Optical Technology, Computer Graphics Meet to Produce 3-D Images that Floats On Air


3-D Images Float On Air

Source: The Korea Herald

October 18, 2000

Looking like an ordinary TV, a display screen shows a recent news clip in which a North Korean military leader shakes hands with U.S. officials. With a simple push of a button, the characters suddenly leap out, forming a three-dimensional image 50 cm from the screen. Unless you touch it, it's hard to tell it is just an image, it almost looks like the real thing.

A hybrid of computer graphics and optical image processing, the new technology has brought to reality what has only been seen so far in futuristic sci-fi flicks.

"Everything on the screen from beverage cans to new cars, from geology guides to animated characters can be converted to 3-D images," said Kim Yong-min, 29, chief executive of XOrbis Co. Ltd. at a demonstration for the press yesterday.

To see it, viewers need not use the headsets or special glasses that often make people nauseous and disoriented. Neither do they have to be connected to the computer with wires that make virtual reality an awkward experience.

"Virtual images come more natural with this, a thing you can experience with unaided eyes," he added.

At the heart of the gimmick lies technology called "volumatrix," which, simply put, makes the image projector recognize a point somewhere outside the screen as a monitor, he said.

A high-precision optical technology was harnessed to modify the focus of the image to make it come out of the frame. The whole picture is divided into foreground and background images, which are then synchronized as a coherent 3-D image floating on the air.

The core technology has been provided by Optical Products Development (OPD), a Silicon-based optical display manufacturer.

Kim and his colleagues have combined their computer graphics technology with the optical solution in a two-year joint project, and the efforts resulted in the world's first 3-D image projector that doesn't require any viewing aids.

3-D visualization solution has been around for years. Holography forms image with electron beams and is currently limited to representing simple movements. Stereoscopic systems need additional devices like a head-mounted viewer, and can be used by only one person and have a limited viewing angle.

Laser display systems, the most advanced 3-D technology, needs a catalyst to form an image in the air and is too expensive to have commercial applications. 3-D computer graphics are just 2-D images that give a 3-D feel.

"The device gets around such problems to good measure," he said.

The device, named O-Cubic, comes in three models with different image sizes and viewing angles. The lowest-end model offers an image of 10 cm in diameter, a projection distance of 35 cm, and viewing angle of 29 degrees in horizon. The figures for a premium model are 40x30 cm, 46 cm and 55 degree.

The system can accommodate a wide variety of input sources, including illuminated solid objects, a CRT displaying real-time computer generated imagery or output from CD, DVD (digital versatile disk) or conventional video tape.

A number of commercial applications are immediately available, from product presentation, virtual catalogs, storefront kiosks and outdoor sign boards for advertising, allowing vendors to visualize features of their products more effectively.

"Almost any communication or media delivery application can be greatly enhanced with the 3D visualization technology," he said.

"Imagine that that the image of objects float in space at your store, offering clients a closer look of it in every color and pattern and rotate the object to see it from various angles.

He is highly optimistic about the commercial prospects of the products as "the advantages will be simply irresistible."

The merits have succeeded in persuading some domestic corporations.

The company has signed with SK Telecom to install the device in mobile phone stores. It will also be deployed at an exhibition hall in COEX, southern Seoul, and used by an online advertising agency DKims Communications. Its U.S. partner has won orders from the U.S. chains Hyatt Hotel and McDonald.

Further development will find other applications like computer games, encyclopedia and class rooms, he said.

The two companies share patents for the technology currently pending. Under an agreement, XOrbis holds rights to sell them in Asia, and OPD will be in charge of marketing in the rest of the world.

The device is expected to sell for 30 million won, a price far lower than other 3-D visualization equipment currently available. (HJJ)

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