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Getting real with virtual reality


Ever wished that you could know what a place was like before you booked a holiday or you could revisit where you went on holiday? A new virtual reality tool created by the IST project BENOGO allows you to do just this.

The project was initiated to build on research into a new image-based rendering (IBR) technique that had been carried out by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, one of the project partners. BENOGO aimed to further develop the technologies to produce an innovative system to permit near photo-realistic 3D visualisation of actual physical places for a moving observer in real time.

IBR does not require a reconstructed geometrical model of the scene to produce the images. "By acquiring the images in a systematic fashion you can compose some images that were never taken by combining small image parts from those that were taken," explains Erik Granum, project coordinator. The decrease in the number of images needed to create a 3D experience of a place is a breakthrough in the field of virtual reality.

"The Benogo-IBR [Image Based Rendering] allows you to visualise real places in virtual reality after having made special systematic recordings [photographs] of the place," explains Granum. "It allows the user to move about and have a proper response to changes in viewpoint." Without these adjustments it would feel like looking at a still image, losing the feeling of presence, he says. To use the technology users must have a powerful personal computer, a Head-Mounted Display set, and a head-tracking system.

A number of tests have been carried out on the prototype developed including at the Presence Symposium, May 2003 in Venice and at the Presence Symposium, October 2003 in Aalborg. Test users were drawn from a broad cross section of society, from a wide range of backgrounds, nationalities and age groups.

"We have been carrying out tests since the very early stages of the project, even with the first versions of the system many participants were impressed by what they experienced," commented Rod McCall, project partner and senior researcher at Napier University, Edinburgh. Some examples of comments from event participants included: "it was more real than I expected, it was quite easy to you know, get involved" and "Well it felt totally right was totally like I was there."

The potential for the technology is great and a number of users have already been identified. Leisure seems to be an important target market offering a number of possibilities. BENOGO can be used to offer ’virtual’ outings for the hospitalised and the elderly, or to improve the quality of computer games. Granum also suggests the technology can be used for "recordings of cultural heritage for preservation for future generations".

From the business point of view BENOGO offers companies the opportunity to present large and complex products from where they are kept. Also travel agents will be able to present holiday destinations to customers by giving them a realistic feeling of being in the resort.

The current system will be demonstrated to conference attendees during CHI 2004 in Vienna, and a study was recently completed in Denmark. Feedback from those taking part in the CHI demonstration and Danish study will be useful in developing the technology and gaining further insights into the concepts of place and presence. "At the end of the project in September 2005, these demo systems could be inspirations for more concrete application ’prototypes’," comments Granum.

Erik Granum
Computer Vision and Media Technology Laboratory
Aalborg University
Niels Jernes Vej 14
DK-9220 Aalborg East, Denmark
Phone: (int+45) 9635 8789
Fax: (int+45) 9815 2444

Source: Based on information from BENOGO

Tara Morris | IST Results
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