Web3D RoundUp: Looking Backwards and Forwards

Vol.34 No.2 May 2000

Hypercosm: Making 3D Programming Accessible

Abe Megahed

This year at the Web3D RoundUP, Hypercosm demonstrated a number of applications that illustrate the importance of making 3D programming accessible. Hypercosm marries an easy-to-use, cross-platform programming language with modern 3D rendering, compiler and interpreter technology and makes this entire package available completely free to everyone. We believe that web-based 3D has the potential to bring about a whole new “golden age” of computing similar to what has occurred in the past with BASIC and HTML. The key to bringing about such a transformation is making the capabilities of 3D graphics available to a wide audience, in such a way that they can tap into the creative possibilities that it offers.

It is often difficult to come up with a solution that combines the ease of use to appeal to a wide audience with the expressive power to make it worthwhile, but two examples from the past indicate that there is a “sweet spot” where these two opposing forces come together. The first example is the programming language, BASIC. The ease of use and (mostly) cross-platform nature of BASIC made it possible for anyone with an interest in programming to build their own creative works without requiring a Ph.D. in computer science to do so. And many did, including quite a number of teachers, students, scientists, graphic designers, librarians and many other non-professional programmers. The second example is HTML which has grown quite a bit in complexity, but was able to gain early acceptance through its initial accessibility.

To illustrate the importance of programming, Hypercosm showed a series of demos at the Web3D RoundUP that focused on education. From an educational perspective, the most important aspects of an instructional graphic are having meaningful interaction and having true simulation so that there is a rich set of possible outcomes to the user’s interactions. These aspects are only possible through the use of a true programming system, which is why a system with an accessible means of programming is so important.

The first set of instructional graphics that were shown by Hypercosm are from a collection of more than 80 interactive pieces that were done for the National Science Center (NSC). The National Science Center is a hands-on science museum for kids which is located in Augusta, GA. The NSC has a mandate to serve as a resource for teachers across the nation and the only realistic way that they can do this is through their website. Using Hypercosm technology, it has been possible to recreate virtual on-line versions of each of these experiments which retain the essential hands-on nature of the experience. Each of these educational pieces was created in between about six and 12 hours of work including the design phase. This kind of accessibility and productivity would be strictly impossible using standard programming tools and programming languages.

The next set of instructional graphics shown was a selection of space simulations that were produced for the New York Times website. These graphics illustrate the configuration and operation of various space probes, the purposes of various space missions, the relative sizes of planets in the solar system, the reason for solar and lunar eclipses and many other concepts. Included so far in the set are the Mars Polar Lander, the Space Shuttle’s SRTM Mission, the Galileo Orbiter around Jupiter, the NEAR space probe and the Hubble Space Telescope. These graphics are often produced on a very short time frame in order to meet tight publishing deadlines. Often, pieces are commissioned and created in only a day or two. This kind of turnaround time would be very difficult to meet using the standard types of tools that are available today. Hypercosm technology opens up these kinds of applications for web-based 3D.

The demos shown at the Web3D RoundUP this year indicate that 3D has come a long way. In the past, much of the development effort has gone into the fundamental mechanics of making 3D work. We are nearing a phase, however, where this effort will begin to undergo a shift. We must now shift towards making this technology accessible which will enable people to find the real world applications of this technology that will make it valuable. We hope that the programming accessibility offered by Hypercosm is a stepping stone towards making 3D technology in general a fundamental cornerstone of the web of the future.

Abe Megahed

The copyright of articles and images printed remains with the author unless otherwise indicated.