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The Present and Future of 3D

Takashi Kawai, a Professor at the Faculty of Science and Engineering, Waseda University, analyses the current boom in 3D entertainment and the potential future applications of 3D technology.

The Beginning of the 3D Era and the Boom Phenomenon

2010 has been called the beginning of the 3D era, a year in which the term 3D frequently appeared in the media. Here, I use 3D to mean three-dimensional images, or to give them their proper name, stereoscopic images, reproduced to appear in front of or behind the screen. The word stereoscopic was coined by the inventor of the stereoscope, Sir Charles Wheatstone, who first used the term in a paper published in 1838. It derives from the Greek words stereos, meaning solid, and scope, meaning viewing instrument.

The phenomenon of periodic booms in 3D is often pointed out. These were mainly 3D movie booms that occurred in the 1950s and 1980s, and the present day is sometimes referred to as the third boom. The fact that 3D has until now never developed beyond a temporary fad is an indication of the difficulty in popularizing it. Nevertheless, the repeated appearance of such booms does suggest that 3D is a kind of dream technology for human beings. Here I would like to mention the characteristic ripple effect of present day 3D. The rapid development outside the film industry of 3D-compatible TVs, game consoles and mobile devices currently being announced and released by various manufacturers has exceeded the expectations of most researchers such as myself, as well as industry related people.

Issues of Present Day 3D

Although the spread of 3D is expected to result in the creation of new industries and culture, it is still uncertain what the merits and added value will be for users. When asked, “What is the advantage of 3D movies or TV?” it is not enough to simply answer that “things leap out of or into the screen”. Scientific verification of whether 3D can really convey different sensations than 2D, or of what elements of 3D people find appealing, is urgently required so that the current boom does not turn into just another temporary fad.

At our laboratory, we have been conducting an experimental study of current 3D issues as they relate to the user experience. From Figure 1 we can see that the line of sight is concentrated mostly on people, and especially faces, when watching a movie in 2D. Figure 2 is the result when viewing the same movie in 3D. Here we see that the line of sight is concentrated not only on people’s faces but also on the objects in the foreground. To clarify the cause of such a distinctive difference, we have performed a range of detailed analyses, especially of the link with the spatial construction of visual data.

Initiatives toward the Future of 3D

While tackling the present day tasks of explaining viewer recognition and emotional aspects, our laboratory is also facing the challenge of looking to the future of 3D. One such direction is new applications of 3D. An example of this is three-dimensional character blocks for literacy learning developed through joint research with the Division of Developmental Neuropsychology at the National Center for Child Health and Development. The intention is to utilize spatial reasoning capacity in literacy learning by adding information of depth according to the stroke order of a character to its ordinary two-dimensional shape. Such a conceptual shift from representing real shapes three-dimensionally to envisioning a specific effect and venturing to express it three-dimensionally could produce an unprecedented demand for 3D.

Another direction we have taken relates to the extension towards perceptual experience through 3D representation other than vision. Figure 3 shows an example of this, a tactile behavioral illusion system. By combining 3D and tactile stimulation based on certain measurements, this system enables people to experience sensations that have not actually been triggered. Specifically, we can create an illusion related to bodily sensation, a feeling that a stationary object touching one’s hand is moving across the surface of that hand. Such a shift in awareness from a single sense to the integration of multiple senses, or in other words, from vision to brain function, could be vital in shaping the 3D-based media of the next generation.

The desire to see remote things or to present them so that they can be seen is a fundamental trait in human beings. That is to say, interest in and expectations for 3D are perfectly natural, and so the future of 3D also seems linked, to some extent, to human potential.

About the author:

Takashi Kawai, Professor, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Waseda University

Graduated in 1993 from the Department of Human Health Sciences, School of Human Sciences, Waseda University. Having completed a doctoral course at Waseda University’s Graduate School of Human Sciences in 1998, he went on to hold several positions at the University, including Research Associate at the School of Human Sciences, Full-time Lecturer at the Global Information and Telecommunication Institute (GITI), and Assistant Professor at the Graduate School of Global Information and Telecommunication Studies (GITS). Since 2008 he has held the concurrent positions at Waseda University of Professor at GITS and Professor in the Department of Intermedia Art and Science at the School of Fundamental Sciences and Engineering. Dr. Kawai has a doctorate in Human Sciences. His primary works include Fundamentals of 3D Image Expression [3D Rittai eizou hyougen no kiso]

waseda university | Research asia research news
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