  To pull off a project such as the Giant Heart, with its multiple channels of seamless projection and synchronized Dolby 5.1 surround audio, is never an easy task.  Having partners such as 7thSense just helps everything run that little bit smoother.”

For more information about YOU! The Experience and the Giant Heart, please visit YOU! The Experience is made possible through the generosity of Abbott; the Abbott Fund, the philanthropic foundation of Abbott; and the Pritzker Foundation. Additional major funding provided by J. Ira and Nicki Harris Family, Mazza Foundation, and Robert S. and Susan E. Morrison.

About 7thSense

7thsense is an award-winning creative design house with expertise in high-end media serving and projection onto any surface, whether flat, curved, full dome or even non-standard shapes.  The company markets their own Delta Media Server product family which provides real-time uncompressed video serving, show creation and display matching for a variety of markets including 3D theatres, Visitor attractions, Live Events and Planetaria. 7thSense founders have created several patented real-time products in the audio-visual field which are often used in some of the world’s most interesting and challenging of video and audio environments.


Ian Macpherson
Phone: +44 (0) 1903 812299

Four Delta media servers from 7thSense are used by the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago for the new Giant Heart within the YOU! The Experience  exhibit.  JB Spector, Museum of Science Industry.

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