Saturday, April 24, 2010

Virtually there

3D technology is going places, and it is taking you along for the ride

Imagine this: You want to check out the latest model of the Ferrari. The dealer in your city does not have the model you want in the showroom. But that does not mean you can't check out the model. The dealer gives you a virtual display of the car within his premises. You can see the car in full size, walk around it, open the doors, go inside and sit and drive the car.
No, we are not joking. This is what virtual car configurators are doing in many parts of the world. Welcome to the world of virtual reality, where 3D technology, which most of us tend to dismiss as just another entertainment medium, is adding that extra dimension to things.
While 3D films have been in existence in some form since the late 19th century, of late the technology of giving depth and perspective to images has branched out beyond the realm of motion pictures and gaming. Even as 3D televisions are poised to change broadcasting around the world, the technology is also revolutionising industry practices, research and design. From websites that give a virtual feel of magazines to simulations that train soldier for hostile environments, 3D technology is literally going places. 
“Virtual reality lets you get things right the first time. Virtual tools reduce wastage and cut costs dramatically,” explains Andy Kalambi, president of Dassault Systemes, India. His company is credited with developing many of these 3D technologies and is now the world leader in Product Lifecycle Management software solutions.
Virtual reality for many of us is associated with what we have seen in movies — but the truth is that many of these concepts are now in widespread use. The data glove that lets you move around a virtual image, for instance, is an essential tool for SolidWorks, the 3D mechanical design software. “We can train workers on how to handle very expensive equipment without actually wasting a unit for the purpose,” says Kalambi. The data glove along with force feedback equipment can tell the worker the right amount of pressure to be applied to turn a screw. “Thanks to the virtual training, the worker will have become an expert by the time he actually dabbles with real equipment,” he says, adding that the software also allows companies to go straight into the production stage without wasting time or money on prototypes.
The virtual car configurator, on the other hand, is a product of the popular 3DVIA software. “Why invest in huge real estate and massive automotive stocks hoping customers will come and find you. These virtual dealerships create interactive simulated environments where the consumers can interact with the car. They can have a 720-degree view of the car, sit in it and even get a feel of the interiors,” says Kalambi.
“The technology can also be used in architecture, like to project how the fa├žade of a certain building will look after completion,” says Kalambi, adding that users will need trackers, either on their body or somewhere in the room, to be part of, and interact with, the virtual environment.
3DVIA has some small-scale uses too. Software developers have used it to create cutting-edge animation and even iPhone apps. One of the apps lets you introduce an image clicked with the phone to another environment. In other words, if you want to buy a sofa the app lets you check out how the piece of furniture will look in your drawing room, all without stepping out of the shop.
Virtual technologies are now in a crucial phase of their development. The next big thing seems to be Augmented Reality, which blurs the line between what's real and what is computer generated. For example, you will be able to work with a keyboard projected onto your desk or move around item on your desktop by just pointing your finger on it. An extension of this technology was on display at the Berlin tech show earlier this year in the form of a TV without remotes — users can adjust volume or change channels with their fingers pointed at the screen.
With the rapid progress and adoption of 3D based technologies, the day when virtual reality is incorporated into daily use gadgets is not far away. “With the emergence of faster computers, advanced software, and new devices, the future of virtual reality holds strong and there is going to be a substantial increase in its efficacy,” says Kalambi. He thinks highly sophisticated applications along with more mobile and powerful hardware will rapidly materialise in the years ahead. In fact, 3D applications are already available on the Internet reducing the need for intricate and expensive stand-alone equipment, while virtual reality applications can now be used with inexpensive hardware.
But, till you get your own 3D gadget, you will have to do with flying mountains and meatball showers in the movie theatre.

1 comment:

  1. 3d could also make learning more interesting and real when children can actually see the science and geography that they read about in 3d on the class screen. will facilitate teaching and learning and memorising.
    then children may learn to think about and work on their more complete knowledge and accelerate the process of research and discovery!