With a supercomputer in your pocket

Draw a picture on the computer and it immediately shows up on the screen of a hand-held computer in Africa. The person with the palm computer can then use the tiny screen to access a supercomputer in France to perform advanced graphic calculations that a number of logged-on people can see simultaneously. This solution is called Verse, a new protocol for 3D graphics created by a 27-year-old with no previous knowledge of programming at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm. Verse was recently demonstrated for the press and public for the first time in Sweden.

Verse replaces troublesome file transfers between graphics programs with real-time communication. For example, two or more architects can simultaneously sit and construct in the same environment from their respective computers, even using different programs. If one of the architects designs a new staircase, it instantly appears on the screens the others are looking at. It can also be used to take advantage of the capacity of another computer via the Internet. For example, with a palm computer out in the forest it would be possible to use, in real time, a supercomputer on the other side of the earth, and have it perform calculations and present the results by means of the Verse protocol. It’s roughly the same principle as having a search engine tap a supercomputer in the U.S. to perform searches.

The principle behind Verse is very general and paves the way for the use of many other graphics programs and contexts where it would be advantageous to work together -games, presentations, visualizations, etc.

Verse is the protocol itself, and KTH, together with the Interactive Institute and several other collaborators, have set up the EU project Uni-Verse, which is headed by KTH. The project has just been granted nearly SEK 18 million from the EU Commission over a three-year period to develop a system for graphics, sound, and acoustics using Verse and making it into a so-called Open Source platform. The Open Source principle has become a highly popular and successful way of developing programs. With an Open Source code, users can program their own versions and improvements and share them via the Internet. The Linux operative system, today one of the world’s leading operative systems, was created using the Open Source principle.

Other partners:

Fraunhofer Institute, Germany; Blender Foundation, Holland; Helsinki University of Technology, Finland; Minus Plus, an architectural firm in Hungary; and Paregos Mediadesign, Stockholm.

The Project, a mega-project in programming, is based on an idea from a single person who had no prior knowledge of programming. Eskil Steenberg, 27 years of age, is the visionary behind the Verse protocol that is the foundation for the EU project Uni-Verse. Eskil Steenberg, who had been active in the graphics and game world, got an idea for a new way to exchange 3D information across different programs. With no programming education and without ever having written any programs previously, he realized his ideas together with the engineer Emil Brink at the Interactive Institute. This astonishing achievement serves as the basis for this EU project. Today both Eskil and Emil work with Project Uni-Verse at KTH.

Ton Roosendaal is chair of the Blender Foundation (www.blender.org) in the Netherlands. Today Blender is one of the biggest 3D tools, with many thousands of users around the world and by far the largest Open Source tool for 3D. Blender’s source code was bought into the public domain by a collection taken up via the Internet, and Ton, alongside Linus Torvalds, is one of the best-known individuals in the Open Source world. Ton has a vision that the next generation of Blender will be based on technology from Project Uni-Verse.

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