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Immersive 3D Sketching Could Transform Design, Cinema and Gaming

Should Hyve-3D fail to impress, at least it will get technologists thinking about how to make a superior system.
August 13, 2014, 9:30am

All it takes is a piece of paper (or digital screen) and a creative spark to design something. But imagine instead sketching ideas in three dimensions, in collaboration with others, through an immersive virtual reality interface.

Hyve-3D, short for Hybrid Virtual Environment, is an immersive 3D virtual reality interface that gives design a high-tech boost. Researchers at the University of Montreal presented the project at this year's SIGGRAPH , an international conference on computer graphics and interactive techniques being held in Vancouver.

While the team thumbed industrial design as one immediate use of the technology, with the interface's capacity for "collaborative sketching," the project's  lead researcher, Professor Tomás Dorta of the university's School of Design, said Hyve-3D could have applications in a variety of artistic and creative fields.

Indeed, an immersive virtual environment to design cinematic or gaming experiences is sure toexcite cineastes and gamers to no end. Photographs of Hyve-3D, which show a wide field of immersive projected images, resemble the immersive video game Alien Child as seen in Spike Jonze's science fiction film _Her. _And, like the Oculus Rift, Hyve-3D seems to be an important first step in the evolution of immersive virtual space.

Image: Hyve-3D

"Our system is innovative, non-intrusive and simple," Dorta said. "Beyond its obvious artistic applications, Hyve-3D clearly has industrial applications in... game design animation and movie making. My team is looking forward to taking the product to market and discovering what people do with it."

Dorta told me that project research began as far back as 2007 with HIS (Hybrid Ideation Space), a real-time immersive environment in which designers could sketch and work with life-size physical models that appeared all around them.

"We developed a working prototype called [with] HIS in 2007, and we interconnected it with other nodes in 2010 to allow remote collaboration," said Dorta. "We used the system to carry out fundamental research on design collaboration, and we worked with design professionals and schools in several countries including France, Belgium, Israel and the United States."

Dorta cited Ivan Sutherland's Sketchpad, a game-changing human-computer interface and predecessor to computer-aided drafting (CAD), as an inspiration for the current system.

The Hyve-3D interface, as Dorta told me, features a concave spherical fabric screen that, along with a widescreen high resolution projector, creates the illusion that one is immersed in 3D space. A 16-inch dome mirror that projects images onto the concave spherical screen is also vital to the immersive illusion. Other Hyve-3D components include a MacBook Pro laptop, and a tracking system powered by two 3D sensors that are connected to two iPad Mini tablets.

"The software takes care of all the networking, scene management, 3D graphics and projection, and also couples the sensors input and iPad devices," Dorta noted in announcing Hyve-3D's SIGGRAPH unveiling. "The iPads run a Satellite application, which serves as the user interaction front-end of the system. Specialized techniques render the 3D scene onto a spherical projection in real-time."

Dorta noted that Hyve-3D's software and hardware components are low-cost, but didn't speculate on the system's market price. But, with readily available tools like MacBooks and iPads being part of the Hyve-3D system, users won't have to accumulate a ton of gear to get started. This could encourage artists, video game designers, indie filmmakers, and other content creators to design for the technology.

Imagine new media artists using Hyve-3D (or something like it in the near future) to pull off immersive virtual reality installations. And think of what it would be like to play a Hyve-3D-designed Halo or Journey on the interface, with those worlds swirling all about the player. Or what it would be like to watch a film that takes advantage of the system's extra visual real estate that takes it beyond the standard cinema screen.

Judging by the images that Dorta provided me, Hyve-3D's virtual reality environment seems convincing. Looking at stills is one thing, but experiencing movement, resolution, and other aspects of sound and vision in an immersive virtual reality is quite another. Once Hyve-3D makes it to market, then content creators will see just how immersive it can be. Should it fail to impress, then at least it will get technologists thinking about how to make a superior system.