Seeing is believing

Tom Shelley reports on latest advances in interacting with virtual worlds to design better products.

Improved graphics that produce ever more realistic images and new ways to interact with 3D models were perhaps the most enduring impressions from this year's European Catia Forum in Paris.

Particularly impressive was the ability of SPEOS packages from Optis to perform real time simulation of a pilot view on the deck of an aircraft carrier at night. This demonstrated the effects of aircraft landing lights on an approach.

Sales manager, Dr Patrice Doré, says that the packages are all fully integrated with Catia V5, and aim to reproduce the effects of light and lighting. This makes it possible to model driver eye views through windscreens to simulate and assess the effects of reflections, as well allowing the optimising of lighting whether it is in aircraft, cars or in the displays of mobile phones.

Realism derived from Catia and Delmia models may also be used to produce realistic virtual models to evaluate upgrading and maintenance problems with plant and major machines, and produce operator training scenarios.

The models create an extremely realistic virtual world that has been successfully demonstrated for training of offshore operators in how to overcome potential maintenance problems as well as how to investigate possible difficulties with replacing major parts in nuclear power stations when refurbishing them.

There are also a number of interesting and novel ways of navigating around a virtual world that are coming to market. One such example is the Cubetile. This has an infrared lamp in its base, and five translucent faces against which fingers are pressed and moved.
Christophe Chartier, chief executive of Cubetile developers Immersion, explains that it also has, "a camera with a spherical lens in its base that can detect individual fingers."

This allows models to be manipulated in an intuitive way for design reviews. It has a refresh rate up to 120Hz, making it quite responsive, and the illuminated cube stands on a plinth.
But even more impressive is the ability to navigate a virtual world just from looking. Antoine Luu, area sales manager for German company Tobii Technology demonstrated a unit with two infrared cameras just below a screen. These track what the eyes are looking at, so looking downwards makes the screen display move upward and vice versa. And looking to the side of a series of displayed pages brings the next one up. And mouse clicks can also be affected by blinking.

As well as working with handicapped people, Tobii Technology want to work with surgeons who want to call up information without removing their hands from what they are doing, and it shows potential for use in cars and aircrafts.

It is also used for ergonomic studies to discover just where people look and devote their attention in certain scenarios. The biggest users are currently advertisers and designers of commercial websites, but designers of man machine interfaces could soon benefit.

Tom Shelley

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