Are we there yet? Technology at SIGGRAPH

The paper presentations at SIGGRAPH are no doubt an indicator of bleeding-edge research in Computer Graphics. With extremely clever techniques and creative application of math, some of the presentations belong to the "How in the world did they think of that" category. After attending paper presentations and courses that are so overwhelmingly technical, a natural question to ask is "So does all this get out there, into the real world?"

Technology at SIGGRAPH
Imagine that the words following this sentence were on different flash cards- a penny for the images flashing through that brain. Belt. Chick. Wine. Cow. Playstation. Now the last one is quite unclear. One might ask "What am I supposed to see- papers, art technology?" and just like you probably guessed, there is no one correct answer to that. The average technical researcher might see paper abstracts, the artists- abstractions, some others- innovative technology that might cater to their needs and the first timers- just the SIGGRAPH logo. Of these, the third is especially interesting. Especially at a time like now, with almost everyone developing a theory about when the economy is going to see those great times again, Is the industry is pulling up its socks or just being overwhelmed by the high amounts of quality research? Is the industry contributing to a significant bit of the current research? Is the research contribution from the industry more practicable? The questions are many. In my hope to kindle the reader to think about answers to them, I will try to provide candid reports of some of the technological attractions at SIGGRAPH 2004.

Technology? Too vague for me
I use the term technology for those research ideas that have "arrived." Oh! No! If only the modern dictionary was not polluted by such convenient words. Those that few can define, but aid in communication, or should I say miscommunication. To clarify, "technology" in this article will mean research that has culminated in a practicable implementation that affects graphics users(digital artists, gamers, engineers, educators, students, etc). Oops! Has this word just been "overloaded" in the modern dictionary? Too late to worry about it.

Thermo-key- Image Segmentation using Thermal Methods

Human segmentation is applied in a variety of fields, from the weather channel (to overlay the weatherman) to face-face communication. Using thermal information apart from regular color information from a separate infra red camera, the folks at University of Tokyo managed to segment the human body in a given environment. Since the effective of the method depends on the temperature of the environment, it can be done at real time and eliminates the need for "Chrome-Key" methods. "What is that?", you ask? If you've seen Jim Carrey perform his antics in front of a Blue-Screen, you have the answer already. If you haven't- chrome-key methods are based on the assumption that any occurrence of a certain color may be assumed to be background. This assumption is used to segment the human form.

Body Brush

"Why don't we capture body motion and render paintings in 3D using computers?", said Horace Ip from the City University of Hong Kong. That is exactly what their product does. Once complete, viewers can navigate through the 3D painting on a computer. The artist moves around in a cubical volume of space, with a rectangular color strip that runs along the perimeter on the floor. The paint color depends on the color on the strip at the point where the artist entered and stroke thicknesses depends on how outstretched the artists hands are. The intensity and hue saturation are varied according to speed and acceleration of the artist. The result of all of the above variations, generates stunning 3D paintings. The system also works in an audio mode, where the frequency of sound being generated varies with the above actions.

To summarize, the Body Brush generates refreshingly different looking paintings, and opens the doors to a whole new world of art. Also, IP claimed that this product can be used for psychological analysis/treatment.

Real-Time Motion Capture

" Current motion capture is good, however users are encumbered, the systems are costly, complicated and not easy to relocate. That's okay if we want to use it in the movies because millions of people go to view what is done just once," says Richard Marks from Sony Computer Entertainment U.S. Research and Development. Richard said that their goal was to to try to overcome each of these problems with the addition constraint of achieving interactive output. After a clear explanation of the current technology used in motion tracking, he explained the pros and cons for each. One particularly interesting method was using the "Clam." The clam consisted of two colored grippers with the front rectangular faces being coated with a special reflective coating. Much to the amusement of the audience, he played around with a rubber model stretching and pulling it around.
Richard concluded his talk by saying "3D motion capture is what we're truly interested in." Rishi Deshpande, the next speaker, spoke about how Sony is using a Z mini camera which additionally captures grayscale images with the intensity being proportional to the depth. Using this, coupled with some image processing, the head, trunk and hands of the subject can be identified.

Arc Science Simulations Inc
Arc Science Simulations Inc claims that this is the first truly spherical display. The idea behind the omniglobe evokes a "And nobody has done this before?" response. Using a projector that throws the image from the bottom of the sphere vertically upwards onto a convex mirror that distributes the image, the omniglobe produces images without intensity variation over the surface. Of course the convex mirror on top, yields in a blind spot at the top, apart from the one from where the projected image enters the globe.
The applications for the Omniglobe are in History, Education and military applications. One point to note was that all applications used the spherical device to display planetS. It should be interesting to see how creatively spherical display devices can be used.

The Dimension book

The Dimension Book

Imagine reading out bedtime stories from flat LCD displays. Well it doesn't require too much imagination for those that visited the Dimension Book exhibit at Emerging technologies. So why would somebody want to read off an LCD display that can be held pretty much like a book? Yes it is almost the same experience, except that you can see embedded video, change viewpoint in the pictures by changing the orientation of the device, blow out torches in the book and flip pages by pressing a button.
This innovative device was designed at the University of Tokyo and with some refining it should have great potential in Education.


The ATI FireGL booth at the exhibition was far from inconspicuous. However few people paid attention to this screen on one side of their booth with a rotating yellow Volkswagen demo- the Engineering Visualization exhibit by Evans and Sutherland(E&S). They were showing off their RenderBeast- a system that consisted of multiple processors, each doing its bit to contribute to the final visualization.
Design centers, scientific laboratories and research centers of all sites are constantly searching for ways to improve their processes and make better decisions while they reduce costs. This requires a computing "Hulk" that can do some serious rendering and the E&S RenderBeast does just that. The RenderBeast is a powerful visualization solution that is currently available in 4, 8 or 16 chassis configurations. It achieves scalability with mechanisms built into the graphics system. The scalability modes of operation include super antialiasing, temporal interleaving and spatial tiling. These can be dynamically reconfigured without hardware modifications.
The RenderBeast is built with the muscle of their own PC-image generator simFUSION.
Overall the RenderBeast seems impressive especially to customers who can afford it.

Qualisys Motion Capture System

What is it with the Volkswagens and the Suzuki's this SIGGRAPH at the exhibition? A Suzuki sports bike is all Qualisys needed to show off their VR system. Well not quite "all" but you get the idea. With a hi-resolution head tracking device, and head active stereo, they allowed adding fancy accessories to the bike. With environments to choose from for the bike to be in, and different accessories, it is heartening to see that after all these years of reading about various VR techniques somebody is actually trying to sell this kind of stuff. Another product, one Magnus Berlander claimed was their "main product", was the Qualisys Track Manager(QTM) a windows based data acquisition software.

Planar Manipulator display- Using physical objects as bi-directional user interface elements
NYU Media Research Lab(MRL)
"We have become so habituated to standard computer interfaces- a monitor, a mouse and a keyboard- that it is difficult to notice their shortcomings."
And so what did they do?
In one corner of the Emerging technologies section, MRL had set up their Planar Manipulator Display(PMD), a novel input/output device that can sense the movement of multiple physical objects on a table surface while simultaneously controlling their motion. Their work extends research on the use of physical objects as input elements by providing a practical method for the use of bi-directional physical elements and their architecture incorporates the use of inexpensive, dumb mobile platforms, high-speed sensing and centralized computation. Adding components is inexpensive since they have a centralized computational resource. They demonstrated a design support architecture scheme for interior architecture as an application of the PMD. Users could arrange and view furniture in an interior space according to preferred layout methods. Each user-selectable layout method defined a set of soft constraints which were employed in computing new configurations. Using a "selector puck", the user could select the arrangement desired.


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Last updated 8/10/03.

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