Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Mobile devices used as a barcode to replace paper tickets?

An interesting piece of news I spotted this week is that the UK Chiltern Railways line has set-up a system where you can prebook tickets and have the barcode stored on your mobile device (and by that I mean PDA and not cellphone) removing the need for paper tickets. To my knowledge this is the first time I see this in the UK. However another company in the travelling sector, Continental Airlines in the US, is also trialing this. Could this be the latest trend in mobile device usage?

It's certainly an exciting concept and I will be curious to see what the outcomes are and indeed whether anybody else will be keen to adopt this... According to many, a number of organisations have in the past tried to use mobile devices as barcode scanners with not a lot of success, usually because of the challenges of lighting conditions.

This reversal however seems very useful as long as the passengers are using mobile devices capable of displaying a barcode. Also this could well be extended to commercial applications beyond travelling such as event tickets etc.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Virtual worlds and the US elections

One of the best indications of the importance of virtual worlds in everyday life is their recent, albeit tentative, involvement in US politics. As part of a much broader online poll, Senator Hillary Clinton is asking participants about their gaming and virtual worlds habits. The campaign asks "which of the following have you visited or played online? Sim City, Second Life, Sims, None of the above, Other, Don't know."

It should be noted that while some other Democratic presidential candidates, like Kucinich, have made entrances into campaigning in Second Life, more frequently strategists seem to be recommending against that. Clinton's strategist didn't participate however so it may well be that she's also gearing up for a virtual campaign. Another possibility is that with virtual worlds taking on more of a role in government and government taking a role on in virtual worlds, that this could be associated more with questions about policy. Finally, it could simply be taste polling to determine what's hip nowadays with the Web kids.

In any case it is fascinating to see virtual landscapes taken so seriously these days as to actually be a part of the US election process, it certainly makes a huge difference from them being regarded as outlet for computer geeks, which was certainly the case a few years ago.

Earthmine, a new approach to rapid 3D urban modelling

Recently I was made aware of a new, and seemingly incredibly effective, automatic rapid 3D virtual city modelling approach called Earthmine. In short, the system adopts use of stereo panoramas to extract 3D information thus presenting a rapid way to both create and populate a 3D model in a way that is easily understandable. The video below can take you through the process in a more detailed manner.

Earthmine has just put out a release that states: "earthmineinc., 3D street side mapping company today announced it has finalized an exclusive agreement with the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) to license 3D data generation software and algorithms created by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and utilized on the Mars Exploration Rover Missions. earthmine recently unveiled its ground-breaking technology for collecting and delivering street-level three dimensional geospatial information for cities. The agreement with JPL and Caltech includes an exclusive and perpetual license for photogrammetric technology that allows for the creation of very dense and accurate 3D data from stereo panoramic imagery."

I am eagerly awaiting a more developed proposition from Earthmine as this piece of news, plus of course the method demonstrated in their vid, definitely looks like the way forward for rapid urban modelling, till then keep checking their site at http://earthmine.com/.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

VirtuSphere, the future of immersive virtual reality?

The Redmond-based company VirtuSphere has developed a unique virtual reality sphere which allows a person to walk, jump and even run while wearing a special wireless VR glasses. This device which can only be described as ultra-immersive VR has already been tested by the U.S. Office of Naval Research and is currently on the market for whoever can afford the $50-100k price tag.

So, how does it work? The VirtuSphere consists of a large hollow sphere that sits on top of a base allowing the sphere to rotate 360 degrees. Wearing a wireless, head-mounted display, users can step inside the sphere to fully interact in immersive virtual environments. The VirtuSphere enables 6 degrees of freedom so one can move in any direction, walk, jump, roll, crawl, run over virtually unlimited distances without encountering any real-world physical obstacles.

The VirtuSphere was designed for multiple applications and possible consumers including a military simulator for training exercises, VR technology for the electronic gaming industry and also an advanced tool for professionals such as architects, real estate agents and all others who can use virtual walkthroughs in a 3D environment.

A great selling point of the device and also something I see as hugely revolutionary is that unlike other events taking place in the virtual world (such as say shooting enemies in Half-Life) here one will actually feel the pain of the fall! VirtuSphere claims that in 99% of the cases you should be able to get up by yourself and that falling in the VirtuSphere may be less traumatic, as by design the sphere rotates on the supporting platform and a lot of the fall impact is absorbed. Still not so sure I want to try that (isn't the sphere made of steel!?!) but the concept of this does nonetheless sound amazing!

Obviously, the main issue holding up mass adoption of this immersive VR technology is the price but as with all new technologies as time goes by prices will drop and the technology will become more wide spread. I for one am looking very forward to see this sphere involved in research projects as it looks like it could assist in exploring avenues that were virtually impossible to access before...

GPS for the iPhone?

With the exciting rumour of a TomTom GPS for the iPhone doing the rounds recently now sadly shot down in flames, it is exciting to see someone else rising up to the challenge. After all as a navigation aid, the iPhone offers way too much potential, not to mention market place, not to be developed in a commercial proposition. Engineering firm partfoundry is taking a confirmed stab at developing a custom, purpose-built GPS module that slots into the iPhone's port, delivering 16 channels of satellite reception to the software of the user's choice.

The last part does sound a bit like partfoundry will be requiring jailbreaked phones and also a large reliance on the developer community to serve up applications capable of processing the module's output and making decent use of it. At the moment the current plan is to get these GPS modules out in February, priced at a modest $89. Finally, plans are already underway for a stylish plastic enclosure as well. Check the following link for more details http://partfoundry.com/iphonegps.html

GPS-enabled cruise control car by Nissan

While I have featured posts on GPS navigation before, here is something different albeit in the very same field. While radar-based cruise control systems are quickly becoming par for the (luxury!) course, Nissan is upping the ante with a new setup that integrates the on-board navigation system to adjust vehicle speed. The system works by capturing route information from the Sat Nav, anticipating curves and then adjusting speed for the corner plus also resuming acceleration once the turn is complete.

A highlight of the system is the Distance Control Assist feature. This essentially ensures that drivers are aware of an impending disaster, even with their foot on the accelerator, by pushing the gas pedal against the driver's foot. When and if the system detects things are going to go sour, it will play audio warning and also display a message telling the driver to hit the brakes pronto!

While the automation the GPS cruise control system Nissan seems to be inclined to introduce does take a lot of fun out of driving it has to be said that it does use the technology in an ideal way while pushing forward GPS car applications to their very limits. Also, let's face it, when cruise control was introduced it was greeted with a lot of sceptisism too and that didn't seem to deter a number of car manufacturers using it on their higher-priced vehicles to this day...

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Turning Torso building SketchUp tutorial in 3D World magazine

For all urban modellers out there, there is a fantastic tutorial on issue 99 (which just came out in the UK) of the excellent 3D World magazine. Tim Danaher shows you how to model, in Google's SketchUp, your own version of one of the world‘s most striking modern buildings: the 'Turning Torso'. Designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, this 54-floor skyscraper in Malmo, Sweden, presents a unique challenge to SketchUp artists.

In the walkthrough in the magazine, Tim explores how to create a single storey of the building, twist it, duplicate it into a six-storey module, then use this as a building block for the finished model.

You can download the full-sized screenshots and supporting files from the link below, while you're at it there's many other free tutorials on the mag's site well worthy of every modeller's attention.


Tuesday, 4 December 2007

NVIDIA launching GeForce 9 series in February

Details are unsurprisingly light on this one, but DigiTimes (http://www.digitimes.com/) has it that nVIDIA is gearing up to launch its next-generation GPU in a few months time.

According to reports and sources close to graphics card makers it has been revealed that the GeForce 9 series will include the D9E, a "high-end product that adopts 65-nanometer manufacturing", supports DirectX 10.1 and Shader Model 4.1 and the mid-range D9P, which will supposedly adopt 55-nanometer processing.

Apparently, the former will be the first product in the new family, while the latter won't see light until June. All this, while more or less on rumour and speculation stage at the moment, is an indication where one of two biggest graphics card makers is heading at in the New Year.

The urban modelling process behind Project Gotham Racing 4

I have highlighted Project Gotham Racing's urban models in a previous post but I've just unearthed something new in YouTube which further demonstrates the issue at hand. Bizarre Creations themselves, the company behind the title, have posted a movie taking a background look at the city creation process in Project Gotham, this is a must for anyone interested in 3D city modelling.

It is always interesting to see other people processes towards virtual city creation and while I have not yet bought a copy of PGR4 for my XBox 360 (still struggling with Gears Of War!) this one definitely looks as one of those games to buy just to admire the city modelling work...

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Gamr7's Automatic City Builder

While leafing through the latest issue of EDGE magazine (183), I spotted an excellent 2-page article on automatic city building for games. Focusing on a newly formed French company called Gamr7, it details their middleware approach aimed at enabling artists to quickly design and create detailed urban environments. The innovation in their piece of software is the fact that the cities are grown based on the meaning of buildings according to activity. Virtual cities are of course very complex and this procedural approach is indeed very interesting.

More details on the article but it is important to note that this revolutionary concept to 3D urban creation, while at the moment used as only as a service, will be released as a commercial product in early 2008! Check Gamr7's website at http://www.gamr7.com/ and also make surew you view the embedded movie there with the various test city models they've created with this approach...

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Visual Studio 2008 released

A piece of news that will interest all developers, Microsoft has finally released Visual Studio 2008 as of yesterday (21/11/07).The latest version of the integrated development environment boasts over 250 new features and improvements. These include integrated support for unit testing, integrated performance profiling and analysis, Windows Vista UI support, enhanced database support and better interoperability between native and managed code.The software is available in a variety of versions, including Express Editions. New learning resources are available as well.

A few statistics (provided by Microsoft themselves mind you!),

- over one million professional developers used Visual Studio 2005
- 17 million downloads of Visual Studio Express
- 25 per cent of Visual Studio developers are using Visual Studio Team System

I have been eagerly awaiting for this release since the 2005 version has created many problems for PCs with Vista on them and the new 2008 version of Visual Studio is expected to solve all incompatibilities...

I will try and do future posts on this one with my own as well as other developer opinions on the new version of this popular development platform.

A round-up of 3D software, trial editions

For this post I thought I'd do a quick round up of some of the most popular 3D software out there that currently offer FREE trial versions for checking out.

1) Softimage’s free 30-day trial version of XSI 6.5 Essentials allows students and professionals to try all the core tools of its 3D modelling, character creation, animation and rendering package.
Try the 30-day trial of SoftimageXSI 6.5 here

2) The free 30-day trial version of Zbrush 3.1 is a full-featured version offering the sculpting and painting tool for students, teachers, artists and others just beginning their journey into Zbrush. Just submit some basic personal information and Pixologic will email you a link to the software.
Try the 30-day trial of Zbrush 3.1 here

3) A 30-day version of modo 301 is also available in a trial format for $25.00. Luxology has prepared an evaluation kit that is ideal for anyone who wants to take modo for a test drive. The ready-for-download package includes the modo in Focus series of eight introductory videos and a 100% feature complete version of modo 301.
Try the 30-day trial of modo 301 here

4) The Maya Personal Learning Edition is a free version of Autodesk’s software for non-commercial use. It gives 3D graphics and animation students, industry professionals, and those interested in breaking into the world of computer graphics an opportunity to explore almost every feature of Autodesk Maya Complete 8.5.
Try the 30-day trial of Maya here

5) Houdini Apprentice is a free, non-commercial edition of the Side Effects 3D software family. Just generate a key online to gain access to the full-featured shipping versions of Houdini Master, Houdini Select and Houdini Halo.The only minor differences are an output resolution of 640 X 480, a small watermark in the lower right hand corner of each render, and rendering limited to Houdini Mantra.A Starving Artist edition is available for $99.00 without a watermark that runs at HD resolution.
Try the trial version of Houdini here

6) The Autodesk 3ds Max trial version provides free access to the software for non-commercial use. To receive a free 30-day trial download, fill out and submit the online form.
Try the 30-day trial of 3ds Max here

7) Download a trial version of Electronic Rain’s Swift 3D package and you’ll be treated to all the features of this stand alone application, except its file export functionality, which is disabled. Rendered animations can, however, be previewed within the program.
Try the trial version of Swift 3D here

8) Download the Cinema 4D demo version online and explore Maxon’s powerful raytracing and animation tool. Scenes, movies, textures, preset libraries and browser catalogs can’t be saved in the demo version. Neither can references and layouts. Sketch and Toon won’t render images with a resolution greater than 640×480 pixels, and the NET Render module is not included either. BodyPaint 3D 3.5 is also available in demo form.
Try the trial version of Cinema 4D here

Developing 3D virtual cities direct from video

At the moment in the research world there is a lot of activity around ground based LiDAR data capture with a number of companies mounting rigs onto vans and driving around cities. While LiDAR per se does have a lot of potential, it also can't be denied that the data output is overwhelming and it is limited to high end hardware. Working from that angle, the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and University of Kentucky have been working on techniques to develop 3D Models direct from video, thus negating the need for a LiDAR rig. Although it is early days yet, the results are encouraging. The video below showcases a model created of the Capel Campus using the technique.

According to Jan-Micael Fraham, Research Assistant Professor on the project, the research aims at developing a system for automatic, geo-registered, real-time 3D reconstruction from video of urban scenes. From 2005-2007 the team developed a system that collects video streams, as well as GPS and inertia measurements in order to place the reconstructed models in geo-registered coordinates. It is designed using current state of the art real-time modules for all processing steps employing commodity graphics hardware and standard CPU's to achieve real-time performance.The second video embedded below provides an overview of the process and is extremely interesting.

The system extends existing algorithms to meet the robustness and variability necessary to operate out of the lab. To account for the large dynamic range of outdoor videos the processing pipeline estimates global camera gain changes in the feature tracking stage and efficiently compensates for these in stereo estimation without impacting the real-time performance. The required accuracy for many applications is achieved with a two-step stereo reconstruction process exploiting the redundancy across frames.

Check the UrbanScape website for more details, it is well worth a visit as this is one of the most interesting and genuinely innovative urban modelling projects coming from academia I have seen in months!

Sony PSP phone rumours

The development of a PSP phone has been doing the rounds as a rumour for a while now, but the idea of such a device has been given new life thanks to Sony Computer Entertainment co-chief operating officer Jim Ryan. Apparently, Mr. Ryan recently told the India Times that the "PlayStation is a proven success and so is Sony Ericsson," and that "convergence with the two arms working together is definitely plausible."

Of course, he did note that it could be quite some time before such a device would see the market, and that if indeed it did, it would likely resemble a handheld gaming system with a phone blended in and not vice-versa. That still is a an extremely interesting concept of a device that has been launched a few times in the past by other companies with no commercial luck, can Sony make it a success and give us a new mobile handset with great research capabilities? Time will tell.

CyberCity in liquidation

On an older post a few months ago on this very blog the CyberCity urban modelling solution was presented. CyberCity AG is the software company which is tied to this solution and, as of recently, this company appears to have (sadly) gone into liquidation. The news comes courtesy of MoneyHouse, which reports not only on the company's status but also on the fact that its website seems to have now gone offine and be inaccessible.

Undoubtedly it is a shame for a number of reasons to see such a popular and efficient solution (possibly) not being around anymore and hopefully not a trend in 3D urban modelling which will continue further.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Upcoming computer graphics-related conferences in 2008

Here's a few links of some interesting computer graphics conferences taking place in the first half of the next year. Note that most of them have their upcoming deadlines in the next few weeks/months!

8th International Symposium on SMART GRAPHICS (Rennes, France)

6th Symposium on Non-Photorealistic Animation and Rendering (NPAR) 2008 (Annecy, France)

EuroVis 2008 Joint Eurographics/IEEE-VGTC Symposium on Visualization (Eindhoven, The Netherlands)

CGI 2008 Computer Graphics International 2008 (Istanbul, Turkey)

35th International Conference and Exhibition on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques (LA, USA)

12th International Conference Information Visualisation (London, UK)

5th International Conference Computer Graphics, Imaging and Visualization (Penang, Malaysia)

Seventh International Workshop on
Computer Graphics and Geometric Modeling CGGM'2008
(Krakow, Poland)

34th Graphics Interface 2008 (Ontario, Canada)

Laval Virtual 2008 International Virtual Reality Conference (Laval, France)

Friday, 2 November 2007

GPS in skiing

For all the avid skiers out there, just in case your iPod-equipped helmet, head-mounted camera and Bluetooth-enabled parka (and yes all these products exist out there, not making them up!) weren't enough to distract you from actually paying attention down the mile-long slope ahead, how's about fiddling with the Satski rather than focusing on that pizza wedge? This handheld GPS-equipped unit can give skiers, snowboarders and everyone else out there trying to make it down in one piece the ability to record position, altitude, speed and distance while on the mountain.

Moreover, you'll find options that enable you to avoid black runs, plot a course, listen to MP3s and play a few games while riding the lift. There's even links to emergency contacts in case that halfpipe trip goes terribly wrong and the built-in software lets users export data to Google Earth for future bragging purposes. This intriguing (and somewhat superfluous one might say!) device will be priced at an almost unfathomable £1,500 ($3,087) but those strapped for cash can supposedly rent it for around £28 ($58) per day at participating resorts. One issue not mentioned is of course gloves (I can't imagine it'd be very easy trying to negotiate with the device wearing a pair of those!) but still, interesting to see GPS-equipped units extend to sports activities like this one!

Console quality game graphics on mobiles?

Vollee, a new mobile gaming service provider startup, has just announced Vollee 1.0, a new service that offers high-end games streamed over 3G networks. It’s confirmed Activision, Codemasters and Encore Software as initial partners. Vollee’s patent-pending VolleeX engine underpins the concept. It enables moving, re-sizing or replacing any object within the original video game without access to source code, ensuring that the game play is maximised for mobile. The service is in trials now internationally with major carriers and will be launched in North America next year. “We will use always-connected 3G networks to take mobile games to the next level, much in the same way the pervasiveness of broadband has taken PC games to new heights and success,” said Martin Dunsby, president and CEO.

Essentially, the company has tools that can take games and convert them so they can run on Vollee-enhanced phones without messing around with the game’s source code. A thin software client resides on a phone for that to happen. For instance, the company claims they can make a racing game run faster by taking out the clouds in the sky in the game’s background. In other words, it can substitute simpler graphics that don’t take as much processing power without sacrificing quality too much.

It certainly is a very interesting concept on providing quality graphics on mobiles and definitely an extremely innovative one. If it means seeing XBox 360 or PS3 like graphics for mobiles then I am all for it! We should be somewhat reserved about it however since all we have to go with at the moment is a press release (not even a live demo), Vollee is being very cagey about specific technical details so only time can show how this might pan out.

For more information check http://www.vollee.com/.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Virtual worlds a threat to values?

Oscar-winning film-maker Lord Puttnam gave the opening keynote speech at the Virtual Worlds Forum held in London from 23-26 October. In his speech Lord Puttnam voiced fears about the many game worlds that have sprung up which tie access to the virtual world to the purchase of a toy. Webkinz, Funkeys, BarbieGirls, TyGirlz and many others are all virtual worlds created and run by toy makers. "Are we absolutely sure that this is the very best we can offer young people?" he asked. "Do we really want them to think of themselves as not much more than consumers?". He said: "Might we not prefer to build worlds that encourage those same values and skills we wish them to exercise in the real world?". "The challenge ahead is this - to ensure that virtual worlds are increasingly places that offer real meaning to their lives and in the real world to learn from the sense of community and collaboration that's been experienced in virtual worlds," he said.

My personal opinion on this demonizing of virtual worlds as a researcher involved in the creation and evaluation of these worlds? While there are always potential pitfalls when corporate financial interest gets involved in new technologies, particularly immersive ones, it can't be denied that sometimes it helps to keep perspective on things. It is extremely debatable that virtual gaming and socialising is to blame for anything and this is really at heart an incredibly dated argument taking us back to the 60s when people feared that the television (which let's not forget was considered an immersive technology back then, very much like virtual worlds are now) would demoralise and ruin values in young people.

For more information on the Virtual Worlds Forum check http://virtualworldsforum.com/

Friday, 19 October 2007

LOCUS project presented at Location And Timing event

A few days ago (10/10/07) I was present at a full day event called "Flagship Projects Open Day" at the National Physical Laboratory, Teddington, UK. This full-day event, organised by the Location And Timing, Knowledge And Transfer Network presented three major research projects which reached their conclusion including: SPACE, LOCUS and AutoBAHN. I have been involved with LOCUS for the last two years running by generating all the 3D urban content used for it but also by doing consultancy on various real-time computer graphics issues and was thus called upon (along with the rest of the team) to do a short presentation on the project's workpackage I was associated with.

LOCUS is an EPSRC Location and Timing KTN research project, started in 2004 in the department of Information Science at City University. The main focus of the research is to enhance Location Based Services (LBS) by extending the current map-based approach. To satisfy these goals, LOCUS currently implements two innovative interfaces for mobile devices like PDAs and 3G phones.

LOCUS aims in enhancing Location Based Services (LBS) by extending the current map-based approach to offer an augmented reality (AR) interface and to develop routing tools based on the data mining of previous journey experiences. The main research is focused around the cognitive needs of the user for navigational information and self-localisation; the system integration of PVT data with 2D and 3D representations with minimum latency; the spatio-temporal knowledge discovery for user routing behaviour; the accurate and stable registration of the 3D AR model with real objects in real-time and the processing and integration of visualised geographic information with other LBS.

You can download my part of the presentation at the event from here.

For more information on the LOCUS project check http://www.locus.org.uk/.

Samsung Q1UMPCM01 Ultra Mobile PC (UMPC)

I've done a few posts already on a number of different UMPCs (Ultra Mobile PCs) but I've never actually been tempted to buy one despite finding the technology fascinating (a device with the computational power of a laptop which is essentially PDA-size is a notion with immense research possibilities). Samsung's Q1UMPCM01 has just changed that.

Retailing at slightly over 600 pounds (with most UMPCs still near the couple of thousand quid mark) the device is perfectly suited to use the Microsoft Windows XP Tablet Operating system, featuring built-in wireless networking and Bluetooth connectivity. Sporting a Celeron M processor, an Intel 915GMS Express Video Chipset and a 7 inch display plus also a 40GB Hard Disk, the Samsung Q1UMPCM01 has plenty of storage space for digital media, documents and software, not to mention applications not normally found or associated with mobile devices.

Cellphone use in-flight finally possible in EU flights?

It's been a long-time fervent hope of EU citizens to be able to use a mobile handset while on their flight of choice and it seems that with EU regulators finally recently recommending that member states approve a plan to allow in-flight cellphone use, we'll soon be well on our way to rival American travellers in that area!

Although previous studies have shown cell radios may interfere with in-flight nav systems, the new plan involves mounting a satellite-linked "pico cell" in the passenger compartment, which will allow pilots and flight crew to selectively enable cell services like voice and SMS. The system only supports 2G connections, but if successful, can be at some point upgraded to 3G. Rollout is dependent on both individual countries and airlines approving the technology, but hopefully it'll be sooner rather than later.

What is even more exciting are the prospects this could potentially open up since in-flight mobile use is an entirely new market with both applications and research in this area severely lacking at the moment...

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Microsoft research in device pairing: The Martini Synch

For anyone involved with research in mobile devices here's a very interesting paper, called The Martini Synch, coming from Microsoft researchers and presenting an innovative way of device pairing.

According to them; "device pairing is a significant problem for a large class of increasingly popular resource-constrained wireless protocols such as BlueTooth. The objective of pairing is to establish a secure wireless communication channel between two specific devices without a public-key infrastructure, a secure near-field communication channel, or electrical contact. We use a surprising user-device interaction as a solution to this problem. By adding an accelerometer, a device can sense its motion in a Cartesian space relative to the inertial space. The idea is to have two devices in a fixed, relative position to each other. Then, the joint object is moved randomly in 3D for several seconds. The unique motion generates approximately the same distinct signal at the accelerometers. The difference between the signals in the two inertially conjoined sensors should be relatively small under normal motion induced manually. The objective is to derive a deterministic key at both sides with maximized entropy that will be used as a private key for symmetric encryption. Currently, our prototype produces between 10-15 bits of entropy per second of usual manual motion using off-the-shelf components."

It seems like an incredibly interesting idea and one that could potentially revolutionize mobile protocols and communications. Love 'em or hate 'em Microsoft today have an enormous impact on both blue-sky but also on more hands-on, application-oriented research (in SIGGRAPH 2005 one in six papers accepted came from their labs!) and this is just another piece of work that proves that.

Computer Graphics And Imaging 2008 conference

I've recently had a full paper accepted for the upcoming 10th International Computer Graphics And Imaging (CGIM) 2008 conference, this year to take place at Innsbruck (pictured below!), Austria between the 13th and the 15th of February next year. The conference, organised by IASTED (International Association of Science and Technology for Development) includes sessions on computer graphics, visualization, image processing, animation and human computer interaction.

The paper submitted and accepted for publication is titled Virtual City Maker And Virtual Navigator: A Modelling And Visualisation Solution For The Creation And Display Of Mobile 3D Virtual Cities. See you there for the talk on it and also perhaps a spot of skiing as well! I will post a full report with a selection of some of the most interesting (IMO) papers after the conference.

For more info on CGIM 2008 check the following link http://www.iasted.org/conferences/cfp-600.html.

SketchUp & 3D Studio Max real-world render

An interesting project I recently read about on SketchUp's official blog (at http://sketchupdate.blogspot.com/2007/09/go-big-or-go-home.html) on using the Google app in combination with 3D Studio Max to create a ... real world render! Quite an impressive little project really and one that shows the potential of both apps.

SketchUp user named Andrija Posarić from Zagreb, Croatia explains:

"A couple of weeks ago I got a pretty interesting challenge in my firm. An historic building in the strict center of Zagreb was renovating, and when they put (that big thing around the building, to prevent bricks falling on the pedestrians;-) (excuse my bad English;-) around the building, it becomes most expensive place for putting the commercial ;-)Ok, since I work in the biggest corporation in Eastern Europe, we had to put some kind of a commercial up there. The idea was to take a high-resolution picture of the building, and implement our logo on it. The problem was there was no such picture, and work on the building already started, so we couldn't go there and take the new photo.Ok. "Can you make a photo-real rendering of this building, based on the partially-accurate blueprints?" my boss asked? I said, "No, I cannot ;-)". "What is the time note (deadline)?" 3 days.Ok, It would not be the problem to do the photo-real rendering of a normal resolution, but, maaaan, this is a 30 x 10 meters + 20 x 10 meters rendering. I did some calculation, and I came up with 12,000 x 4,500 pixel resolution. It took me 10 hours of modeling, 2 hours of texturing, and 20 hours of rendering to complete this giant job. The size of the TIFF was 390 MB, the size of the JPEG was 39 MB... yeah, huge pics ;-)".

Sunday, 14 October 2007

GPS and social networking: Where are we now?

With social networks such as MySpace and Facebook catching on, anxious techie socialites are now looking for a new way to interact with their friends utilising technological advances. The new fashion? GPS social networking where you can not only communicate with an acquaintance but also track their real-world position too so that a meeting in person can be arranged.

Social networking websites, including, most notably, the likes of Bliin, Trackut and Kakiloc have managed to take the whole concept of social networking one step further. The way they work at the moment is by getting users to subscribe to the service by downloading a small application, which, once activated, enables them to track the location of other social networkers in real time and see whether they are nearby or not.

The obvious dangers of this aside (security being the key word here, despite reassurances from people running these websites, it is obvious to me how many pitfalls revealing a person's constantly updated location to the rest of the world can be!) there seem to be many opportunities with this since most users already using the aforementioned applications are looking for ways to further enhance them. While I wouldn't go as far as suggesting enrolling to one of these services, they are definitely trend-setters for a new market opening up.

Check the following links for more information;

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Wi-Fi T-shirt anyone?

Difficult to believe but mobile networking has prompted people to go at extreme lengths in regards to their fashion sense these days. It seems that ThinkGeek has just developed a new T-shirt for all of those people simply too lazy to open up a laptop to see whether a hotspot is around...

The glowing bars on the front of the shirt dynamically change as the surrounding Wi-Fi signal strength fluctuates, showing signal strength for 802.11b or 802.11g. While I somehow would like to believe that I would not be seen dead in a T-shirt like this, perhaps it is of some use (or indeed source of amusement!) for others. Probably!

You can purchase this T-shirt at the following link, http://www.thinkgeek.com/tshirts/generic/991e/.

Microsoft researchers patent new user interface for mobiles

Microsoft researchers recently presented a new patent which I personally found it very interesting since it was one in the area of user interfaces for mobile devices. The patent is titled "Extensible Filtered Lists for Mobile Device User Interface," and its documentation describes the details for improving the way mobile users interact with the data on their individual devices.

It looks like this novel application focuses on arranging information in groups or lists, each of which can include multiple items that provide access to data or tasks from multiple applications. Essentially, these customizable lists (pictured on both pics on this post) would allow users to quickly access relevant content such as commonly used data or tasks.

Furthermore, it was noted that the items could also be dynamically updated based upon changes in the underlying data or services provided by software applications.

It all sounds very interesting and it would be extremely interesting to see these changes on the traditional Windows Mobile interface implemented in a commercial version of Microsoft's operating system.

Invited poster publication at Location And Timing event

A few days ago (10/10/07) I presented an invited poster publication of some of my work-in-progress research on automatic 3D modelling at an event called "Flagship Projects Open Day" at the National Physical Laboratory, Teddington, UK. This full-day event, organised by the Location And Timing, Knowledge And Transfer Network presented three major research projects which reached their conclusion including: SPACE, LOCUS (more on this on a later post as I was part of the presentation team for this too, an EPSRC-funded project on cutting-edge mobile technologies that recently reached its three-year conclusion) and AutoBAHN. The poster itself is pictured below.

All in all it was an extremely interesting day as all three projects (but also all the posters there too) were in the same general field and there was the opportunity to interface with other researchers and also gain feedback on all aspects of my work.

For more information on the Location And Timing, its agenda and activities plus information on past and future events check this link, http://ktn.globalwatchonline.com/epicentric_portal/site/lat/?mode=0.

Yet another combination of every day device & receiver; GPS and mouse

It never ceases to fascinate me just how much GPS receivers seem to be all the rage for innovative "combo" devices today. Deluo's latest manages to perform double duty as a mousing device while still maintaining a relatively small footprint. It has to be said that the MouseGPS isn't overtly attractive, but it does boast all the basics and includes a retractable USB cable for good measure.

In order to activitate the GPS itself users can just flip a switch on its underside and in case you're currently going without any type of mapping software, Deluo is also offering the $99.95 device up with Microsoft Streets and Trips 2008 for an extra $29.95, if desired.

So, following posts from below, after a GPS-equipped laptop, keyring(!) and now mouse what follows next? For more information on the device itself check http://www.deluogps.com/.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

3D virtual worlds for the blind

A news item which I found very interesting recently concerns the extension of online virtual worlds to blind people thanks to research by students at IBM in Ireland. Estimates predict that 80% of active internet users will be using a virtual world in four years' time (a figure that based on the popularity of Second Life can't easily be disputed). The company is keen to ensure that blind people are not excluded from an environment that sighted people will take for granted and has thus designed an audio equivalent of the virtual world using 3D sound to create a sense of space.

The initial project - called Accessibility In Virtual Worlds - is what the company describes as "a proof of concept" at this stage but will be passed on to IBM's Human Ability and Accessibility Centre in Texas for further development. The Irish team decided to use the Active Worlds online environment rather than the more popular Second Life for flexibility reasons. Active Worlds is a collection of user-made virtual worlds that people can visit via a web browser plug-in.

To offer a better insight on how this all works; "When the user comes into the world, the items are described as well as their positions," explained Colm O'Brien, one of the team of four researchers who worked on the project. "There is also sound attached - for example, if there's a tree nearby you will hear a rustling of leaves," said Mr O'Brien. The work also developed tools which uses text to speech software that reads out any chat from fellow avatars in the virtual world that appears in a text box. Characters in the virtual world can have a "sonar" attached to them so that the user gets audible cues to alert them to when they are approaching, from which direction and how near they are.

A number of blind mentors have given advice and feedback to the team - one in IBM's Dublin lab and two based at IBM's research centre in Texas. The team also liaised with the National Council for the Blind of Ireland on their work. As well as proving that the idea is feasible, the team has made a number of recommendations about accessibility standards for virtual worlds which should help the developers of the future.

All in all this is an extremely interesting and innovative piece of research work in the general area of virtual urban modelling, for more information check the links below, the first one for the original BBC story and the second for the IBM site in question...

Thursday, 20 September 2007

In-car GPS navigation finally moving towards 3D?

A very important development in the world of urban modelling is the fact that car GPS systems finally seem to be moving towards 3D... European Sat Nav users will soon be able to navigate through cities with 3D models of buildings and landmarks displayed life-like onscreen.

Digital map provider Tele Atlas (http://www.teleatlas.com/) is set to release detailed 3D maps of nearly 50 cities for use in navigation devices and location-based applications. The first detailed 3D city maps will include major capital cities such as London, Berlin and Rome. Additional European, US and Asian city maps will follow over the next year. It should be noted here that Tele Atlas provides mapping information for many major Sat Nav and location-based product and service developers, including market leader (and very very popular in the UK!) TomTom. You can see a brief demo of the prototype of this all at the YouTube link below.

As well as displaying prominent landmarks in 3D, Tele Atlas maps will feature textured cityscapes rather than flat representations. Additionally, major landmarks, such as the Tower of London and Berlin's Brandenburg Gate will be modelled in detail on the 3D maps... The 3D maps will initially cover around 40 square kilometres per city. Even more importantly Tele Atlas representatives mention that as the move towards pedestrian navigation and location services gathers pace, 3D imaging of street level points of interest such as train stations, bus stops and so on will become more important... Tele Atlas also claims its research shows that 81 per cent of consumers prefer 3D maps over 2D versions, with stronger interest in 3D city maps.

I will await the developments of this with great interest, car navigation is certainly a rapidly expanding area today and seeing it starting to embrace the 3D urban modelling concept is certainly not only very encouraging, but also prone to open up immense possibilities for all aspects of work attached to it...

Urban Environment Creation In Maya instructional DVD

For all the Maya users out there interested in a comprehensive urban environment tutorial, there's nothing I could recommend more than Digital Tutor's Urban Environment Creation in Maya instructional DVD.

The tutorial DVD covers an entire, thorough and from scratch production workflow to creating urban environments and time-saving modeling, texturing and UV mapping techniques that can be used for film, games and architectural visualizations of building structures. It contains over 6 hours of project-based training and is great for intermediate artists or even people still finding their feet with Maya and 3D urban modelling. Some of the areas it covers include:

- Hard Surface Modeling Techniques
- Modeling with Texture
- Modeling to a Camera
- Strategically Adding Detail
- Simulating Aging and Decay
- UV Layout Techniques
- Using UV Snapshots
- Integrating Maya and Photoshop
- Generating Displacement Maps
- Texture Painting with Photoshop
- Layering Textures
- Tiling Textures
- Generating Procedural Maps
- Adding Architectural Elements
- Creating Interior Illusions with Textures
- Connecting Maya Texture Nodes
- Complex Scene Management
- Scene Optimization for Rendering

For more information about the DVD, purchasing it, sample pics and even a sample video lesson visit http://www.digitaltutors.com/store/product.php?productid=2783&cat=39&page=1.

GPS keyring anyone?

Your phone, PDA (or even laptop, see post below) may have GPS capabilities, but who wants to carry around a receiver everywhere you go? However, what if the receiver was tiny ... and also doubled as your key ring? According to http://www.endgadget.com/ that's exactly what Proporta is proposing with its latest "world's smallest" (a claim I have to say I am not entirely convinced by) GPS receiver, the Freedom.

The ultra-compact device does in fact function as a key fob, in addition to being a SiRF Star III-equipped receiver which can interface with whatever friendly device you happen to have nearby. The Freedom will last you nine hours on a single charge, connects with up to 20 satellites, and plays nice with Bluetooth devices, making your navigational world slightly more enjoyable. The little guy is available right now for €99.95, or $129.99. Admittedly it looks like a very cool little gadget.

For more information about the Freedom GPS check http://www.proporta.com/.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

3D urban modelling used in vodka commercial

I am not usually one to dissect advertisements very much (although there are several which are quite clearly small work of arts when it comes to visual effects and post production), however a very recent one selling (of all things!) Smirnoff vodka found me very interested in it... The reason? Well, it's not very often you see some very elaborate stylized, clay-rendered urban 3D modelling examples of landscapes of major capital cities in a commercial!

As you can see on the pic above and also the YouTube link, the ad in question chooses to portray the vodka as a flowing red liquid marching its way through the Russian capital, then onto Paris and then onto glipses of other capitals. The modelling throughout is superb and is very nicely complimented by some great camera work that really captures the detail of the urban meshes presented.

All in all, it is a very interesting piece of work that shows just how much of age 3D urban modelling has come the last few years in order to be picked as a concept to represent major brands in high-profile marketing strategies.

GPS equipped Asus laptop

Something which caught my eye recently and which seems to be setting a new trend; a laptop with GPS integrated capabilities. Asus looks to be keeping busy on the GPS front these days, with it now following up its just-introduced navigators with what it claims to be the "world's first mainstream notebook PC with integrated GPS capability" (certainly the first one I've read about).

That particular distinction goes to the company's new U3S laptop, which relies on NXP Software's swGPS system for navigation duties. Amongst other things, NXP's system does all the necessary GPS signal processing entirely in software, which not only allows it to be much smaller but also opens up the possibility of fairly significant software upgrades (including support for Galileo). From the looks of it, the laptop itself is also no slouch, with the usual Centrino Duo-related goods and some unspecified discreet graphics under the hood. Just don't expect "mainstream" to mean "cheap," with the laptop set to run €2,300 (or $3,200) when it's released later this month...

Still, something that will hopefully be a trendsetter, there's enough PDAs out there with built-in GPS, having computationally more powerful devices also come with one can only open up possibilities...

Animex 2008

For today's post a shameless plug to what is, arguably the best computer animation festival in the UK at the moment, Animex, The International Festival For Animation & Computer Games, running for a number of years in a row at Teesside University, Middlesbrough, UK where I did my MA in Computer Animation (back in the day ...). The festival this year will be running between the 4th and the 8th of February.

The festival has its roots firmly planted in the creative side of animation and computer games and acts to provide animators, directors, students, artists, designers, writers and educators with a forum in which they can share their knowledge and skills and promote the art of animation and games. Festival delegates are able to attend talks (often from very prestigious people in the area!), presentations, workshops, screenings and parties.

A short list of this year's activities includes an awards ceremony, an open-plan exhibition area, a dedicated to computer games special event, an animation lounge and a variety of technical workshops and tutorials. While the list of invited speakers for this year's festival is not yet confirmed (seeing that the festival is a few months away), last year's event included, most notably, Ed Hooks (a well known pioneer in acting training specifically designed for animators) and Eamonn Butler (long-time Disney employee) amongst others...

Whether you're an industry heavyweight, a freelancing artist, a new company, a student, a researcher or even if you're just interested in animation or computer games, Animex is the place to be in 2008. Since 2000 Animex has been pioneering events that make the festival a unique experience for all of its visitors and is not only worthy of support but also capable of capturing the imagination for a number of related research matters...

For more info on Animex 2008 (such as obtaining tickets) and Teesside University check the following links, http://animex.tees.ac.uk/ and http://www.tees.ac.uk/.

See you there!

New version of Softimage XSI

One of my favourite 3D modelling packages (and the one I mostly used for my Masters work) has been getting an update/rerelease... Softimage has announced the latest versions of its 3D animation software packages: SoftimageXSI 6.5 and SoftimageFace Robot 1.8.

Both will ship in the autumn, according to the company. The company also announced plans to "repackage its Essentials and Advanced versions of SoftimageXSI 6.5 software to meet the specific needs of artists and studios, respectively", essentially changing which features are in which version, and also the pricing, to appeal better to certain users. Both SoftimageXSI 6.5 Essentials and Advanced software will include more than thirty enhancements that were developed for creative companies such as Lionhead Studios, Valve, EA, Animal Logic, Nerdcorps, Pandemic and NCSoft (according to Softimage again).

New tools across both versions include HDR (high dynamic range) rendermap support, additional SDK APIs allowing programmers to extend the software's capabilities, UV editing enhancements, and enhanced audio support. SoftimageXSI 6.5 Essentials is now aimed at artists creating 3D characters and content for games, film and television. The Essentials version now includes Hair & Fur, and Syflex Cloth capabilities. The price for Essentials will increase to $2,995 (around £1,470); maintenance remains unchanged at $799 (£392), and upgrades remain unchanged at $999 (£490). XSI 6.5 Essentials will only be available to new customers and customers on active maintenance. SoftimageXSI 6.5 XSI Advanced on the other hand is aimed at technical directors and studio IT managers. It includes everything in the SoftimageXSI 6.5 XSI Essentials package, plus Behavior, a crowd and behavioral simulation system, as well as five additional XSI Batch rendering licenses. The price for Advanced will decrease to $4,995 (£2,450) and maintenance will decrease to $1333 (£653).

For more information, check the official Softimage site at http://www.softimage.com/

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Urban modelling via a multi-touch display wall

Urban modelling is arguably an area that has yet to benefit from 3D interaction and quite understandably so since the work involved is often very complex and large-scale and doesn't really lend itself to HCI experimentation. However, Autodesk Labs plans to change all that and has recently unveiled vids of a new research prototype of a novel urban design application.

This prototype runs on a Multi-Touch Wall, a multi-touch input device produced by Perceptive Pixel (link here) and invented by researcher and TED conference luminary Jeff Han. Single touch devices, such as a for example a tablet PC or kiosk at a shopping mall, have been around for years. What distinguishes a multi-touch device from its predecessors is that it recognizes more than one input simultaneously. That means that instead of just touching the screen with the tip of one finger, the device recognizes gestures that the user makes with one or more fingers. Recognizing these gestures can provide computer applications with new opportunities for processing user input...

Therefore, Autodesk Labs believes multi-touch human-computer interfaces may dramatically change how products, infrastructure, and buildings are designed. In the vid above you can see someone grab a section of a city and mock up a building on the site. It looks really exciting (despite the lack of audio commentary on the vid) and could well spark off new avenues in urban modelling research when the project is complete and made commercially available.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Spellbinder project: mobile snaps revealing invisible art

A very interesting research project, unveiled at the recent SIGGRAPH 2007 conference, that has only recently come to my attention is the Spellbinder one, developed by Scottish researchers at the Division Of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh. The main objective of the project is to turn to camera phones, an accessory available on just about every cellphone these days, to help bridge the gap between virtual and real worlds.

The essence of the project is that via the use of image-matching algorithms the real world is adorned with digital content. The technology developed has already been used to create a guide of Edinburgh that allows people to find virtual artworks (such as for example graffiti, pictured above) placed around the city using their mobile... Another related spin-off application derived from the Spellbinder project uses the same technology to automatically update a person's blog with their location. According to Dr Mark Wright who came up with the original idea "it's about using a camera phone as a magic wand".

A key component of the Spellbinder is the database of all the places that participants have added data to. Thus, people can query it by taking a snap of a location with their phone then using multimedia text messages to send it to Spellbinder. Moreover, again according to the creators, powerful image-matching algorithms are used to analyse the image that can deal with snaps of the same place being taken under different lighting conditions or orientations. Once the system has worked out the location of an image it consults the database and sends back an image with the extras added to it.

All in all this looks like a very interesting concept that very notably manages to combine virtual & augmented reality issues, mobile blogging, urban navigation & representation, invisible art and even location based services and could indeed have many extensions and forays in other fields too...

Below you will find a link for the original BBC News story on Spellbinder:

New version of 3D Studio Max out in October

Autodesk, Inc. has just announced the new version of this writer's favourite 3D modelling application, 3ds Max 2008. While the naming is somewhat perplexing (what happened to version 10?!) 3ds Max 2008 is said to containe new features that enable artists and designers to further overcome challenges associated with large and complex 3D datasets (such as urban models). The software has been used to create numerous notable projects, including visualizations for the EMI Records building in London, the Mass Effect game and the Grindhouse movie. 3ds Max 2008 was showcased during SIGGRAPH 2007, being held at the San Diego Convention Center between August the 7th and the 9th.

Robert Stava, creative director at 3D Media Group and 3ds Max 2008 beta tester said, "Autodesk 3ds Max 2008 quickly became a standard part of our production pipeline. With many of our architectural design projects tipping the scales at millions of polygons, 3ds Max 2008 software's improved handling of complex data is a very welcome addition." 3D Media Group recently used 3ds Max to create visualizations for the Fulton Street Transit Center in New York City, the Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi and the New Songdo City in Korea.

Here's a quick overview of some of the key new features of this new version:

1. Accelerated Performance
The integration of new technology into the software’s Adaptive Degradation System improves interactive performance by automatically simplifying scene display to meet a user-defined target frame rate. You control how 3ds Max adjusts scene display—whether the smallest objects are hidden, or distant objects have less detail, etc.—and 3ds Max calculates how best to achieve it. When combined with the new Direct3D® mesh caching that groups objects by materials, the result is that tens of thousands of objects can be just as interactive as ten objects. In addition, loading, arrays, Autodesk® FBX® and OBJ export, and other areas of the software perform significantly faster.

2. Scene Explorer Scene Management
3ds Max 2008 delivers Scene Explorer, a robust new tool that provides you with a hierarchical view of scene data and fast scene analysis, along with editing tools that facilitate working with even the most complex, object-heavy scenes. Scene Explorer gives you the ability to sort, filter, and search a scene by any object type or property (including metadata), with stackable filtering, sorting, and searching criteria. This new tool also enables you to save and store multiple Explorer instances and to link, unlink, rename, hide, freeze, and delete objects, regardless of what objects are currently selected in the scene. You can also configure columns to display and edit any object property, and because this feature is scriptable and SDK extendable, you can use callbacks to add custom column definitions.

3. Review
This powerful new toolset gives you immediate feedback on various render settings, enabling you to iterate rapidly. This means you can now quickly hone in on your desired look without waiting for a software render—erfect for over-the-shoulder client/boss feedback sessions and other iterative workflows. Based on the latest game engine technology, Review delivers interactive viewport previews of shadows (including self-shadowing and up to 64 lights simultaneously), the 3ds Max sun/sky system, and mental ray® Architectural and Design material settings.

4. MAXScript ProEditor
3ds Max 2008 marks the debut of the new MAXScript ProEditor. This intuitive new interface for working with MAXScript includes multilevel undo functionality; fast, high-quality code colorization; rapid opening of large documents; line number display; regular expressions in search/replace; folding of sections of the script; support for user customization; and many other features.

5. Enhanced DWG Import
3ds Max 2008 delivers faster, more accurate importing of DWG™ files. Significantly improved memory management enables you to import large, complex scenes with multiple objects in considerably less time. Improved support for material assignment and naming, solid object import, and normals management facilitate working with software products such as Revit Architecture 2008. Plus, a new Select Similar feature identifies all objects in an imported DWG scene that contain characteristics similar to those of a selected object. This capability lets you select and edit multiple imported objects simultaneously—dramatically streamlining DWG-based workflows.

6. Artist Friendly Modelling Options
3ds Max 2008 gives you a more streamlined, artist-friendly modeling workflow through a collection of hands-on modeling options that let you focus more on the creative process. These options include selection previewing and the ability to have existing modeling hotkeys and pivots become temporary overrides.

7. Biped Enhancements
This latest release provides you with new levels of flexibility with regard to your Biped rigs. A new Xtras tool lets you create and animate extraneous Biped features anywhere on your rig (for example, wings or additional facial bones) and save them as BIP files. These files are supported in Mixer and Motion Flow, as well as in Layers, where new layering functionality enables BIP files to be saved as offsets from each layer to isolate character motion. As a result, each layer can be saved as its own asset for export into a game.

8. Expanded Platform Support
3ds Max 2008 is the first full release of the software officially compatible with Microsoft® Windows Vista™ 32-bit and 64-bit operating systems and the Microsoft DirectX® 10 platform.

Autodesk anticipates that 3ds Max 2008 will be available in English in October 2007. For a complete list of new features and enhancements in Autodesk 3ds Max 2008, visit http://www.autodesk.com/3dsmax.

Monday, 13 August 2007

Dell Axim x51v and Windows Mobile 6

With the release of Windows Mobile 6, various PDA manufacturers have taken the plunge to make sure their already released Pocket PC devices can be upgraded to the new operating system. Well, Dell is certainly not one of those manufacturers... While it is understandable to an extent (the Axim line seems to be one that will be discontinued) it nonetheless is very frustrating to a user of the device (such as myself, it's been with me since it was released and has proved to be an extremely robust, reliable and very powerful graphics-wise PDA).

The video above (showing a Dell Axim x51v running Windows Mobile 6!) is the proof that user communities can sometimes overcome little issues such as devices getting obsolete by their manufacturer. It seems that a ROM is out there that allows the new version of the operating system to be loaded on the device. While I'd rather not post any links as to where one can find this ROM, it does reportedly provide Axim users with the capability of upgrade denied by Dell (albeit as a slighty more risque proposition, ROMs like this often tend to be incredibly buggy and are not really recommended). Moreover, it applies further pressure to the manufacturer to step up to the challenges of a still-existing customer base. Have I attemped the upgrade? No way, and I certainly won't as I am not convinced WM5 and WM6 differ greatly but also because I value my device way too much and will always wait for an official update from Dell...

Nintendo developing a new motion sensing portable device?

For today's post, a new (or perhaps even better, hybrid) concept which is certainly interesting, concerning interaction & mobile devices capable of 3D graphics. It seems that Nintendo has caught on as to how important their Wii motion-sensing controller has been to their sales and are trying to apply it to its mobile counterpart, the Nintendo DS. That seems to be the idea behind a recent patent application from Nintendo, which is for a handheld gaming device with Wii remote-esque motion-sensing abilities.

The housing of the system incorporates an XY-axis acceleration sensor to detect an acceleration in an X-axis and Y-axis direction and a Z-axis contact switch to detect an acceleration in a Z-axis direction. In diagrams (see pic above), the system has been represented by a Game Boy-esque figure, but it could well be that's just a temporary placeholder.

While it should be noted that mobile devices with motion sensors are certainly nothing new, this has been more or less limited to cellphones so far and seeing that a device capable of displaying more complex 3D graphics extend to include it as a viable interaction way is very exciting indeed! Time will show what Nintendo will make of this of course as this is a long way from implementation yet. Still, the idea alone sends the imagination reeling when it comes to potential applications...

Monday, 6 August 2007

Tutorial on creating a photorealistic 3D virtual city in under 5 minutes

Quite often I've had to produce random visualisations and renders of 3D urban models for my work with time being a key element. In this post I have decided to describe an easy, cost-efficient and most of all very fast (less than 5 minutes all in all!) way to do that.

First of all, you will need a version of Autodesk's 3D Studio Max to follow this quick tutorial. Also, you will need a copy of the excellent Greeble plug-in, developed by Tom Hudson. This is a modifier plug-in useful for generating random detail for everything ranging from spaceship models, cityscapes to Death Stars (!), which can be downloaded from http://max.klanky.com/ (to install it simply copy and paste the Greeble .dlm file in the 3D Studio Max Plugins directory).

Step 1: Create a plane in 3D Studio Max with say 25 Length and 25 Width. Make sure Edged Faces is on from the viewport options (very important!).

Step 2: Apply an Edit Mesh modifier to the plane and then proceed to select every third or fourth row of polygons horizontally. Non-uniform scale these rows of polygons to 50%-60% of their size and then delete them. You have created horizontal streets in your random 3D city. Now repeat the process vertically in exactly the same way only this time it doesn't have to be in continuous rows. Remember we're trying to keep the appearance somewhat not-too-"blocky" looking and fairly randomized...

Step 3: Keeping this in mind move around some vertices here and there in the corners of all buildings to randomize the appearance of the cityscape further.

Step 4: Open up the Material Editor and in a new material slot create a Multi/Sub-Object material. Apply this to the cityscape plane. This is done in order to differentiate different parts of the cityscape. I usually use about 4-5 slots in this but let's keep it simple for this tutorial; use only two and name the 1st Base and the 2nd Garden. Assign a different sub-material to each; say a yellow-ish diffuse color for the Base and green for the Garden.

Step 5: Now under the Polygons selection of the Edit Mesh modifier, assign different material IDs to polygons accordingly. The easy way to do this is to select all polygons, assign them as ID1 (Base) and then select the few Garden polys you want and assign ID2 to them (you will see that the Garden ones turn green while all others remain yellow in color). Finally select ID1, all the Base polys that is.

Step 6: Apply the Greeble plug-in! You probably have what is more or less a random 3D city by now. With a few minor tweakings you can get it even better but even the default settings should be good enough! I usually set Taper to 0, make sure I use all 5 Widgets available, with their Density set at 5 etc.

Step 7: To produce a clay-like render add a Skylight to the scene and then render with some Advanced Lighting->Light Tracer (using the added Skylight). This should produce a render like the one below.

As you can see, it is fairly simple and time efficient to achieve results such as this for purely random visualisations. Obviously the shortcomings of this are obvious (for starters geographically it is difficult, nigh-on impossible to adapt this technique to a more realistic GIS-driven target) but this method (and the Greeble plug-in itself!) take some beating in the time/quality of result ratio for purely "beauty" renders. (Also do bear in mind that I've tried to keep this really really simple, there are many ways to build on and improve on the few steps described above, by no means is this definitive, feel free to experiment!).

For a future tutorial I will concentrate on the production of expressively rendered (i.e. in a non-photorealistic manner) views of 3D urban models, check the pic above for a cartoon-shaded view of an urban model...

MaPZone, a very useful texturing editing tool

One utility I have recently found extremely useful for my work, MaPZone, Allegorithmic’s free procedural texture generation tool, will soon be upgraded to version 2.6. The tool enables users to create seamless, high-quality textures based on a compositing graph which will automatically tile and can be locally edited (amongst many other features, check the link below for all of them). The update, set to be released sometime in the fall of this year, will bring about the ability to input bitmaps so that they can be mixed with the procedurally generated layers that the program specialises in, as well as several other usability improvements.

Well worth a look for all 3D modellers also heavily involved with texturing work, more information on the application, tutorials, a community forum, as well as of course the ability to download the freeware version at http://www.mapzoneeditor.com/.