An occasional newsletter for clients, potential clients,
friends, and associates of CGSD

CGSD Update - September 1999

Photo of completed simulator cab exterior added in the AeroBall™ location-based entertainment simulator.

New images added in Parametric Planets™ automatic 3D object generator.

CGSD News™ a free electronic newsletter on graphics, VR, and simulation. Latest issue has been added.

Sony Head Mounted Displays now available from CGSD. Added Frequently Asked Questions page.

CGSD Update - January 1997

We continue to expand steadily, adding staff and office space to keep up with project activities. Current staff is now over twenty. One pride-and-joy is a small machine shop, now completed, for rework and light fabrication.

Work continues on an exciting electronic entertainment project that is now entering an especially interesting phase of development. Separately, we have performed two studies related to the high-end electronic entertainment business.

Since last Fall, we have provided expert-witness services in two cases involving real time graphics. One case completed trial, and the other will be ongoing for some time. We continue to provide patent services to the computer graphics community on a regular basis.

We recently agreed to provide services to the Advanced Distributed Simulation Technology program, primed by Lockheed Martin and on which CGSD serves as a team member. We will support studies of terrain fidelity issues related to the interoperation of simulators having non-identical databases. In support of U.K.-based Liveware, Inc., we are performing two studies related to human factors concerns in the use of virtual reality technology in the design of military systems. The ultimate customer is the U.K. Ministry of Defence.

TOPIT™ Prototype Under Construction

CGSD is now in the process of constructing a prototype that will implement a virtual cockpit that can be reconfigured in seconds to represent a large variety of different aircraft types. The effort is sponsored by STRICOM, the U.S. Army's Simulation Training and Range Instrumentation Command headquartered in Orlando, FL.

The approach we are taking to providing force and tactile feedback is called Touched Objects Positioned In Time (TOPIT). The user wears a head-mounted display that presents stereo imagery of a cockpit interior, including the instrument panel, as well as the out-the-window scenery. A representation of the user's hand is also rendered in the scene. The user may actuate a variety of controls on the instrument panel, and can accurately feel the forces and surface textures of the controls. The simulator can be reconfigured entirely in software to represent different cockpits.

The feel of the instrument panel controls is provided by a servomechanism device that places actual physical controls in their correct positions, orientations, and configurations. A tracker and data glove continually provide the position of the user's hand and fingers to a computer. The computer extrapolates the user's hand position as the person reaches for a control. Using the extrapolated data, the computer commands the servomechanism system to place the correct type of control in the correct position to be actuated. The servo system has a "touchpanel" that contains examples of a dozen or so different types of controls, such as toggle switches, knobs, and push buttons, that are used repeatedly to represent any number of instrument panel controls.

A key to system operation is having the touchpanel move fast enough to keep ahead of the user's hand motions. By studying video tapes of cockpit operations frame-by-frame, requirements were established for the touchpanel motion. A test fixture with the servo drive system demonstrated that the requirements of 4 g acceleration and 100 inch per second velocity were achieved. The positioning accuracy of 0.013 inches was substantially better than required. The final version of the device in being constructed and is expected to enter test by the end of summer.

CGSD Receives OmniTrek™ Contract

Suppose you want to walk around in a virtual world. This is a seemingly reasonable desire. After all, what good are new worlds if one cannot even stroll in them? To date no one has provided this virtual strolling capability. There are a number of systems that have linked exercise equipment to virtual environments, but the interaction is far from natural.

What the (virtual) world needs is an omni-directional treadmill, one that allows natural walking uphill and down, left and right, forwards and backwards. We have conceived such a device, which we call an OmniTrek, and the concept also permits kneeling and prone postures, as well as stair climbing and descending.

Last year we completed a feasibility study for the U.S. Army's STRICOM on our approach, as did two other companies offering different, competing approaches. In April, CGSD received the sole award to develop a prototype locomotion simulator. The prototype unit is to be delivered to the Army at the conclusion of a two year development program.

We are presently reluctant to release details of how the device works, pending filing of patent applications. Suffice to say that it is a complex device involving computer-controlled servo-mechanisms. No treadmill-like belts are used, and one does not walk either inside or on top off a sphere.

RealTexture™ Tools, Library Ship

There are many software tools available to help designers make interesting texture patterns for use in the graphics arts, however, there has been little help for users needing realistic patterns derived from photographs. CGSD has a new set of software tools to answer the needs of simulator professionals, game designers, virtual environment builders, and others who need realistic textures in their work. The tools are a set of plug-in software modules for Adobe Photoshop™.

After lengthy in-house testing, and beta testing at selected customer sites, the final version has been released. The release includes a new, professional-style manual and packaging.

Separate tools remove haze effects from aerial photographs, correct photographic colors to measured and cataloged real world colors, correct perspective, and automatically convert photo patterns into patterns that tile seamlessly. Another tool generates synthetic patterns, which are good for certain types of textures, like clouds, that are not too easy to generate otherwise. Our experience, however, has been that over 90% of the time, photographically derived texture patterns look both more realistic and more attractive in natural scenes than synthetic patterns.

The techniques used in the CGSD RealTexture Tools use an approach that is different from those used in other texture packages. Users begin with photographic imagery obtained from stock photo sources or taken by customers themselves. 35 mm photos processed to PhotoCD$#153; are a convenient way for users to produce source material. Scanned photographs also work well.

Simulators and other synthetic environment systems need a large variety of texture patterns to simulate a natural environment. CGSD has now completed and released on CD-ROM a library of over 1300 patterns. The library includes patterns from a broad cross-section of the feature-types specified by the Defense Mapping Agency for Interim Terrain Data, plus additional features. This selection supports simulator database construction, but it also ensures that a broad selection of useful patterns is included. Included are many types of trees, forests, grasses, ground covers, soil types, roads, swamps, water surfaces, clouds, crops, camouflage patterns, building materials, building facades, architectural elements, clouds, smoke, and explosions.

Each pattern in the CD-ROM library is color-corrected to match the real world, is available in multiple resolutions (typically up to 512 x 512), comes with search and descriptor information, and can be downloaded in multiple user-selected formats. Included are routines that can be incorporated in the user's software for searching and retrieval on-line. Starting with real-world colors has an advantage even when the patterns are "punched up." By starting with a consistent source the patterns in a scene are free from varying tints and varying contrasts that otherwise give an artificial pasted-up look to the imagery. The library and the retrieval software is produced in versions for Sun, SGI, and PC platforms.

Texture Project Wins Quality Award

The RealTexture Tools and Library began life as a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) project sponsored by the U.S. Army Topographic Engineering Center (TEC). SBIR projects are structured in three phases. The first two phases provide sponsorship for studying feasibility and performing development. The third phase is to commercialize the product, and that is the company's responsibility. The Army sponsored development was completed in February of this year, with a library of 690 patterns and tools operating under Windows 3.3 and Photoshop 2.5. Under the terms of the SBIR program, TEC and any other U.S Government agency has royalty-free rights to use the product. Commercial rights are retained by the developer, in this case CGSD.

The Army recently announced that CGSD's Phase II Texture project received a prestigious Quality Award as being among the top five of roughly 200 Army Phase II projects for 1996. A technical paper on the tools and library will be presented an the IMAGE Conference this month. A paper concerning the use of kite aerial photography to collect source images for texture patterns appeared in the Aerial Eye in January.

Since completion of Phase II, CGSD has been vigorously pursuing commercialization of the project. For the commercial version of the texture library, we expanded the content to include more patterns of interest to developers of commercial simulation and of virtual reality applications. The added patterns include more building facades, construction materials, road signs, and highly detailed patterns of many kinds. The released library contains over 1300 patterns. For commercial release, the Tools were upgraded to run under Windows '95 and Windows NT with Photoshop 3.0.5. Some new features were also added to the tools.

We were surprised by the time and effort needed to make the professional quality manuals and packaging. The first bid we received for manufacturing the box and manuals was a whopping $89,000, for low quantities. This inspired a search for alternative approaches. After much effort, we ended up with very nice packaging and production. However, we now have a better understanding of why some extremely expensive speciality software arrives in a plastic bag.