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Research Laboratories

Graphics, Imaging, and Robotics Laboratories – Sitterson Hall

The faculty members of the graphics and image groups share over 3,500 sq. ft. of laboratory space in Sitterson Hall. This lab is equipped with a large number of high-performance graphic workstations.

A large portion of the laboratory space is dedicated to the group’s work in effective virtual environments. Specialized VE equipment includes head-mounted displays from NVIS and Virtual Research that are used in a 32 ft. by 34 ft. tracked space. This wide-area tracking is done using the UNC-developed HiBall™ optical tracker (now a commercial product from the 3rdTech, Inc.). A PhaseSpace IMPULSE capture system is also used for motion capture research.

An 800 sq. ft. portion of the laboratory is dedicated to robotics research. The laboratory houses a variety of robots, including a Rethink Robotics Baxter robot with two 7 degree-of-freedom arms, an Aldebaran Nao small humanoid robot, a differential drive Pioneer P3-DX mobile robot from Mobile Robots, Inc., iRobot Roomba platforms for multi-robot coordination experiments, and prototypes of custom-designed robotic devices for minimally invasive surgery. The laboratory features an open space for mobile robot research and includes ceiling mounted cameras for robot tracking.

Two additional lab spaces are dedicated to multi-user, auto-stereo display research and advanced telepresence research. The latter currently includes a full-duplex video wall testbed built with eight 64″ HDTV flat-panel displays, 20+ Point Grey Research high-resolution digital cameras, a low-resolution PMD[vision] S3 3D-camera from PMD Technologies, and five multi-core Dell T7400 workstations. The team also enjoys dedicated access to a Cisco TelePresence System 1000 installed and funded by Cisco as part of their national research and education network (NREN).

The laboratory’s scene capture resources include two DeltaSphere™ rangefinders, one with a visible light laser and another infrared. The DeltaSphere has a range of up to 50 feet, with typical error of less than 0.1 inches at 30 feet. The absolute error depends on the surface scanned. Angular resolution is variable; we typically set it at 15-30 samples per degree.

Graphics and 3D Vision Laboratory – Brooks Building

The expanded graphics/vision lab in the department’s new building addition is approximately 2,500 sq. ft. that is configurable into multiple curtained zones, each with its own lighting, power, and A/C controls. All of the spaces have a Unistrut® grid below the ceiling for mounting equipment (projectors, cameras and lighting) with power and data connections.

This space is currently configured into three research zones – one for projective display research, one for computer vision and optical tracking research, and one for physical simulation and audio synthesis research with a focus on GPU processing.

We have an extensive inventory of high-quality digital cameras (e.g., over 100 from Point Grey Research and Sony, and 10 progressive-scan PTZ networked cameras, Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Canon EOS 60D) and projectors (high-end units including Projection Design models F1, F2, F20 and F22 and numerous LCD and DLP projectors from Proxima, InFocus, Mitsubishi, Epson and NEC) that we can use for this project. We also have 10 pan-tilt-units and controllers from Directed Perception, and full-duplex audio equipment. This lab space has three high-end human tracking and motion capture systems: a 3rd Tech HiBall-3100™ Wide-Area, High-Precision Tracker and 3D Digitizer, a Northern Digital Optotrak Certus® motion capture system, two NaturalPoint OptiTrack motion capture systems, and an Xsens Moven Suit motion capture system. We have enough lab space to stage both static and mobile platforms. To aid in research on avatar inhabitation by people we have both a Point Grey Research Ladybug2® and Ladybug3® spherical digital video camera system, and a custom built 7-projector surround workspace/console.

Applied Engineering Laboratory – Sitterson Hall

ael1The Applied Engineering Laboratory (AEL) provides facilities and expertise for building prototypes of a variety of microtechnology-based systems. It enables research in the use of information processing technology in a multidisciplinary context. Custom-designed and/or off-the-shelf VLSI and conventional components are used to build systems from small-scale proof-of-concept prototypes through systems of significant size and complexity, such as the Pixel-Planes family of graphics supercomputers and the HiBall tracker for virtual environments. A technical staff of research faculty and state-funded engineers provides continuity of know-how and economically leverages new research thrusts. Sophisticated facilities and equipment are maintained to support work in electronic, optical, mechanical, and other relevant technologies.

ael2The AEL is an exceptional academic prototyping laboratory with an established, world-class track record. The facility contains a complete machine shop (with milling machine, lathe, etc.), measurement and analysis equipment (oscilloscopes, spectrum analyzers, signal generators, etc.), chip test and rework gear, and chemical handling equipment.

The lab maintains an extensive suite of design automation (CAD) tools. These tools include industry-standard Cadence and Synopsys tool suites, as well as industrial-strength tools for the design of asynchronous circuits and systems (Haste/TiDE tools from Handshake Systems, a subsidiary of Philips Semiconductors). These tools are used for design and simulation, and for preparing VLSI layouts for sending to foundries for fabrication through the MOSIS fabrication service (www.mosis.com).

Networking Laboratory – Sitterson Hall

The department’s networking group also maintains a large lab for network research that currently contains over 150 PC systems running a wide range of production and experimental operating systems, interconnected via dynamically configurable and partitionable networks running at 10, 100, and 1,000 Mbps. The laboratory is also directly connected to the North Carolina Networking Initiative’s GigaPOP, a Cisco DPT fiber ring spanning the Research Triangle Park region of North Carolina, operating at speeds of up to OC-48 (2.4 Gbps), and interconnecting the Triangle with the National LambdaRail. This flexible facility, which has been used to investigate technology for realizing differentiated services based on combinations of active router-queue management and packet scheduling, will be used for virtual presence research.

Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Laboratory – Sitterson Hall

Over 5,000 sq. ft. space is dedicated to the bioinformatics and computational biology research cluster, which includes office space for faculty, staff, and students, computer laboratories, classrooms, and conference rooms. The laboratory is also equipped with a newly installed Dell cluster server with over 200 CPUs and over 50 TB storage capacity. Ten computing nodes on the cluster each has 32GB memory while the rest of the nodes each has 8GB memory. The cluster runs Ubuntu linux and Sun’s Grid Engine. The faculty, staff, and students in this facility develop cutting edge computational methods for large scale data management, analysis, and visualization, which are critical for many biology research projects. This facility supports current and new research collaborations between computer scientists and biologists, as well as educational and training activities for interdisciplinary students. The laboratory will provide a dedicated environment to host and train students and postdoctoral researchers from outside the CS department, and provide new computational tools benefiting biology research.

Computer Security Laboratory – Brooks Building

A space dedicated to computer security faculty, students and associated postdocs and staff members exists on the third floor of the Frederick P. Brooks, Jr. Computer Science Building. This space accommodates three faculty members focused on computer security, and up to twenty graduate students. It also includes meeting rooms and offices to accommodate short- and long-term visitors to the group in support of collaborations with other institutions. The Security Laboratory leverages the networking and computing facilities in our department, but also has a number of specialized computing clusters dedicated solely to the group. Many of the machines in these clusters have strict policies on how sensitive data is collected and stored (e.g., anonymized and encrypted while resident on disk), as well as restriction on what principals can access such data. Critical data is automatically backed up for archival purposes.

App Laboratory – Sitterson Hall

Led by Professor of the Practice Jeff Terrell, the App Lab is where UNC students can learn how to build web and mobile applications. Students can learn not only how apps are built, but also how software is built in a professional, collaborative environment that utilizes the same project management tools used by professional software engineers. The lab features electric desks that can be shared by multiple students while sitting or standing as well as a large desk for larger team discussions and working with physical devices.

Computing Facilities

General Computing Environment

The department’s computing environment includes over 1000 computers, ranging from older systems used for generating network traffic for simulated Internet experiments to state-of-the-art workstations and clusters for graphics and compute-intensive research. Departmental servers provide computing services, disk space, email, source code repositories, web services, database services, backups, in addition other services. All systems are integrated by means of high-speed networks, described below, and are supported by highly skilled technical staff who provide a consistent computing environment throughout the department. Most students are assigned to a two- or three-person office, though we also have larger offices that can hold more students. Each student is assigned a computer, with computer assignments based on the students’ research or teaching assignments and their seniority. Currently the minimum configuration for student computers is a desktop system with dual core 64 bit 2 GHz processor, 4 GB RAM, and 240 GB hard drive, though many students have computers that exceed these specifications depending on their job and seniority. In addition to the departmental servers and office systems, our research laboratories contain a wide variety of specialized equipment and facilities. We also have an extensive virtual machine infrastructure spanning two machine rooms.

General computing systems include 800+ Intel-based computers plus about 50 Macintosh systems, plus a variety of servers and virtual machines.

Software Environment

Our systems primarily run the Windows 10 operating system, with some still running Windows 7, We have a large number of systems, including many of the servers, running Ubuntu or Red Hat Linux, and MacOS. We use the AFS file system for central file storage. Languages most commonly used include J++, C++, Java, Python, PHP, and C. Document preparation is usually accomplished with standard applications on PC systems. Our extensive software holdings are continually evolving. We are a google shop and have unlimited storage in Google Drive and use all core Google applications. UNC also offers Office365 cloud services.

Network Environment

The network infrastructure available to Computer Science is extensive. In the Frederick P. Brooks, Jr. Building and  Sitterson Hall every office and common space is equipped with category 6 or better twisted pair cable. All offices in Sitterson also have coaxial and fiber optic cable. All data connections in the both buildings supports 1 Gigabit per second, and we have a growing number of systems using 10 Gigabit connections. Extensive riser connections enable the department to create multiple separate physical networks between any points in the two buildings. Wifi networks over 802.11 A and N are available throughout both buildings.

A 10 Gigabit link connects the department’s network to the UNC-CH campus network and the North Carolina Research and Education Network (NC-REN), allowing users to access the National LambdaRail/Internet 2 network and commodity Internet. We also have a 10 gigabit connection through the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) to the Global Environment for Network Innovations (GENI) project. The department’s network is connected to the North Carolina Research and Education Network (NC-REN), a statewide network that links research and educational institutions. Our two-way video classroom and teleconference rooms allow connection to any institution served by the network.

UNC-provided Computation Infrastructure

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill provides computing resources for researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill. Among these are:

  • The Longleaf cluster is a Linux-based computing system available to researchers across the campus free of charge. With nearly 6500 conventional compute cores delivering 13,000 threads (hyperthreading is enabled) and a large, fast scratch disk space, it provides an environment that is optimized for memory and I/O intensive, loosely coupled workloads with an emphasis on aggregate job throughput over individual job performance. In particular workloads consisting of a large quantity of jobs each requiring a single compute host are best suited to Longleaf. The Longleaf cluster is targeted for data science and statistical computing workloads, very large memory jobs, and GPU computing. Resources are managed through a fair-share algorithm using SLURM as the resource manager/job scheduler.
  • The Dogwood cluster is a Linux-based computing system available to researchers across the campus free of charge. With over 11,000 computing cores, a low latency, high bandwidth Infiniband EDR switching fabric and a large scratch disk space, it provides an environment that is optimized for large, multi-node, tightly coupled computational models typically using a message passing (e.g. MPI) or hybrid (OpenMP + MPI) programming model. Most of the cluster is comprised of nodes with Intel Xeon processors with the Broadwell-EP micro-architecture and 44 cores per node. There is a partition with some newer Intel Skylake nodes as well as a smaller knl partition, with Intel Xeon Phi processors (Knight’s Landing) for development purposes. Resources are managed through a fair-share algorithm using SLURM as the resource manager/job scheduler.
  • Carolina Cloud Apps, a web application development platform powered by RedHat’s OpenShift Enterprise software.
  • Virtual Computing Lab (VCL). Originally developed by N.C. State University in collaboration with IBM, the VCL provides users with anytime, anywhere access to custom application environments created specifically for their use. VCL provides users remote access to hardware and software that they would otherwise have to install themselves on their own systems, or visit a computer lab to use. It also reduces the burden on computer labs to maintain large numbers of applications on individual lab computers, where in many cases it’s difficult for some applications to coexist on the same machine. In the VCL, operating system images with the desired applications and custom configurations are stored in an image library, and deployed to a server on-demand when a user requests it.
  • Participation in the RHEDcloud Foundation, which stands for Research, Healthcare and Higher Education Cloud Foundation. The RHEDcloud Project brings people together from research universities, pharma, healthcare providers, cloud service providers, and cloud platform providers to design and implement better security, automation, and integration for cloud computing.
  • The Secure Research Workspace, which contains computational and storage resources specifically designed for management and interaction with high-risk data. The SRW is used for storage and access to Electronic Health Records (EHR) and other highly sensitive or regulated data; it includes technical and administrative controls that satisfy applicable institutional policies. SRW is specifically designed to be an enclave that minimizes the risk of storing and computing on regulated or sensitive data.