Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques

The annual Siggraph conference in San Diego attracted professionals from science, engineering and design

From 5-9 August, over 24,000 artists, designers, research scientists, developers, filmmakers, and academics gathered in San Diego, California, for the 34th Siggraph Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques. The Siggraph conference and exhibition ranges from several days of highly technical courses and academic paper presentations, through to hands-on demos of new technologies, an art gallery, computer animation festival, and the two-day exhibition by software and hardware vendors.

Siggraph straddles the scientific, engineering and the artistic aspects of computer graphics and interaction, with film-makers showing how they made "Giant Frickin' Robots" for the upcoming Transformers movie, while the Papers presentations and Courses deal with the latest research, software evolution and hardware systems that make it all possible.

Several automotive software and hardware suppliers announced new products at the show, while the Emerging Technologies and Technical Programs showed new technologies that designers will be utilising in product and automotive design in the near future.

One of the hot topics this year was real-time raytracing, allowing interaction with a digital model on the screen with exceptionally high detail and realistic reflections.

RTT showed DeltaGen RealTrace, a true real-time raytracer, part of DeltaGen 7.0. With RealTrace environments can be reflected into the car in real-time. The demo on the nVidia booth at Siggraph was made on an HP xw9300 workstation with a nVidia FX5600 graphic card. RTT stressed that their system, being GPU based, requires only an adequate graphics card, reducing the hardware requirements in comparison to CPU-intensive rendering systems.

The other RTT announcement, DeltaGen RealLight2, is a new and improved ambient occlusion module which is now mesh independent. This means surfaces no longer need to be highly tessellated in order to obtain a smooth light and shadow gradation. Where previously the user would have to wait for offline renderings, these can now be generated in real-time.

RTT also showed a preview of an update to the RealView module, with a demo showing a digital wheel model superimposed on live video of a real wheel/tyre, with the digital and real models moving in unison, using tracking points on the wheel to blend the real and virtual images on screen. Applications could include superimposing digital vehicle models with a live video presentation of full-size physical models.

Bunkspeed unveiled it's Hyperdrive and Hypershot visualization and rendering applications, with interactive ray-tracing delivering accurate replications of physical prototypes. Materials, lighting and paint finishes can be applied by drag and drop, including a new DuPont paint library. A driving simulation tool that has been one of the unique aspects of the Bunkspeed products can record scenes from five different camera views with photographic quality. Speed, horsepower, ride height and suspension are all controllable. A new 'smokewand' feature allows simulation of airflow to allow designers and engineers to review aerodynamics and turbulence.

Autodesk's presence at Siggraph was focussed largely on the entertainment products such as Maya. AliasStudio 2008 was released earlier this year, and in August Autodesk announced their aquisition of Opticore AB. Opticore's products offer high-end visualization capabilities, real-time raytracing along with diverse environments and materials. Autodesk will continue to offer both Showcase and Opticore solutions to satisfy the needs of a designer or modeler through to the high-end requirements of a visualization specialist.

Barco showed ultra-high-definition displays with 8MP resolution, as well as the Galaxy NH-12 projection wall system that can display combinations of mono and 3D sources in multiple windows simultaneously on a large canvas at 1080p HD resolution.

One of the most enthralling parts of Siggraph is the Emerging Technologies area, which features a broad range of installations from research labs, universities, independents, and industry giants that explore the dynamics between humans and digital systems.

Hungarian company Holografika demonstrated Holovizio, a system capable of displaying a complex object model in real time and creating animated images in true 3D (without glasses) with full, observer-independent, continuous parallax within a large workspace. Each observer sees their own unique viewpoint of the virtual model, and a motion-capture system enables users to move the model by directly touching it as it appears from their viewpoint.

Researchers from the University of Tokyo presented 'Transparent Cockpit', which uses a virtual reality goggle system to present images from the outside world to the driver as if the interior panels are transparent. The aim is to help navigation in narrow streets, reversing, collision avoidance, as well as presenting a wider view of the sky or landscape, in the same way that a convertible does.

One of the biggest themes at Siggraph this year was multi-touch displays, breaking away from the 30-year-old convention of a single cursor (or single finger tip) on the screen to enable a much richer interaction…allowing for example painting with several fingers or both hands, and moving multiple objects at once. For a designer using a sketch tablet, this could allow moving, rotating and scaling a sketch by using natural hand gestures.

The new Apple iPhone uses a touch screen with multi-touch for zooming on maps or photos, by 'pinching' with two fingers. This is one of the first mainstream products to use multi-touch, and if the influence of the iPod is anything to go by, we can expect this type of interface to gain wide use in the near future. Automotive applications could include a more gestural approach to control of navigation displays, with panning, rotating and zooming achieved with natural gestures on the screen, increasing convenience and safety by eliminating separate switches and controllers.

Moving in to the realm of 'Minority Report' style displays were demonstrations of multi-touch, multi-user, and even multi-sided interaction (which allowed control of objects by two users on each side of a glass screen).

Microsoft demonstrated 'Surface', a 30-inch display in a table-like form factor that small groups can use at the same time. Aimed initially at hotels, retail, restaurants, and public entertainment venues, it allows users to 'grab' digital information through touch and gesture, and recognizes many points of contact simultaneously. Users can place physical objects on the surface to trigger different types of responses. For example in a mobile phone shop  the system can recognise particular mobile phone models and then provide services for that phone.

Mitsubishi's MERL research group demonstrated their Diamond Touch table-top display, that supports small group collaboration by allowing users to maintain eye contact while interacting with the display simultaneously (without having to take turns). The system not only recognises hand and finger postions, but also recognises each user and can assign different capabilities to each of them.

An application of this could be in large shared displays in a vehicle, where the driver has priority for important control functions, but where other users can also interact with the display for information and entertainment functions. For example, a passenger would be able to independently interact with the navigation system to explore local attractions, without disturbing the driver's selected route map, the system keeping track of who is doing what.

E-Ink Corporation showed their e-paper technology for displays with ultra-low power consumption, a thin flexible form, and daylight readability. The viewer has the experience of reading from paper, yet can still update the information. This technology is now being incorporated into many applications, including electronic readers, cell phones, signage, and memory devices. As it develops further, electronic paper will enable us to read and see up-to-date information with a paper-like experience without the negative environmental impact of cutting down forests and disposing of thousands of tons of paper, or the high energy wastage of conventional electronic displays. The next stage in e-paper development from the current monochrome electronic ink will be to achieve high-volume production and enable full-color, flexible, rollable displays. While the flexible displays are still experimental, the technology has already been used in production mobile phones and other consumer electronics, and could soon find its way into vehicle interiors, especially in situations requiring high resolution, high contrast, persistent information display.

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