19 August 2012

3D Deformable Object Library

Researchers of USC Viterbi's Computer Science Department released the world’s most comprehensive library of 3D deformable modeling software for free open source download. The package, called Vega, allows users to simulate and move complex objects, bending, stretching and twisting them in real time. A potentially powerful tool for animation and game artists, as well as engineers designing complete structures, Vega is optimized for speed and can animate the motion of any 3D solid object, under any user-specified forces.

No other free library offers such a comprehensive range of materials and deformable simulation methods. The culmination of eight years of development, Vega’s license allows anyone in the world to freely use and modify its over 50,000 lines of software code, whether for academic research or commercial applications. Unique in its implementation of popular deformable object methods, the package works out of a standard computer system for representing 3D objects, dividing their interiors into pyramids. In a matter of seconds, Vega can simulate both geometrically simple objects as well as complex objects made up of hundreds of thousands of tetrahedra.

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16 August 2012

Pocket Living Room TV

You can also watch the same TV show or movie together with your family and friends, no matter which part of the world they are in. Not only that but you'll be able to discuss the show, whether you are on your personal tablet or smart phone, through a channel of your choice, be it video chat, voice or text. The world's first 'pick up and throw back' video feature allows your video and chat sessions to be screened wherever you go, providing continuous social engagement in today's world.

This innovative multi-screen mobile social TV experience is now being made into reality by researchers from the School of Computer Engineering, Nanyang Technological University (NTU). It has already attracted the attention of both local and international telecommunication giants who have expressed interest in integrating this technology into their existing cable networks as a market differentiator for cable television and mobile networks. With discussions currently underway, the public here can expect to see videos and TV shows on the go together with their friends on the 'cloud' in about two years' time.

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15 August 2012

Earthworm Robots

Now researchers at MIT, Harvard University and Seoul National University have engineered a soft autonomous robot that moves via peristalsis, crawling across surfaces by contracting segments of its body, much like an earthworm. The robot, made almost entirely of soft materials, is remarkably resilient: Even when stepped upon or bludgeoned with a hammer, the robot is able to inch away, unscathed. Researchers say such a soft robot may be useful for navigating rough terrain or squeezing through tight spaces. The robot is named ‘Meshworm’ for the flexible, meshlike tube that makes up its body. They created artificial muscle from wire made of nickel and titanium -- a shape-memory alloy that stretches and contracts with heat. They wound the wire around the tube, creating segments along its length, much like the segments of an earthworm. They then applied a small current to the segments of wire, squeezing the mesh tube and propelling the robot forward.

The team set out to design a similar soft, peristalsis-driven system. The researchers first made a long, tubular body by rolling up and heat-sealing a sheet of polymer mesh. The mesh, made from interlacing polymer fibers, allows the tube to stretch and contract, similar to a spring. They then looked for ways to create artificial muscle, ultimately settling on a nickel-titanium alloy. Depending on the ratio of nickel to titanium, the alloy changes phase with heat. Above a certain temperature, the alloy remains in a phase called austenite -- a regularly aligned structure that springs back to its original shape, even after significant bending, much like flexible eyeglass frames. Below a certain temperature, the alloy shifts to a martensite phase. The researchers fabricated a tightly coiled nickel-titanium wire and wound it around the mesh tube, mimicking the circular muscle fibers of the earthworm. They then fitted a small battery and circuit board within the tube, generating a current to heat the wire at certain segments along the body: As a segment reaches a certain temperature, the wire contracts around the body, squeezing the tube and propelling the robot forward.

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14 August 2012

Sense of Touch to AR Applications

REVEL is a new wearable tactile technology that modifies the user’s tactile perception of the physical world. Current tactile technologies limit the experience to the interaction with instrumented devices. REVEL can add artificial tactile sensations to almost any surface or object, with very little if any instrumentation of the environment. REVEL can provide dynamic tactile sensations on touch screens as well as everyday objects and surfaces in the environment.

REVEL is based on Reverse Electrovibration and injects a weak electrical signal into anywhere on the user's body, creating an oscillating electrical field around the user’s skin. When sliding his or her fingers on a surface of the object, the user perceives highly distinctive tactile textures that augment the physical object. Varying the properties of the signal, such as the shape, amplitude and frequency, can provide a wide range of tactile sensations.

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05 August 2012

Identifying Dolphins With Technology

Dolphins all look pretty similar. So it can be problematic when your job requires you to identify individual dolphins in order to study their behavioral and ecological patterns. Photo-identification techniques -- recognizing a particular dolphin by the nicks, scars and notches on its dorsal fin -- are useful, but tedious. Researchers at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, developed DARWIN, or Digital Analysis and Recognition of Whale Images on a Network, a computer program that simplifies photo-identification of bottlenose dolphins by applying computer vision and signal processing techniques to automate much of the tedious manual photo-id process. DARWIN is a software system which has been developed to support the creation of reliable and intuitive image database queries using fin outlines.

It effectively performs registration of image data to compensate for the fact that the photographs are taken from different angles and distances and compares digital images of new dorsal fins with a database of previously identified fins. The software uses an automated process to create a tracing of the fin outline, which is then used to formulate a sketch-based query of the database. The system utilizes a variety of image processing and computer vision algorithms to perform the matching process that identifies those previously cataloged fins which most closely resemble the unknown fin. The program ranks catalog fin images from ‘most like’ to ‘least like’ the new unknown fin image and presents images for side by side comparison. The DARWIN software is free and available for download.

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04 August 2012

3D Print for Animation

A group of graphics experts led by computer scientists at Harvard have created an add-on software tool that translates video game characters into fully articulated action figures, with the help of a 3D printer. Besides its obvious consumer appeal, the tool constitutes a remarkable piece of code and an unusual conceptual exploration of the virtual and physical worlds. In a virtual world, you have all this freedom that you don't have in the physical world. You can make a character so anatomically skewed that it would never be able to stand up in real life, and you can make deformations that aren't physically possible. You could even have a head that isn't attached to its body, or legs that occasionally intersect each other instead of colliding.

Returning a virtual character to the physical world therefore turns the traditional animation process on its head, in a sort of reverse rendering, as the image that's on the screen must be adapted to accommodate real-world constraints. Spore (an evolution-simulation video game) allows players to create a vast range of creatures with numerous limbs, eyes, and body segments in almost any configuration, using a technique called procedural animation to quickly and automatically animate whatever body plan it receives. As with most types of computer animation, the characters themselves are just skins (meshes of polygons) that are manipulated like marionettes by an invisible skeleton.

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02 August 2012

Interactive Map for Roman Empire

All roads may lead to Rome, but some are much smoother than others. A new interactive map of the Roman Empire that includes roads, rivers and hundreds of sea routes allows users to calculate the travel time and costs for traversing the ancient empire. The project, called ORBIS, is allowing researchers to probe standing hypotheses and develop new ones concerning the economic, social, military and political dynamics of an empire that had a profound and enduring influence on western civilization. The map, based on years of scholarship and new calculations, is organized around 751 sites in an area of about 4 million square miles.

These sites were either prominent settlements or landmarks considered significant for traversing an empire that in its time spanned one-ninth of the Earth’s circumference and touched three continents. There are 814 road segments for a total length of 84,631 kilometers and 28,272 kilometers of navigable rivers and canals. The map even incorporates data on the strength and direction of wind and ocean currents, parameters that change drastically when a route is estimated for winter rather than summer. Different modes of travel are also included, making it possible to calculate trip time whether traveling by civilian river boat, military river boat, wagon or rapid marching.

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01 August 2012

Robot Living Buildings

It doesn’t take much to be considered smart if you’re a building. Add some lights that turn themselves off when nobody is around or install an intelligent air conditioning system to regulate the ambient temperature and you’re well on your way. But compared to the living buildings, today’s smart buildings are the architectural equivalent of single-celled organisms.

Using swarms of robotic sensors that ‘chase’ a structure's human occupants, buildings could understand everything about us, down to our emotional state. These robot sensors will learn from their mistakes, self-regulate using digital ‘hormones’, and record information over the course of years, building up a record of experiences to be used as ‘DNA’ to program future versions of themselves, or even other buildings.

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