Saturday, 21 February 2009

Google Earth discovers Atlantis?!

On a very amusing piece of news which has developed the last few days (and even got some coverage in The Sun!) the lost city of Atlantis is still lost, despite hopes that Google Earth had located the fabled city on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean!

Observers noted what seemed to be a grid of streets and the outlines of a big city on the sea floor about 960km (600 miles) off the African coast. Experts had said this was one of the possible sites of the city described by Plato, the Greek philosopher.

But Google has just revealed that the lines represented sonar data collected from boats. "It's true that many amazing discoveries have been made in Google Earth including a pristine forest in Mozambique that is home to previously unknown species and the remains of an Ancient Roman villa," a Google statement said. "In this case, however, what users are seeing is an artefact of the data collection process. Bathymetric (or sea floor terrain) data is often collected from boats using sonar to take measurements of the sea floor," it was added.

"The lines reflect the path of the boat as it gathers the data. The fact there are blank spots between each of these lines is a sign of how little we really know about the world's oceans." It is in my opinion incredibly intriguing, amusing yet fascinating that we've now reached a digitization point in time where technology like Google Earth can be associated with the discovery of mythical Atlantis. You can find the original The Sun article below for a bit of light entertainment!

Virtual 3D model of Philadelphia

An interesting virtual city project I've come across recently; Virtual Philadelphia is a 3D online virtual city mirrored off the Center City of Philadelphia, PA, full of historical landscapes and buildings, hundreds of years of culture and one of the most beloved and popular US cities.

GeoSim compiles gigabytes of aerial photos, street images, laser scans and geodetic measurements of Philadelphia to build an accurate 3D city model, capable of providing a genuine life simulation of the physical streets, buildings and urban landscape with the "look and feel" of a real city.

Through a broadband Internet connection, Virtual Philadelphia conveys to anaudience of local residents, national and international tourists and visitors the true experience of being there, combined with a variety of location-related content and useful applications, such as Local Search, Virtual Tours, City Planning, E-Shopping and Human Interaction.

As a user you have the option to walk, hover, jump to and simply roam through true-to-life Virtual Philadelphia, or to meet other users, to click on any building, bus stop or shop to find out more information about it or even to go inside.

SIGGRAPH embracing games?

The SIGGRAPH 2009 Computer Animation Festival will this year for the first time include a segment on real-time rendering projects, in which the top selections will be played and demonstrated live on various platforms. A jury of industry professionals and experts will judge the entries on creativity, innovation, performance, and the ability to render in real time in front of the live audience.

Selected contributors will have an opportunity to show their projects for the Computer Animation Festival Evening Theater audience, and to showcase their work in The Sandbox, where attendees get a hands-on gaming experience. "The addition of live, real-time rendering work is going to make this one of the most dynamic and innovative festivals in SIGGRAPH history," says Ronen Barzel, SIGGRAPH 2009 conference chair.

"The gaming industry has been a substantial innovator in real-time graphics, and now the best gaming work can be showcased at SIGGRAPH alongside the latest developments in research, science, art, and technology from around the globe."

Real-time rendering will focus on mathematical or other industrial simulations, research projects, real-time artist explorations, new uses of pioneering technology and scientific visualizations. SIGGRAPH 2009 will be held in New Orleans from August 3-7 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Microsoft to challenge Wii?

Microsoft is looking to acquire an Israeli imaging company in a bid to 'anxiously outdo the Wii' according to new reports on the web. According to a report in the Israel press, the format-holder is looking to buying 3DV Systems and its camera-based motion-sensing technology and integrate it into its games business. Reportedly, Microsoft will pay $35m for the firm, whose ZCams tech is in effect like Sony's EyeToy but with more precise imaging and motion sensing due to their 3D cameras.

Venturebeat's Dean Takahashi has also reported on the acquisition, recapping his own experiences with the tech during a previous demo: "When I did a demo of the technology, I was able to control a game just by waving my arms around. I could fly a plane by pretending to hold a joystick and also box against a virtual fighter by throwing punches toward the camera. The motion detection was accurate, much more so than the Wii, which uses relatively cheap but primitive accelerometers and infrared technology for motion detection."

3DV has been spending recent years trying to commercialise the 3D camera technology, saying it could release the camera at a sub $100 price (a perfect add-on peripheral for the 360?). However, Microsoft has already said that it 'doesn't comment on rumour and speculation' but time will show whether this one stands up or not.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Microsoft Research India working on new ways of architectural digital tours

The India Digital Heritage Project is a huge undertaking by Microsoft Research India that tries to collect, store, and share data on architectural sites and stimulate research in visualization, computer vision, graphics and related fields.

Various academic and industry research organizations formed a Program Advisory & Monitoring Committee to monitor the project. MSR India's role is to provide technologies such as Photosynth and HD View (the latter at its beta) to help showcase various Indian heritage sites in both 2D and 3D. At the moment, the project encompasses five sites with either Photosynth or HD View (beta) examples (example in the vid below).

Users can choose to follow a "guided-tour" where a narrator explains the historical and cultural importance of what is being viewed. As you can see, the potential of this project is really phenomenal. Slideshows of pictures and videos really aren't enough for digital tours of landmarks but putting together technologies like Photosynth and HD View (beta) can seriously improve the experience. The engineers, researchers, and designers that had to work to put this together have only recently finished a pilot prototype for the Sri Andal Temple in Srivilliputtur.

HD View, developed by Microsoft Research's Interactive Visual Media group, is a viewer meant for large images (think billions of pixels) that have been stitched together using smaller images. Photosynth, on the other hand, is a technology that analyzes and pieces together multiple images of an area or object from multiple angles to create virtual worlds called a "synth." The latter has actually undergone an update recently, with "a lot more features and improvements in the works."

Travel grants for UK engineering scientists

Having just been awarded a Royal Academy of Engineering travel grant to visit this years HCI International conference at California, US, I thought I'd post some information for all other UK scientists in computer science/engineering discipline looking to fund conference travel from external sources.

The Royal Academy of Engineering International Travel Grant Scheme is intended to help Engineering Researchers in the UK make study visits overseas. This enables them to remain at the forefront of new developments and be aware of corresponding activity overseas. The scheme is intended to benefit individuals with their current work and ultimately engineering in the country as a whole by facilitating technology transfer opportunities. It is also a means of maintaining the prestige of the nation’s engineering overseas. I've been personally awarded this travel grant for the second year in a row now and can heartily recommend applying for it.

Also, there's the Royal Society's new International Travel Grants scheme which runs with fixed deadlines (next one's 16th of March). Royal Society's objectives include strengthening of UK science by providing support to excellent individuals to engage with the best science around the world as well as supporting science communication. The International Travel Grant scheme aims to contribute to fulfilling this objective by supporting international collaborations and the participation of UK scientists in overseas conferences.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

New non-photorealistic game, Madworld

Carrying on my research in non-photorealistic graphics, it is exciting to see new real-time games utilising the medium. The new and very impressive newcomer is MADWORLD an inventive third-person action game exclusively for Wii. Produced by Atsushi Inaba, MADWORLD has a unique black and white style (similar to Sin City in some ways), depicting an incredibly sharp backdrop that straddles graphic novels and 3D worlds.

As players battle opponents, they must master the use of various weapons and items found within their environment, such as chainsaws and street signs, while entertaining sports commentary adds to the third-person gameplay. With its irreverent humour and over-the-top violence, MADWORLD promises to deliver a unique core gaming experience currently missing on the Wii system. Time to invest in one for us not equipped with the Nintendo console?!

Southwark council using 3D urban model of London

Southwark Council has licensed a 3D digital model of London from architectural visualisation consultancy GMJ, to create a virtual skyline into which proposed buildings of the Elephant and Castle regeneration area will be positioned for assessment.

Forming part of their long term planning strategy, Southwark’s professional team along with planning consultants Tibbalds and architects Make, will use GMJ’s digital model to examine a range of scenarios for proposed buildings including the impact of height and density along with the affect on residential buildings, public places and the urban mix.

Jon Abbott, Elephant & Castle Project Director, commented, “There are always a lot of concerns to be taken into consideration when working on a project of this size and GMJ’s model will allow us to look at the impact from every angle to ensure the optimum design and position is achieved for all stakeholders including local residents.”

Accurate to within centimetres, GMJ’s extended model covers 44 sq km of central London and is detailed to the level of chimney stacks, parapet walls and tree canopies. Developers and architects can drop their proposed buildings into the model to help speed up planning applications.

London CityModel was selected by renowned architect Sir Terry Farrell as an exhibit in his prestigious Digital Cities: London’s Future exhibition which opened on November 21st at The Building Centre.

The exhibition examines how the latest technology will affect the future of architecture in cities, including digital building planning, pedestrian movement studies, congestion management and the adoption of digital city models to aid long term strategic skyline plans.

Friday, 6 February 2009

The Animator’s Survival Kit: Animated

A book I've got on my reading list for all of the games-related units I am teaching at Bournemouth University is Richard Williams’ The Animator’s Survival Kit, widely accepted as a must-have resource for animators.

After its publication in 2001, lecturers quickly added the title to required reading lists for students, while studio professionals began to keep a copy close at hand. So what could be done to improve on this established classic? Simple: add animation.

The book’s content originated from masterclasses that Williams gave to major studios such as Pixar, Dreamworks and ILM. His new 16-DVD box set, The Animator’s Survival Kit: Animated, amalgamates footage from one of these masterclasses, filmed at Blue Sky Studios, with the original content of the book.

The training starts by exploring how animators learn, explaining the importance of life drawing, how to think about animation, how to animate and how not to. Walk cycles, accents, vibrates, anticipation, eases, overlapping action and weight are among the many topics covered. Although the discs can be studied in any order, Williams suggests that “you swallow the whole pill: start from the basics and move on layer by layer through to [more] sophisticated uses”. The more you learn from the basics, the more sophisticated your work can become.

Aimed at both students and professionals, the discs excel in revealing the fundamental principles behind animation, making it suitable for animators working in any field, including classical, digital, games, stop-motion and online animation. During the course of the videos, Williams frequently reaches for a marker pen and illustrates his points with drawings.

In addition to between 30 and 50 minutes of video footage, each DVD includes up to 30 minutes of animation, running to hundreds of individual animated example over the course of the box set. Each can be viewed and analysed frame by frame, making this an invaluable resource.

Check this out at (pricing is steep, but it should be well worth it!)

New Google Earth update, version 5

Google has just released a new version of Google Earth (version 5) with some new and very interesting features added. Those are the abilities to use the Google Earth environment to;

- See global changes with decades of historic imagery
If you've ever wondered how your neighborhood has changed throughout time, Google Earth now gives you access to the past. With a simple click, check out suburban sprawl, melting ice caps, coastal erosion and more
- Dive beneath the surface of the ocean
In the new ocean layer, you can plunge all the way to the floor of the sea, view exclusive content from partners like BBC and National Geographic, and explore 3D shipwrecks like the Titanic.
- Track and share your paths with others
Take placemarks a step further and record a free-form tour in Google Earth. Simply turn on the touring feature, press record, and see the world. You can even add a soundtrack or narration to personalize the journey

All three new features are well worth checking out for Google Earth enthusiasts and offer potential for a lot of new research concepts and ideas for people into LBS and urban modelling.