Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

‘Virtuality’ gets real

13.08.2008
Up to now virtual reality has proved cumbersome as a design tool, but European researchers are finalising a system that brings ‘virtuality’ to the wider world.

Virtual reality (VR) is a powerful tool, but its true potential remains unrealised. Applications mixing the virtual and real worlds, called mixed or augmented reality (AR), are weak. There are few, reliable systems, and what exists are very expensive. Collaboration is limited and still relatively unsophisticated. And the state of the art is anchored to the desktop or multi-tiled, or multi-screen, displays. Both are fixed solutions.

But VR and AR could do so much more. They could enable onsite sketching of a proposed building design, to reveal the real-world impact on the cityscape, or allow teams to review, annotate and amend proposed and existing car designs. The technology could enable engineers and designers to collaborate with other, distant teams. And it could pave the way even for consumers to contribute to production of better, more successful products.

There are bottlenecks, however, and the IMPROVE project began life with the remit to break through them. “We worked on head-mounted displays, improved tiled displays, rendering and streaming software, colour calibration techniques, collaboration and networking, and novel interaction systems,” notes Pedro Santos, coordinator of the EU-funded project. It was quite a broad research agenda for a STREP project, he admits.

High-performance, head-mounted displays

The IMPROVE project really created a series of hardware and software innovations that, once combined, offer a full-specification VR and AR platform. But all of these individual innovations are useful on their own, and could be potentially commercialised as standalone products.

The Head Mounted Display (HMD), for example, offers a see-through lens that can overlay virtual images onto a real object or landscape, like a building or car.

The project developed three prototypes – two wearable and one handheld – that offer good resolution.

“Better yet, the handheld model can also block out daylight, so you don’t get the usual problem of sunlight washing out the image. It is a breakthrough, and the daylight-blocking HMD will feature this month at Siggraph 2008 in Los Angeles,” Santos remarks. Siggraph is the industry conference for computer graphics and interactive technologies.

IMPROVE also developed breakthrough video-streaming technology that offers high-quality stereoscopic streaming across a mobile network. “It takes a lot of processing power to render a virtual image onto a real landscape, mobile device CPUs cannot really cope. We developed a video-streaming protocol that allows a desktop to perform the rendering, but then streams a compressed signal across wireless networks,” explains Santos.

Rendering software

The platform’s rendering software itself marked another breakthrough. It takes images from high-dynamic range cameras, which offer a range of exposures on a single image, to calculate realistic reflections, shadows and light-intensity levels. It allows visualisation of a model from any direction in real time, after pre-processing.

“We are already in discussion with some companies about commercial opportunities for the rendering platform,” Santos reveals.

The team also developed marker and marker-less tracking systems. The first uses reflective markers to compute the position of real objects in a fixed reference frame. It allows the system to plot the shape of an object accurately.

Marker-less tracking is even cleverer. “In contrast to marker-based tracking, where we track labels with patterns on it, in marker-less tracking we detect feature points in real scenes and compare current images from a camera to calibrated reference images of the same scene to calculate the current position of a user,” explains Santos.

IMPROVE also developed innovative interaction systems for working with AR and VR. IMMIVIEW supports multi-modal, multi-user interaction, while IVIEW is a collaborative system for design sessions.

Finally, a colour-calibration technique developed by the IMPROVE team helps ensure that tiled banks of high-definition screens are all rendering colours faithfully. “You get big calibration problems with projectors on multi-tiled displays, because projectors vary, or projector bulbs deteriorate at different rates. It affects image quality, but our calibration-tool ensures faithful colour across the multiple screens.”

Design-intensive applications

Together, these components make up a complete VR and AR platform that enable functional applications required in the real world. The project performed studies with end-users to see what those applications should be.

The project chose two design-intensive domains to test their platform, architecture and automotive design. The two are a good fit. Car manufacturers can afford very expensive equipment and are quick to adopt improved systems, while architectural companies could really use VR and AR systems more widely, but have much tighter budgets.

“The mix of applications meant we had to develop low-cost but high-performance systems. The tests were successful, and the system performed well,” says Santos. (See follow-up story: ‘Virtual applications reach out to real world’.)

It is an impressive list of achievements, and some of the work will be continued in two follow-on projects, Maximus and Cinespace. Many of the components developed within the project are already on their way to commercialisation.

“It is unlikely that the platform will be commercialised as one product, but most of the components will have direct commercial potential and many of them are a real advance on what is currently available,” notes Santos.

The rendering software, the video streaming solution and the head-mounted displays all offer immediate solutions to existing problems, as does the tiled screen calibration and the collaboration tools.

The combined influence of all the components will mean that, finally, virtual reality is ready for the real world.

This article is part one of a two-part feature on IMPROVE.

Christian Nielsen | alfa
Further information:
http://cordis.europa.eu/ictresults

More articles from Information Technology:

nachricht Construction of practical quantum computers radically simplified
05.12.2016 | University of Sussex

nachricht UT professor develops algorithm to improve online mapping of disaster areas
29.11.2016 | University of Tennessee at Knoxville

All articles from Information Technology >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Electron highway inside crystal

Physicists of the University of Würzburg have made an astonishing discovery in a specific type of topological insulators. The effect is due to the structure of the materials used. The researchers have now published their work in the journal Science.

Topological insulators are currently the hot topic in physics according to the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Only a few weeks ago, their importance was...

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Researchers identify potentially druggable mutant p53 proteins that promote cancer growth

09.12.2016 | Life Sciences

Scientists produce a new roadmap for guiding development & conservation in the Amazon

09.12.2016 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

Satellites, airport visibility readings shed light on troops' exposure to air pollution

09.12.2016 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>