It's not what you see but how you see it

SIGGRAPH decided the time had come to give more exposure to the forgotten half of the computer graphics industry, notably "interactive techniques." .

Sep 1st, 2003

Attendance at the bigger trade shows seems to have been slipping recently. When was the last time you felt you absolutely HAD to go to CLEO or Photonics West? Sure, there are always a few widgets worth checking out or the occasional paper that's worth listening to. But, you might gain more inspiration from attending a completely different trade show. Case in point: SIGGRAPH (the International Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques), which took place in late July in San Diego. If you didn't go to this nirvana of totally amazing computer graphics, read on.

Ordinarily, SIGGRAPH is full of bearded and/or sandaled types discussing the latest wrinkles (or lack thereof) in computer graphics and graphics in film. You can see the work of these highly talented nerds in such film and TV blockbusters as "The Matrix Reloaded" or "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

Not that I'm knocking these efforts: I enjoy a good action movie as much as the rest of my red-blooded fellow Americans. And good graphics means that less actual blood is spilled in the making of the movie.

No, this year, the mighty panjandrums of SIGGRAPH decided the time had come to give more exposure (forgive the pun) to the forgotten half of the computer graphics industry, notably "interactive techniques." The results were a bit of a mixed bag of tricks but worthwhile checking out, all the same. You can get the full flavor, by visiting the SIGGRAPH web site ( or by taking a look at the pages of our sister PennWell publication Computer Graphics World. In this column I can only hope to give you a few of the flavors that were displayed and discussed in San Diego.

In the July issue of Computer Graphics World, the editor, my esteemed colleague Phil LoPiccolo, singles out three of the developing technologies from the 21 exhibits of interactive tools and techniques. Phil is literally and figuratively a giant in the computer graphics world (apologies for punning again) so his selections deserve your undivided attention. The three key technologies are:

· Context-aware objects. The "Smart-Its Project" (Victoria Institute, Gothenburg, Sweden; aims to make the concept of ubiquitous computing a reality. This approach integrates tiny, "context-aware" computers—equipped with sensors and wireless communications capabilities—into everyday objects. This way, for example, tables could be aware of objects placed on them, and objects could let you know when they have been misplaced.

· Sight-enabled devices. Unlike sensors in digital cameras that view the world as flat images, "Electronic Perception Technology" (Canesta, Scottsdale, AZ; recognizes images of objects moving in three dimensions. Image-processing software computes the distance of every pixel in an image from the unit's sensor. The devices could be implanted in products ranging from cell phones to game consoles to security equipment.

· Always-on networks. While GPS and cellular networks can provide position data and high-speed communications for people in outdoor environments, the "ElectAura-Net" system (NTT DoCoMo Multimedia Labs; ) can locate people and connect them to networks when they're indoors. This system enables broadband communications using electric fields as a transmission medium and the human body and wired carpets or floor tiles as an Ethernet cable.

LoPiccolo notes that what these technologies need is "entrepreneurs to bring interactive techniques to market." If you had been on the show floor at SIGGRAPH 2003, maybe you could have picked up an idea or two for new business. That really would have been truly "interactive."

Jeffrey Bairstow
Online Editor

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