The Pixel Dies – Video Replaced by 3D Vector Graphics?

OK, forgive the ambitious headline, but researchers at the University of Bath released their new vector-based video codec at this week’s CVMP 9th European Conference on Visual Media Production held at Vue Cinema in Leicester Square, London.

The bold claim is that the newly-developed codec could make pixels obsolete within five years, according to its creators.

Fig 1- New Vector Based video codec may obsolete pixels as the privileged digital format for video. Image Courtesy of Bath University.

Unlike traditional bitmap graphics, which are made up of an array of pixels, vector graphics consist of lines, curves and shapes that are based on geometric formulas. Not only do they take up far less memory than bitmaps, but sections of them can also be enlarged without any loss of resolution.

Such a loss-less digital format could be especially valuable for future-proofing the display of vector-based video (let’s call them Vexels). As LED/LCD screens get increasingly larger and higher resolution, the video resolution could also scale lossless-ly.

This is because the codec apparently has some clever means of procedurally applying bit-maps to the geometry surface, and refactoring the texture as the surface size increases.  Details are scarce, but to learn more check out the links below.

Read More:   Is the Pixel About to Die?  – University of Bath




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Foldify – 3D Paper Art made on your iPad

Foldify is a simple, easy-to-use app for creating papercraft art on your iPad.

The concept is pretty basic: use the iPad to create digital papercraft art that can be broadly customized with colors, facial features, designs and more, and then quickly printed out, cut and folded to make paper creatures or objects.

FoldifyFoldify papercraft

Fig 1 – Foldify paper craft cutouts (left) and finished 3D figures (right).

The app is for the iPad only right now, and it will cost $1.99 on launch, but will be priced higher later.

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Read more about Foldify on GigaOm and at Foldify.

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STAPLES – Introduces 3D Printing Service in Europe

STAPLES, the office superstore, has been doing some serious shape-shifting in response to the global economic chaos. It recently laid off hundreds of workers in Europe, and closed under performing stores in the U.S.. STAPLES is also leaning out to remain competitive the inevitable Office Depot + Office Depot merger.

It would seem STAPLES is ripping a page from the KINKOS/FEDEX playbook, and focusing on technology and mobile communications. Yesterday, STAPLES announced it will introduce 3D Printing services in stores in Europe. Presumably if all goes well there, the U.S. stores will follow.

Fig 1 – MCOR IRIS color 3D Printer that will be placed in-store at STAPLES.

Unexpectedly perhaps, STAPLES 3D printers are going to be a bit more PRINTER than what we usually think of (i.e. Makerbots, Cubes, etc.).  The Mcor IRIS printer actually uses sheets of paper instead of the more expensive and temperamental ABS plastics spools. The Iris can also handle color much more easily.

The Iris works by cutting out 2D slices from letter-sized paper and gluing them together to build the model, making it perfect value-add for a place like STAPLES. Lord knows they have stacks of paper, and the Iris has some pretty good color ink technology. This means STAPLES can offer colored parts that won’t disintegrate on touch.

Staples has been wrestling with the decline in paper use of late, especially in recession weary Europe. Its first quarter earnings fell 5.6 percent this year, largely due to declines in European business.  European governments have cut back sharply on paper and office supplies, which are… well, the staples of STAPLES business.

Staples has annual sales of $25 Billion U.S. annually. About 44 percent of total company sales are derived from core office supplies, a Staples spokesman said, and roughly 10 percent of sales is in paper, said Joseph Feldman, an analyst with Telsey Advisory Group in New York.

I can’t help wonder if we’re not seeing a VHS vs. BETAMAX shakeout here? It seems unlikely, but Sony’s technologically superior video tape format lost out to VHS because one industry, pornography, chose the lower fidelity and less expensive format.

Reportedly, the cost of Iris paper-based 3D models is about 5% of other machines that use plastic feedstock. The downside of these paper printers is that they’re relatively slow and complex models may required next day pickup. Not all bad for building in-store traffic.

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PhotoSurreal – Camera Emphasises Time over Space

Jay Mark Johnson—an architect and renaissance man— purchased a $85,000 rotating slit-scan camera for high-resolution panoramas. (The camera records vast landscapes sliver by sliver.) Finding the accidental effects of motion in front of the camera strangely poetic, he experimented with stopping the rotation and honing in on one tiny area.

The photographic images below are the result.

los osos (compressed time waves series) Jay Mark Johnson.

Fig 1-  Waves on the beach in Los Osos, California.  Los Osos. Form the compressed time wave series. –  Jay Mark Johnson.

This surreal look is possible because the fixed-position slit camera ‘scans’ the environment through a single vertical slit. Whatever passes that slit by gets registered in a narrow line. Over a period of time, which the artist can control, it registers line after line.

The final result is a bunch of these lines all pushed together. In this sense, you could say each photograph is a time graph – it’s actually a composite of hundreds of very skinny photographs glued together with time read on the Y-axis.

Priscilla Electric Lodge #47-0. Jay Mark Johnson.

Fig 2 – Priscilla Electric Lodge #47-0.  Somehow, we think Salvador Dali would approve.

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To read more about this innovative photographic technique and the artist, use the links provided below.

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De-hyping 3D Printing; Assessing its Economic Impact

Not long ago, market research firm GARTNER declared 3D Printing to be at the peak of its hype cycle. Empirical evidence would seem to back this up. The hype is slowly being replaced by more critical examinations of additive manufacturing and rational attempts to discern what its true economic impact will be.

Fig 1 – 3D printing of a turtle.  A paradox of high tech methods producing low value products.

A recent and pleasantly sober article by Rose Eveleth in Smart Planet, poses the question: “Will 3D Printing truly revolutionize our manufacturing economy?”

The answer: yes and no. The term “3D printing” comprises two very different worlds: hobbyist 3D printing, where people with relatively inexpensive machines print plastic objects in the comfort of their homes; and industrial 3D printing, which is usually referred to by another name: additive manufacturing. They are vastly different and will likely have divergent impacts on the economy. Both, however, are poised to alter the way businesses think about production.

For an excellent drill down on these two segments of the emerging industry, read more at Smart Planet, How 3D Printing Will Shape Our Global Economy.

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3D Gesture Interface for Mobile uses electric fields, not Cameras

Gestural interfaces normally rely on cameras and light sensors. An interface that uses an electric field instead could expand the use of gesture control to many more devices. And now, there’s a new chip that will bring 3D gesture control to smartphones.

This week, Microchip Technology, a large U.S. semiconductor manufacturer, is releasing the first controller that uses electrical fields to sense 3D hand movements. The low power chip can recognize about 1o predefined hand gestures within a 6″ range.

Fig. 1 –  A new gesture interface is the first to rely on an electric field rather than cameras

Perhaps most interesting, the controller could easily go into electronics that don’t have a camera, including car dashboards, keyboards, light switches, or a music docking station.

The technology could create some interesting ‘noise’ similar to people walking around city streets talking to themselves on hidden cell phones.  In the near future, drivers waving their hands wildly, may simply be changing their music channel on Pandora.

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3D Library Services at the University of Michigan

FormFonts 3D has the world’s largest 3D library of professionally developed SketchUp components, and we have a fondness for library sciences, and all things 3D. So we are delighted to see the University of Michigan is keeping up with the 3D times.

The University of Michigan 3D Lab, is a division of the U-M Library System. Lab manager Eric Maslowski explains that while his tools are sometimes cooler, his lab functions much as a regular library does.

“The library is a huge collection of books, some of them very expensive and rare, where you can walk in the door and get access to them and to the expertise needed to navigate and understand them,” he said.

“Our collections are a bit different. We deal with hardware and software, and if someone comes in and says ‘I have a 3-D model and I want to make a physical version of this,’ we have the expertise to help them.”

The 3D Lab has six staff members and 12 part time students to help students and faculty with a wide variety of projects,  including 3-D “printing,”  3-D imaging and mobile app development.

The 3D Lab also has a million dollar Virtual Reality room called MIDEN. (it’s pronounced MY DEN) and MIDEN is the ultimate man cave. It uses projective Virtual Reality to give inhabitants virtual experiences limited only by the imagination.

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ShadowScan(TM) – 3D Building Models from the Sun’s Shadows

We’ve all seen laser scanner’s that work by projecting laser lines (or grids) over the irregular surface of an object to capture 3D shape. But now some genius researchers at Washington University (which is in St. Louis, Mo BTW), have done the obvious…

Everyday the Sun ‘scans’ the entire planet, and using the sun as their moving “laser”, researchers realized they could analyze time-lapse footage, and develop software algorithms that would be able to extrapolate the shape and position of every building in the frame.

Fig 1-  Skyscrapers cast shadows over the city like a giant urban sundial. ShadowScan (TM) – a product name I made up for this software- uses building shadows to capture 3D shape of cities.

Yes, we’re talking about Heliometric Stereo here – using the sun as a moving light source to recover surface normals of objects in an outdoor scene. It works because the position of the sun is known very accurately, but can be challenging because of variations in lighting and weather.

Fig 2 – ShadowScan(TM)  works by calculating the geo-centric surface normals generated from heliometric stereo algorithm. Thus, it can recover 3D shapes of objects in the scene.

Fig 3 – Notice that the shape of the shell is captured nicely, even from extreme viewpoints(the figure on the right is taken as a side-on view)

In Short – In the near future, videos that have GPS coordinates have suddenly and inadvertently become ‘laser-scanners’ – grabbing the shape of the built environment by default.

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SketchUp Basecamp – Day Three

The weather changed decidedly early this morning in Boulder.. back to a crisp Fall day with lots of wind and fall leaves blowing about. Today’s more seasonable Fall weather called for a real breakfast, and I knew just the place…

8:00am Breakfast at Luciles

One our first FormFonts team meetings was in Luciles at the first SketchUp Basecamp, so it brought back fond memories. Locals also tell me it’s one of Boulder’s best restaurants. This Louisiana style cafe is just a half block from the Rembrandt, so I stopped by for some Eggs Eisenhower and sausage.

Breakfast at Luciles in Boulder, Co. A local institution. The ketchup and hotsauce are homemade, and both are delicious. The staff claim the secret to the ketchup is just a bit of hot-sauce and cinnamon.

9:00am  3D Basecamp Design Charrette

Aidan introduces the design charrette atop yet another folding table. The backstory is that when the team went to Bryn Fosburgh to get Basecamp approved, they explained it was a very non-tradition conference. You know… We don’t need no stinking badges!

Bryn Fosburgh said.. “Fine, Do it! I just have one condition..”. Everyone held their breath as he went on to explain that he wanted the SketchUp team to find a local non-profit and do a design charrette around something that charity needed.

Additionally, half (~ $10,000) of the conference registration fees are being donated to the same organization. Bryn didn’t get where he is today without being a quick study. He ‘gets’ the SketchUp zeitgeist, and the team was greatly relieved. They all expected to have to wear Trimble polo-shirts for the duration!

The chosen organization is Impact On Education (IOE). Their Executive Director Fran Ryan quickly got up on the folding table and explained the group’s mission. Boulder is pretty wired, but taking advantage of tech in education is not as easy as we might have it.

IOE has a $350K initiative with 50 schools in the Boulder Valley to ‘teach the teachers’. They teach them how to do lesson planning around all these i-gizmos everyone is giving them. IOE’s focus is to make tablets and mobile tech enhance science, math and reading for the “kiddos” in the classroom.

9:00am to 11:30am  Design Challenges

Challenge Option One:  A wired, wireless classroom for the next 50 years.

Prototypical Classroom to accommodate 40 kiddos, more than one teacher, and all of the screens, devices and cables currently necessary for creating a digital learning environment.

Challenge Option Two: A system for organizing portable devices

Design a system for managing, storing, charging, staging, and repairing and otherwise wrangling the plethora of electric gizmos in the classroom.

About 20 teams of between 5-10 attendees participated in the charrette, and the deliverables are as many 11×17 pages in PDF format as you can muster by 11:30am.

To assist in early ideation, each team was given a starter kit of tracing paper, crayons, and large sheets of paper. SketchUp’s Aidan Chopra and a happy customer pictured above.

Unfortunately, I had to leave for the airport before the winners were announced, but we’ll get a link up when the entries are on SketchUp’s website. The winning teams will get a Makerbot Rep2 replicator, but how 5 people are going to timeshare the device remains to be seen.

Overview of Tuesday’s Un-Conference

Here is a little more background on the unconference, which was getting a bit of mixed reviews by others having breakfast this morning. This is the bulletin-board of all proposed sessions.

The unconference session types basically broke down into three types.  The first type was “Discussion of Ideas”, as below..

Other types of unconference session included User-to-User Presentations (below), and Commercial Product Presentations (below below).

In short: SketchUp is back! The band is back together, and everyone’s a bit older, greyer but also wiser. We all needed this group-hug in Boulder to reassure the faithful and reinvigorate a new crop of super-user enthusiasts.

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