A CAVE is a virtual reality system that can be used to immerse a user in virtual environments. These virtual environments can represent realistic spaces or spaces that would be impossible to create in the everyday world. For example, our lab uses city-like environments through which users navigate using a joystick. Our lab could also create unrealistic spaces such as never-ending labyrinths. We use such virtual environments in order to study topics such as spatial cognition (i.e., the study of how people mentally manipulate and/or navigate through spaces) and architecture (i.e., the designing and constructing of enclosed spaces). The CAVE is also well-suited for collaborations with experts in other fields, including physics and the geosciences, because it allows for the precise manipulation of a person’s physical environment. The physical CAVE system consists of three walls onto which three-dimensional images are projected. A user’s position and orientation can also be tracked using cameras (mounted above the projection walls) that pick up infrared lights (placed on the user’s head). Overall, the CAVE allows for (a) the creation of new spaces, (b) the manipulation of existing spaces, and (c) precise tracking within these spaces.
We have also integrated a mobile eye-tracking system with the CAVE so that we can record the direction of a user’s gaze within the virtual environment. Gaze information is available to the CAVE system in real time, which means that objects in the virtual world can react to the participants’ gaze.