Data visualization center opens at UALR


LITTLE ROCK — Officials at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and Gov. Mike Beebe announced Monday the opening of a data visualization center at the university, said to be the first of its kind in the world.

“The UALR George W. Donaghey Emerging Analytics Center positions our entire campus to conduct cutting-edge research in data-intensive areas, in addition to outreach activities and work with local and statewide industry. The scope of the new center, which we call EAC for short, is truly remarkable,” UALR Chancellor Joel Anderson said in a news conference at the university.

The center, located in UALR’s Engineering and Information Technology building, is funded by a $5 million grant from the George W. Donaghey Foundation and is led by Mary Good, special adviser to the chancellor for economic development.

Linked through fiber optics to UALR’s Computational Research Center, the facility contains 35 screens and monitors with more than 50 million pixels and high-definition resolution. It features a room-sized, reconfigurable 24-screen video wall that can wrap around the user and, with the help of 3D glasses and a hand-held device, immerse the user in a 3D environment and create feedback sensations that simulate the feeling of “touching” the images.

The center also features a smaller, mobile version of the video wall and “robotic telepresence” technology — a robotic device that can move about a room and convey images to a controller in another part of the world. The systems were created by Mechdyne Corp., a visual information technology company based in Marshalltown, Iowa.

“Whether it’s medicine or manufacturing or whatever it might be, there’s endless applications for this technology, to be able to actually see what you’re going to be doing or how you’re going to be building something or constructing something,” Beebe said. “It’s kind of mind-boggling that the technology has gone that far, and I think all Arkansans ought to be proud that the first place it is in the world is right here.”

Among the possible uses of the technology are architectural design and simulation of medical procedures for students, officials said. They said the center should attract new businesses to Arkansas and new students to UALR.

“Advanced data analysis and data visualization are the tools needed now to solve critical problems in all fields, not just in the technical fields we have,” Good said. “So we are collecting across the world today large pools of data that must be converted to information. To visualize is to understand.”

The grant also will pay for a full-time, post-doctoral staff member working in data science, two specialized graduate students and technical and operational support personnel.