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Virtual Reality Trial over ATM - VISINET

What is VISINET?

The European Commission (DG XIII, TEN-IBC) is funding a trial using virtual reality techniques for prototyping, known as "virtual representation", over broadband ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode) networks.

A preliminary study has shown that there is scope for reducing the time from design to production by several weeks by using virtual prototypes rather than physical mock-ups.

Very often the design department, the marketing team and the production facility are in different locations. Introducing high speed networks for working on the prototypes allows team-work over a wide area and this is the aspect which the trial sets out to explore.

Networked virtual representations offer the opportunity for remote access to visualization facilities and the sharing of data and results via the network (computer supported collaborative work). Demands on the network for the support of data, images, voice and video have been evaluated. This will provide the basis for the scenarios to be studied further in the current VISINET Trial.

Objectives of the VISINET Trial

The objectives are:

The commercial benefits of remote working will be measured and interest in the exploitation of broad-band communications by vendors and application developers will be stimulated. Application areas to be studied include architectural design and industrial design.

The objectives of the Trial therefore encompass both network-based applications and the development of the right infrastructure to support these. Quantitative measurements in both these areas will provide a firm basis on which to develop future network-based services in the areas of visualization, design, digital media, collaborative working, and remote access.

Hardware and Software

The trial will use standard hardware and software components from the leading edge suppliers Silicon Graphics, Division, and visualization vendors, which are already proven (and which already work over local area networks), and which can support most of the packages required by users.

Communications Networks

In order to fulfil the high bandwidth requirements needed in a wide area, the ATM Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) network of the European PTT's will be utilised to provide international connectivity. In the Netherlands, the users will be connected via 155 Mbit/s links to a local node of the PTT in Eindhoven, which in its turn is connected to the ATM MoU network via Amsterdam. In the UK the SuperJANET high-bandwidth academic network will be used which will be connected to the ATM MoU node of British Telecom.

Figure: Network configuration diagram

In Portugal, access to the ATM MoU will be realised via the SMDS MAN installed by TLP. In Belgium, connection to the Belgacom MoU node in Brussels will be realised via 34Mbit/s lines.


The trial will be driven by users based in:

Trial Plan

A phased implementation of the trial applications will place increasing demands on the networks and will provide the framework for the production of interim results and reports to allow progress to be monitored.

Using similar systems and stable environments at each site will enable viability to be established and provide opportunity for systematic assessment of the benefits that accrue to applications and their users from cooperative working.

Technical evaluation of the performance of the applications over fast networks (including ATM) and their interfaces will take place. User evaluation and economic analysis will also be undertaken to provide quantitative information on benefits and business cases for users and telecommunication operators.

Information dissemination will take place using workshops, seminars, and state-of-the-art presentations and reports on the evolution of ATM and virtual representation.


Funding is provided by the European Commission, Directorate General XIII: Telecommunications, Information Market, and Exploitation of Research, Directorate B: Advanced Communications Technologies and Services. The total budget for the project is 2 Million ECU. It comes under the programme: Trans European Networks Integrated Broadband Commun-ications (Ten-IBC).

The project number and official title are:
Project B2007: VISINET: 3D Visualization over Networks.


Partners include European Design Centre, Netherlands (Mr Joao Mena de Matos), Philips, Netherlands, City of Eindhoven, Netherlands, University of Leeds (Dr Rae Earnshaw), UKERNA (formerly JNT), Division Ltd, Analysys, Telecommunications Users' Foundation, Adetti, Portugal, Oficina de Architecture, Portugal, Alcatel Bell Telephone, Limburgs University Centre, Belgium, and Androme CV, Belgium.

Research at the University of Leeds on ATM Networking (Professor Peter M Dew)

The University's experience in ATM networking dates back to 1992 when it installed an experimental ATM network based on a Synoptics LattisCell ATM switch with 16 TAXI ports. This network has grown with the purchase of a second FORE ASX100 switch to undertake ATM LAN integration trials under a project funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). The ATM LAN network forms an integrable part of a Real-time Collaborative Computing Environment to support a number of key research projects that exploit desktop-to-desktop ATM networking. These are:

In addition to these projects, the School of Computer Studies is Virtual Reality Trial over ATM - VISINET continued undertaking a number of related ATM research projects. For example to develop collaborative scientific visualization software in association with the physical chemists at Leeds. A new collaborative research project in conjunction with IBM UK (Hursley) Ltd., TORCH Telecoms and BISS Ltd. is underway to study management and tariffing of city-wide, multi-media network services. A case study will be undertaken using the IBM LAKES collaborative computing architecture.

University of Leeds Virtual Science Park (Dr Christine M Leigh)

Two years ago the University of Leeds concluded that a conventional science park would be inappropriate for an inner city university in a mature industrial region wishing to work with leading edge research partners either from other universities or, increasingly, with industry. Expertise within the University of Leeds has an international standing and our natural collaborators are found over a far wider area than the local and regional. A programme of research and development has therefore been undertaken to create a Virtual Science Park (VSP) which will allow interaction and collaboration between researchers, teachers and students irrespective of distance. The Virtual Science Park is virtual in the sense that the working environments only exist when they are required.

A technical team based within a Virtual Working Environments Laboratory at the University of Leeds has built software to demonstrate the concept and to undertake early trials with key groups within the University.

The VSP integrates emerging collaborative, multi-media computing tools into a system which also provides a carefully structured information architecture to describe the skills and expertise of organisations in the VSP. Navigation and browsing facilities are provided to allow quick and easy identification of potential collaborators and a range of conferencing tools is available to aid communication between geographically separate people. In addition, issues such as security and accounting are addressed. The VSP will require the use of broadband networks and is being piloted over high performance ATM networks as well as ISDN and SuperJANET.

Pilot projects are being developed to better understand the customisation of VSP services; they include virtual research consultancies, access to specialist information services, virtual research clubs and work based projects.

A number of strategic partners including IBM and BT have been identified and are helping to accelerate the development of the technology in order to allow the University to build a state-of-the-art, real time, collaborative computing environment.

The ATM, ISDN and SuperJANET experiments are testing the capacity of both the VSP and the available networks to link widely distributed research laboratories into cooperative and collaborative working arrangements.


This Trial is the result of a pilot study undertaken from 1993/94 to define the facilities required for network based 3D visualization within the European TEN-IBC framework. The pilot study was funded by the European Commission. Some of the above partners participated in the study and the user evaluations. A report was produced and delivered to the European Commission in June 1994. Demands on the network for the support of data, images, voice and video have been evaluated. This will provide the basis for the scenarios to be studied further in the current VISINET Trial.

Particular areas of interest identified by the study were as follows :

Further Information and Press Contact:
Joao Mena de Matos
European Design Centre
Schimmelt 32
5611 ZX Eindhoven
Tel: +31 40 466350

Rae A Earnshaw and
Alan B Haigh