31 January 2008

3D Break Through?

For a long time 3D movies and TV shows have been a bit of a gimmick. They have been used to re-energise a tired franchise, help a film stand out at a crowded box office or to give TV viewers a glimpse of what the future might hold. But many in the 3D production industry now say that future may be closer than ever before. Film makers, technology companies and post-production outfits recently gathered at the historic Shepperton Studios to assess just how far 3D has come and where it goes next. The 3D technology gathering favour is based around stereoscopic projection. As its name implies this involves projecting two images. The viewer wears spectacles that ensure one image goes to each eye and lets the brain piece the two together to give the sense of solidity.

Stereoscopic 3D works using two lenses set the same distance apart as human eyes - about 6.3cm. Digital production systems had made it much cheaper to shoot in 3D and there's only a 20-30% cost difference on the whole process compared to 2D. Editing stereoscopic images presents particular problems because of the need to keep the two images synchronised. Care must be taken to ensure that the sequence of images matches and is not a different colour, lags a frame behind or has an artefact, such as dirt or lens flare, which the other lacks. Digital projection systems in cinemas were helping to make watching 3D movies a more pleasant experience. Digital projectors do a much better job of handling the high frame rates (144 frames per second) demanded by 3D that can preserve the details of a scene.

More information:


27 January 2008

Website Converts 2D into 3D Models

The Make3d algorithm, developed by Stanford computer scientists, can take any 2D image and create a 3D ‘fly around’ model of its content, giving viewers access to the scene's depth and a range of points of view. The algorithm uses a variety of visual cues that humans use for estimating the 3-D aspects of a scene. The applications of extracting 3-D models from 2-D images could range from enhanced pictures for online real estate sites to quickly creating environments for video games and improving the vision and dexterity of mobile robots as they navigate through the spatial world. Extracting 3-D information from still images is an emerging class of technology. Make3d creates accurate and smooth models about twice as often as competing approaches, by abandoning limiting assumptions in favour of a new, deeper analysis of each image and the powerful artificial intelligence technique ‘machine learning’.

To teach the algorithm about depth, orientation and position in 2-D images, the researchers fed it still images of campus scenes along with 3-D data of the same scenes gathered with laser scanners. The algorithm correlated the two sets together, eventually gaining a good idea of the trends and patterns associated with being near or far. To make these judgments, the algorithm breaks the image up into tiny planes called ‘superpixels’, which are within the image and have very uniform color, brightness and other attributes. By looking at a superpixel in concert with its neighbours, analyzing changes such as gradations of texture, the algorithm makes a judgment about how far it is from the viewer and what its orientation in space is. Although the technology works better than any other has so far, it is not perfect. The software is at its best with landscaps and scenery rather than close-ups of individual objects.

More information:



25 January 2008

Computer Vision Flaws

For years, scientists have been trying to teach computers how to see like humans, and recent research has seemed to show computers making progress in recognizing visual objects. A new MIT study, however, cautions that this apparent success may be misleading because the tests being used are inadvertently stacked in favor of computers. Computer vision is important for applications ranging from "intelligent" cars to visual prosthetics for the blind. Recent computational models show apparently impressive progress, boasting 60-percent success rates in classifying natural photographic image sets. These include the widely used Caltech101 database, intended to test computer vision algorithms against the variety of images seen in the real world.
However, scientists argue that these image sets have design flaws that enable computers to succeed where they would fail with more authentically varied images. For example, photographers tend to center objects in a frame and to prefer certain views and contexts. The visual system, by contrast, encounters objects in a much broader range of conditions. The team exposed the flaws in current tests of computer object recognition by using a simple "toy" computer model inspired by the earliest steps in the brain's visual pathway. Artificial neurons with properties resembling those in the brain's primary visual cortex analyze each point in the image and capture low-level information about the position and orientation of line boundaries. The model lacks the more sophisticated analysis that happens in later stages of visual processing to extract information about higher-level features of the visual scene such as shapes, surfaces or spaces between objects.

More information:


22 January 2008

Ad-Based Free Online Video Game

Electronic Arts is to release a free online version of the popular Battlefield game to be supported by adverts and micro payments. The PC game, Battlefield Heroes, will be available only online later this year, and will not be sold in shops. The move marks EA's first major attempt to tap into new sources of ad-driven revenue in Western markets. The firm has a free version of its Fifa game in South Korea, earning more than $1m a month through in-game sales.
With Battlefield Heroes, EA brings its first major franchise to North America and Europe with a new distribution model and pricing structure adapted to the evolving way that people play. The video games industry is taking its first steps away from a retail-focused sales environment and towards digital distribution. EA hopes the model of a free game as download that is supported by adverts and micro-payments could be applied to other franchises it owns. The new version of Battlefield is designed to have more mass market appeal than current titles in the series, which have sold about 10 million copies worldwide.

More information:


20 January 2008

Realistic 3D Snowflakes

Intricate, incredibly variable and beautiful, snowflakes have been puzzling mathematicians since at least 1611, when Johannes Kepler predicted that the six-pointed structure would reflect an underlying crystal structure. Snowflakes grow from water vapor around some kind of nucleus, such as a bit of dust. The surface of the growing crystal is a complex, semi-liquid layer where water molecules from the surrounding vapor can attach or detach. Water molecules are more likely to attach at concavities in the crystal shape. The model built by Gravner and David Griffeath of the University of Wisconsin-Madison takes these factors, as well as temperature, atmospheric pressure and water vapor density, into account. By running the model under different conditions, a wide range of natural snowflake shapes was recreated.

Rather than trying to model every water molecule, it divides the space into three-dimensional chunks one micrometer across. The program takes about 24 hours to produce one "snowfake" on a modern desktop computer. As in the real world, needles are the most common pattern of computer-generated snowflake. The classic six-pointed "dendritic" or feathery snowflake is relatively rare, both in the computer simulation and in nature. One surprise was that three-dimensional structure is often important, with complex structures often growing between two plates -- a feature that is difficult to see when observing actual snowflakes, but has been observed in careful studies of real snowflakes with electron microscopes.

More information:


15 January 2008

New Frontiers in Ambient Intelligence

Whether it is sensors on our skin, in our clothing or embedded in the environment, research into ambient intelligence is advancing in leaps and bounds. We could soon be using technology in a whole new, human-centric way. But before we can fully interact in a responsive electronic environment, a number of obstacles need to be overcome. For example, the development of miniaturised, unobtrusive hardware, clever interfaces, data-secure systems, autonomous and flexible network protocols, and more efficient wireless infrastructures. There are already diverse applications using ambient technology on the market, but one crucial sticking point is that few of them are fully integrated into wireless communication systems. The main idea is to integrate sensor networks into wireless communication systems and to ‘capture’ the user’s environment, perhaps using a mobile phone as a gateway, and then transmit this context to a service platform to deliver a personalised service and act on situations.

The context captured can be an environmental one, such as location, but also the subject’s emotional context – what is known as the “physiological state”. It is possible to capture physiological parameters, such as temperature, heart rate and skin conductance levels. The potential for applications is vast: it goes from entertainment, to e-health and safety, and industrial applications, such as remote asset monitoring. The consortium behind this, which includes a number of European universities, research institutes and companies, such as Telefonica, IBM, Fujitsu, Thales, Nokia Siemens Networks, EADS and Mitsubishi, has developed 26 scenarios and 16 audiovisual showcases demonstrating the use of sensor networks to capture ambient intelligence and use it in mobile communications. Perhaps the most obvious scenarios focus on emergency situations, with systems contributing to improving the response of emergency services to car crashes and other accidents. Other applications also include leisure and sport.

More information:


11 January 2008

OLIVE Gaming Platform

The OLIVE (On-Line Interactive Virtual Environment) Platform allows customers to rapidly generate interactive persistent 3D virtual environments that enable organizations to train, plan, rehearse, communicate and collaborate just as they would in the real world. The OLIVE Core's proven distributed client-server architecture enables simulations to easily scale from single user applications to large scale simulated environments supporting many thousands of concurrent users.

The OLIVE Platform is a suite of tools and interfaces that allow non-programmers to rapidly create application specific content and scenarios - the key to agile game development. Working with the OLIVE Platform, customers can create realistic virtual world content and plug-in functionality to meet a wide range of simulation needs. An API layer enables customers to reuse existing content, integrate with 3rd party applications, and leverage 3rd party tools. The open nature of the OLIVE Platform allows customers to create powerful multi-resolution and multi-fidelity federated simulation environments.

More information:


09 January 2008

Virtual Goods and Services

Not sure what to get that special someone on your holiday shopping list who has everything? How about a virtual T-shirt featuring the logo of his or her favorite virtual band—or a snazzy new pair of avatar swimming trunks? Many people of a certain age may consider such gifts a waste of their hard-earned and very real money. But not so a growing number of tweens and teens as well as 20- and even some 30-somethings, who spent around $2.1 billion in 2006 on virtual goods and services, according to researchers at Finland's Helsinki Institute for Information Technology (HIIT).

Indeed, spending on virtual items for social reasons is a more sustainable model than the purchase of computer-generated real estate or avatar apparel in cyber worlds such as Linden Research's Second Life. South Korea is the leading market for virtual consumption and one of the most trendy places to spend money on virtual items is social networking site Cyworld. Unlike Facebook or MySpace, a Cyworld participant creates an avatar called a "minime," whose hair, clothing, facial expression, mood and other attributes can be changed as often as the owner wants. Much of the U.S. and European spending that can be tracked—Facebook does not provide sales figures for its virtual swag—is on massively multiplayer games, a primary example being World of Warcraft.

More information: