30 April 2008

VR Therapeautic For Addicts

Patients in therapy to overcome addictions have a new arena to test their coping skills--the virtual world. A new study by University of Houston Associate Professor Patrick Bordnick found that a virtual reality (VR) environment can provide the climate necessary to spark an alcohol craving so that patients can practice how to say "no" in a realistic and safe setting. Bordnick, of the UH Graduate College of Social Work, investigates VR as a tool for assessing and treating addictions. He studied 40 alcohol-dependent people who were not receiving treatment (32 men and eight women). Wearing a VR helmet, each was guided through 18 minutes of virtual social environments that included drinking. The participant's drink of choice was included in each scene. Using a game pad, each rated his or her cravings and attention to the alcohol details in each room. Each then was interviewed following the experience.

His VR environments, developed with a company called Virtually Better, feature different scenarios that an addict may find challenging: a bar with imbibing patrons, a house party with guests drinking and smoking, a convenient store with cigarettes and alcoholic beverages within reach, a designated smoking section outside of a building or a room with an arguing couple. The environments use actors in each scene as opposed to computer-generated characters. In addition, the study added another layer of realism. A device sprayed the air with scents the participant may encounter in the various scenarios--cigarette smoke, alcoholic beverages, pizza or aromas associated with the outdoors.

More information:


26 April 2008

Walking Through VEs

In April 2008, European researchers will demonstrate that walking through virtual environments is set to be a reality. To make virtual walking a reality, the CyberWalk researchers had to address five key issues: providing a surface to walk on, controlling the surface in a way that minimised forces on the user, developing a non-intrusive tracking system, displaying a high-quality visualisation, and ensuring a natural human perception of the virtual environment. This month, at a special workshop in Tuebingen, Germany, the EU-funded researchers will demonstrate their treadmill allowing unconstrained walking in all directions (omni-directional) through large-scale virtual environments. Several attempts have been made to develop omni-directional treadmills, with Japanese researchers producing prototypes, and a group in the USA developing a smaller treadmill for military use. Neither allow for truly natural walking and immersion in a virtual environment. The treadmill, or CyberCarpet, incorporates several new mechanical solutions, which ensure smooth and safe operation. The key to the CyberCarpet is a platform with a big chain drive. The chain elements are made of conventional treadmills. The chain moves in one direction whereas the movement direction of the belts is orthogonal to that. Summing the two directions of the chain and the belts provides the omni-directional actuation principle and so the treadmill motion opposing the motion of the walker can be in any direction.

To track the walker, CyberCarpet wanted to dispense with the Hollywood-style suits covered in reflective marker balls. Its unique system uses cameras to track the position and posture of the individual. This helps control the velocity of the treadmill and interactions with the virtual environment. The possibility of walking through large virtual environments has already received a lot of attention and captured the public’s attention. One project partner, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETHZ) developed the CityEngine, developed a software package for quickly creating large-scale virtual environments in particular cities, in various degrees of detail. Combining the CityEngine with CyberWalk will allow people to go beyond strolling through the streets of ancient Pompeii and Rome. Architects, for example, could transport customers into the future, and allow them to walk through buildings even before they have been built. ETHZ is considering exploiting CityEngine as a tool for the gaming industry. Talks with some game production houses are already underway. Beyond the obvious use in entertainment, the achievements of the CyberWalk project could extend to training for firemen in dangerous scenarios, while keeping them well out of harm’s way. It could also help with medical rehabilitation for people after a stroke, people with Parkinson’s disease, or to help them overcome phobias. The developments have also created exciting new academic possibilities for research into behavioural science and the biomechanics of human locomotion. But the showcase demonstration is pure escapism, bringing Pompeii to life again after nearly two millennia.

More information:


25 April 2008

Experiencing Virtual Products

From cars and mobile phones to computers and furniture, most of today's products are created virtually on a computer before they are actually produced. In the context of the Functional DMU (Digital Mock-Up) project, researchers from four Fraunhofer Institutes are adding new functionalities to digital product development. While computer-supported test models have become part of everyday production activities, not all process chain components can be simulated. Close cooperation between mechanics, electronics and software development is particularly important. In addition to the work of IGD researchers, experts from the Design Automation Division at the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS, the Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communication Systems FOKUS and the Fraunhofer Institute for Structural Durability and System Reliability LBF have also contributed to the project.

Together, they have developed a Functional DMU framework that can integrate the mechatronic properties of individual components into the simulation, and can also evaluate them. The framework combines a variety of different commercial simulators, such as SimPack, Matlab/Simulink and Dymola. Here, it is particularly important that the behavior of individual components be visualized in real time. There are now demonstrators that show how Functional DMU works. One of these is the virtual power window, which will be on display at the joint Fraunhofer booth at the Hannover Messe. The next project on the scientists' agenda is the simulation of a steering test rig. Here, again, mechanical, electrical and software components work interactively.

More information:


22 April 2008

Eurographics 2008 Article

Last week, I have presented part of my research in the 29th annual conference of the European Association for Computer Graphics (EUROGRAPHICS 2008). The conference was held in Crete, Greece, 14th to 18th of April. The title of my paper is ‘Evaluation of a Mobile MR Geovisualisation Interface’. This paper presents experimental results of a mobile mixed reality interface designed for geovisualization of 3D realistic urban environments which allows dynamic switching between three visualization domains: a virtual reality; an augmented reality and a mixed reality interface to get the best possible representation for visual exploration. On each domain, four different types of geovisualisation and navigation aids can be superimposed including geo-referenced 3D maps, 2D digital maps, spatial 3D sound and 3D/2D textual annotations. Interaction is performed using keyboard, mouse, menus and tangible ways.

To gather user requirements about urban and virtual navigation and to assess the effectiveness of mobile interface, a two-stage evaluation was performed. The expert-user evaluation, showed that speed, FOV, eye-level view, orientation, road signs, landmarks, volume of urban structures and weather conditions are important issues in urban navigation. Paper maps are still preferred but the use of digital maps has become very common. The main results of the quantitative evaluation showed that for visual exploration the VR domain was the most successful. In terms of navigational assistance the 3D map was found to be the most effective medium. Moreover, the combination of the 3D map with spatial 3D sound and a 2D digital map with textual annotations was found beneficial. In terms of interaction, participants preferred natural techniques.

A copy of the article can be downoaded from here.

10 April 2008

ClearFlow Avoids Traffic Jams

Microsoft announced today that it will launch ClearFlow, a software technology for its driving directions website that will help users avoid traffic jams. ClearFlow spent five years in development by the software giant's AI researchers, and will be available at no cost for 72 US metropolitan cities. It will take into account details such as sporting events, current weather and time of day to get drivers to their destinations in the shortest amount of time.

The new software may, for example, instruct drivers to remain on a busy highway rather than take side streets during rush hour, as the busy road and waiting at street lights would take longer. What the ClearFlow program doesn't take into account, however, are real-time updates such as road / highway closures or accidents. The software's development process involved Microsoft employees volunteering to outfit their cars with GPS units that would collect data over four years on nearly 17,000 trips, that covered over 125,000 miles of Seattle's roads.

More information:


09 April 2008

Transparent Computer Monitors

Engineers have created the first "active matrix" display using a new class of transparent transistors and circuits, a step toward realizing applications such as e-paper, flexible color monitors and "heads-up" displays in car windshields. The transistors are made of "nanowires," tiny cylindrical structures that are assembled on glass or thin films of flexible plastic. The researchers used nanowires as small as 20 nanometers - a thousand times thinner than a human hair - to create a display containing organic light emitting diodes, or OLEDS. The OLEDS are devices that rival the brightness of conventional pixels in flat-panel television sets, computer monitors and displays in consumer electronics.

The nanowires were used to create a proof-of-concept active-matrix display similar to those in television sets and computer monitors. An active-matrix display is able to precisely direct the flow of electricity to produce video because each picture element, or pixel, possesses its own control circuitry. OLEDS are now used in cell phones and MP3 displays and prototype television sets, but their production requires a complex process, and it is difficult to manufacture OLEDs that are small enough for high-resolution displays. The technology also could be used to create antennas that aim microwave and radio signals more precisely than current antennas. Such antennas might improve cell phone reception and make it more difficult to eavesdrop on military transmissions on the battlefield.

More information:


05 April 2008

SGI VR Applications for Health Event

This half-day workshop aims to introduce partners and participants to new uses of virtual world applications for solving health challenges. Examples of training packages for health workers, major incident training and public policy uses are showcased, and participants are invited to contribute to developing a road map for serious games and virtual worlds in health contexts. The aim is to produce a map of activities and an applied research agenda for the partners to follow over the next five years.

Participants will include industrial and academic partners aiming to work with the SGI in the hub area of health, participants aiming to get an introduction to the uses of serious games and virtual worlds for health, prospective partners and health practitioners, policy makers in the field of health and innovating practice.

More information:

03 April 2008

DG5 VHand 2.0

DGTech Engineering Solutions releases on the market the new VHand data-glove version. A complete redesign of the glove has permitted to embed the acquisition board inside the glove itself. On the same board has been mounted a complete 3 axes accelerometer, which permits to accurately measure the movements and the orientations of the hand, strongly increasing the application fields of this complete sensor. The finger movements are still revealed by the use of the well tested Flexpoint bend sensors.

The product philosophy is changed, starting from a OEM version, which perfectly suits the needs of Universities, Research Centres and company involved in the developing of innovative solutions in the fields of robotics, motion capture, virtual realities and gaming. As optional devices, in order to facilitate the developing cycle, a complete set of accessories is provided, like a TTL to USB adaptor and a TTL to Bluetooth adaptor. The last one will permit a complete and comfortable wireless use of the glove.