See 3-D Animations from Any Angle

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Researchers from the University of São Paulo, in Brazil, and University of British Columbia, in Canada, have developed a spherical display that lets users see and interact with three-dimensional objects. In one demonstration, viewers have the sensation of staring into a snow globe that they can control with simple gestures from any angle.

The device, called Spheree, represents the first display capable of projecting uniform, high resolution pixels on a spherical surface — a technology that also allows users to interact with the 3-D display objects by using gestures.

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The Spheree allowed attendees at the SIGGRAPH 2014 convention held in Vancouver last week to play with a Snow Globe 3D animation that included a house, animated snow and a train chugging around the house.

That interactive display required eight pocket-size projectors mounted at the base of the globe, as well as software capable of blending together the individual projector views to create a uniform pixel presentation from almost anywhere on the spherical surface.

Small pico-projectors like the ones used for the demonstration have lower resolution and brightness than traditional projectors — a problem for a virtual reality system that aims for high quality. But the international team of Brazilian and Canadian researchers used an auto-calibration algorithm called FastFusion to seamlessly combine the resolution and brightness of the many projected images without a resulting decrease in quality. A basic webcam allows the algorithm to see the position of the individual projector images on the globe and compute each image's contribution to the overall final image.

The auto-calibration system works with practically any number of pico-projectors, which means researchers could build ever-larger versions of Spheree. The team has already tested a four pico-projector system with an 18-centimeter-wide display and an eight pico-projector system with a 51-centimeter-wide display. By avoiding the use of special mirrors or lenses, they avoided having "blind spots" in the overall projected image.

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Spheree also uses six infrared cameras to track the movement of special headbands worn by viewers. The data the cameras feed to a computer constantly provide perspective-corrected virtual scenes based on a viewer's position with respect to the globe. Gesture control with a Leap Motion interface also allows users to interact with the 3-D scenes or animations by using gestures to start, move forward and backward, pause and stop animations.

The system uses a second computer to run 3-D animations with Blender Software. Researchers envision Spheree helping animators or modelers by showing 3-D computer animations or the results of image-based rendering applications — perhaps as a second screen. A larger version of Spheree might provide walk-around experiences for team projects or show up in interactive museum displays. Future video games or toys might also make use of such technology.

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