It is like a scene from a gamer's wildest dreams: 12 high-definition, 55-inch 3D televisions all connected to a computer capable of supporting high-end, graphics-intensive gaming.

On the massive screen, images are controlled by a Wii remote that interacts with a Blue tooth device called SmartTrack while 3D glasses worn by the user create dizzy added dimensions. Student-built and operated under the supervision of civil engineering professor Dan Ames, the technology called VuePod allows users to virtually fly over, wander through or hover above 3D environments that are otherwise difficult to visit.

"This technology has the ability to revolutionise my job as an earthquake engineer," said civil engineering professor Kevin Franke at BYU's department of civil and environmental engineering. The images are created by point data gathered from aircraft equipped with remote-sensing technology LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging).The LIDAR scans the landscape and records millions of data points that are then viewed as an image on the VuePod.

Point data can also be created from stitched-together photographs taken from low-cost drones. With 3D glasses and the Wii controller, a user can virtually drop down into the canyon from above, and then fly from one end to the other.

In addition to natural change detection, the VuePod has the potential to assist in infrastructure monitoring a" such as tracking how highways hold up (or slough and crack) over time and seeing the affect on buildings after severe weather or earthquakes.

While the $30,000 mark, VuePod is certainly not the first immersive visualisation system in academia, it may just be the most cost efficient built to date, said the paper which appeared in the Journal of Computing in Civil Engineering.