A new web-based software platform is swiftly bringing the visualization of 3D data to every device, optimizing the use of, for example, virtual reality and augmented reality in industry. In this way, Fraunhofer researchers have brought the ideal of "any data on any device" a good deal closer.
If you want to be sure that the person you are sending documents and pictures to will be able to open them on their computer, then you send them in PDF and JPG format. But what do you do with 3D content? "A standardized option hasn't existed before now," says Dr. Johannes Behr, head of the Visual Computing System Technologies department at the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research IGD. In particular, industry lacks a means of taking the very large, increasingly complex volumes of 3D data that arise and rendering them useful -- and of being able to use the data on every device, from smartphones to VR goggles. "The data volume is growing faster than the means of visualizing it," reports Behr. Fraunhofer IGD is presenting a solution to this problem in the form of its "instant3DHub" software, which allows engineers, technicians and assemblers to use spatial design and assembly plans without any difficulty on their own devices. "This will enable them to inspect industrial plants or digital buildings, etc. in real time and find out what's going on there," explains Behr.
Software calculates only visible components
On account of the gigantic volumes of data that have to be processed, such an undertaking has thus far been either impossible or possible only with a tremendous amount of effort. After all, users had to manually choose in advance which data should be processed for the visualization, a task then executed by expensive special software. Not exactly a cost-effective method, and a time-consuming one as well. With the web-based Fraunhofer solution, every company can adapt the visualization tool to its requirements. The software autonomously selects the data to be prepared, by intelligently calculating, for example, that only views of visible parts are transmitted to the user's device. Citing the example of a power plant, Behr explains: "Out of some 3.5 million components, only the approximately 3,000 visible parts are calculated on the server and transmitted to the device."
Such visibility calculations are especially useful for VR and AR applications, as the objects being viewed at any given moment appear in the display in real time. At CeBIT, researchers will be showing how well this works, using the example of car maintenance. In a VR application, it is necessary to load up to 120 images per second onto data goggles. In this way, several thousand points of 3D data can be transmitted from a central database for a vehicle model to a device in just one second. The process is so fast because the complete data does not have to be loaded to the device, as used to be the case, but is streamed over the web. A huge variety of 3D web applications are delivered on the fly, without permanent storage, so that even mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones can make optimal use of them. One key feature of this process is that for every access to instant3DHub, the data is assigned to, prepared and visualized for the specific applications. "As a result, the system fulfills user- and device-specific requirements, and above all is secure," says Behr. BMW, Daimler and Porsche already use instant3DHub at over 1,000 workstations. Even medium-sized companies such as SimScale and thinkproject have successfully implemented "instantreality" and instant3Dhub and are developing their own individual software solutions on that basis.
Augmented reality is a key technology for Industrie 4.0
Technologies that create a link between CAD data and the real production environment are also relevant for the domain of augmented reality. "Augmented reality is a key technology for Industrie 4.0, because it constantly compares the digital target situation in real time against the actual situation as captured by cameras and sensors," adds Dr. Ulrich Bockholt, head of the Virtual and Augmented Reality department at Fraunhofer IGD. Ultimately, however, the solution is of interest to many sectors, he explains, even in the construction and architecture field, where it can be used to help visualize building information models on smartphones, tablet computers or data goggles.
Report: Snap Inc. spent millions to get better at augmented reality
The creators of Snapchat are running toward an IPO at full speed, but it seems to have nabbed itself a neat holiday gift along the way. According to a report from The Calcalist (as interpreted by The Times of Israel), Snap Inc. recently acquired an Israeli augmented reality firm called Cimagine for somewhere between $30 million and $40 million. The team will supposedly stay put and become Snapchat's latest R&D division, which no doubt made their holiday plans just a little more festive.
"Fine," we can almost hear you muttering. "But why does this matter?" Well, we can hazard a few guesses, but everything boils down to one simple fact: this purchase could help Snap Inc. make some serious cash. If you haven't heard of Cimagine before, it spent the last few years building some surprisingly neat augmented reality tech — specifically, software that lets brands and retailers show off their products in the virtual space in front of your smartphone's camera. We've seen companies like Google do this with Tango, but that specific implementation requires extra cameras and sensors — Cimagine's doesn't. (That's not exactly rare, by the way, but the lack of extra hardware makes the people who achieve solid performance through just software look really good.)
That said, do us a favor: Imagine a Snapchat filter that, in addition to giving you a goofy pair of glasses and a trimmer face, also plops a virtual Coke vending machine behind you. Snap Inc. also rolled out "world lenses" last month, which allows people to use their phones' main/rear cameras to see objects — like stars, moons, and clouds that drool rainbows — hovering in front of them. Cimagine's tech and team could help the company figure out how to turn these rudimentary effects into mini-experiences fit into AR environments with more sophistication. This time, imagine a filter where you tap on a stretch of empty space of wall and a Coca-Cola Santa Claus emerges from it waving a frosty bottle.
These are pretty ham-fisted examples, but Cimagine already has a working relationship on the books with those sugar-water slingers, and brands likes Taco Bell haven't shied away from the from big price tags that come with of sponsored filters. No, seriously: sources told Business Insider earlier this year that the 24-hour filters can run between $100,000 and $750,000. The thing is, Snapchat has to work more closely with these brands, especially because a good sponsored filter takes a ton of work to achieve. With a new codebase to work with, 20 brainy new employees in Israel and more newcomers to follow, this buyout could see Snap Inc. ho-ho-hoing all the way to the bank.
BMW uses Google's augmented reality tech to preview your i3
It's difficult to get a feel for what a personalized car will look like in real life. You can't get a realistic perspective by customizing a car on the web, but visiting the dealership frequently means having to guess what your color choices look like. BMW doesn't think you should have to choose. It's testing a BMW i Visualizer app that uses Google's depth-sensing Tango technology to help you preview your ultimate i3 or i8. If you visit dealerships in several countries (including the US and UK) over the weeks ahead, you'll get to configure and walk around a virtual car in augmented reality. You can't sit in it, unsurprisingly, but you can poke your head inside to see if the layout is as posh as you thought it would be.
You won't have to go to a dealership (and face the inevitable pressure to buy) in the future. BMW plans to release the necessary app on Google Play later in 2017, so you might one day use this to picture an i3 in your driveway. The challenge, of course, is getting a Tango-equipped device. While your options are expanding, you'll have to be fairly picky about your next phone if you want to conduct an in-depth investigation of your dream car.