An Immersive Experience in Complex Systems

9/30/2013

Anyone from a Stevens freshman to a veteran agency head who wants to learn more about complex systems and enterprises can now get a full and firsthand experience in the new Immersion Lab on the fifth floor of the Babbio Center.

The lab, led by professor William Rouse of the School of Systems and Enterprises, features cutting edge technology to help people better understand their systems in order to make smart business or policy decisions.

“The lab is for people who aren’t necessarily engineers but who deal with complex systems questions,” Rouse said. “They could be decision makers, policy makers, or agency heads. The lab is intended to give them enough experience to appreciate the complexity of their systems.”

The lab, part of the Center for Complex Systems and Enterprises, features an 8x20 foot, 180 degree set of interactive touch sensitive monitors that gives visitors a visually enriching learning experience. Visitors can experiment with various models and simulations, design structures, and attempt to solve problems. “People want to see what they have created, and they’re rather surprised to find things they didn’t realize they created,” Rouse said.

Though the lab has only been open a few weeks, Rouse said it has already attracted a lot of interest from students, faculty and others. “So far it’s really been rather an amazing level of interest in the lab,” he said. “When people come into the lab and they see these things, our experience has been, they go ‘wow, this is astounding’.”

Rouse submitted his proposal for the lab in February, and SSE approved it in time for an August launch. SSE is funding the lab through its research budget, from both internal and external sources.

Dinesh Verma, dean of SSE, praised the investment. “As we get more and more involved with research related to complex systems and enterprises, abstract concepts require well thought out visualization schemes to allow appropriate insight,” Verma said. “It is very exciting to see the faculty from across the institute energized and engaged in the lab.”

The lab’s infrastructure can be used to explore any number of subjects, or enhance understanding of what Rouse calls complex enterprises such as health care delivery and virtual cities. Professor Alan Blumberg of the Center for Maritime Systems is an avid user of the lab and sees the potential it offers his field. “The Immersion Lab will revolutionize how we unravel the physical processes operating in the ocean and atmosphere by providing detailed views of observations and model results,” Blumberg said. “That visualization will lead to better validated forecasting models and then to more accurate results.”
Among other benefits, Rouse said the Immersion Lab has generated interest among many of Stevens’ partner organizations such as Lockheed Martin and the National Science Foundation. Rouse said he believes the lab will become a popular resource on campus for researchers of any discipline.

“As we continue to invest in and refine this computational and visualization infrastructure, I envision 24 x 7 use by systems thinkers and policy researchers, as well as architects and artists,” Rouse said. “Large-scale interactive visualizations will increasingly be a primary means for understanding, managing, and even enjoying complexity.”