3D-News Archive June 2003

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Projectile TV
3D-News Posted: Sunday, June 8, 2003 (0:51 UTC) | Posted By: Webmaster

The fad-hungry masses have been wowed by various incarnations of 3-D over the years, from Charles Wheatstone's first stereoscopic viewer in 1838 to Creature from the Black Lagoon in the 1950s to the new Shrek 4D ride at Universal Studio's theme park in Orlando, Fla. The main drag on three-dimensional entertainment all along has been those awkward glasses.  

That's about to change. Hitting the market is a new generation of displays that produce a stereoscopic effect without glasses. The underlying trick is still the same: Juxtapose two slightly different perspectives of the same image, delivering one to the left eye and one to the right. The brain combines the two perspectives into a 3-D image. But instead of relying on opaque or different colored lenses to coordinate the shifted images, the new displays build the trick into the very glass of the viewing screen.

Two U.S. companies and Japan's Sharp are producing 3-D monitors for trade shows, window displays and video arcade games. But with an 18-inch LCD screen costing $3,000, three times the price of an equivalent 2-D flat-panel display, their widespread use in living rooms and laptop PCs is still two years away.

A New York-based firm called X3D transforms 2-D into 3-D using a combination of software and a screen sheathed in prisms. The software splits an image into eight segments, arranged like pieces of a pie. Tiny filters smaller than a pixel are etched onto an LCD screen to redirect light from those images to the eyes so that the brain is fooled into believing some of the action is happening 18 to 36 inches in front of the screen, depending on the size of the monitor. Priced at $2,000, the screens are soon to appear in retail shops. The privately held X3D also sells $99, glasses-based 3-D software and grossed about $6 million last year.

StereoGraphics of San Rafael, Calif. uses a slightly different technique. Instead of prismatic filters, their screens have a lenticular surface, similar to those grooved rulers or stickers with images that appear to change when you move your head from side to side. StereoGraphics uses software to chop images into nine perspectives, also arranged like pie slices. Images appear to pop out 3 to 5 inches. StereoGraphics claims that because it doesn't use a barrier, its screens present the brightest 3-D images. Its 22-inch liquid crystal display packs in more than 9 million pixels and costs $18,000. Revenue was $10 million last year.

Sharp pulled off glasses-free 3-D by layering a gratelike sheet of liquid crystal on top of a regular LCD screen. Much like a picket fence, this grate splits an image into two views, separated by four or five degrees, so that the left eye sees a slightly different image than the right eye. The fence pickets are too fine to be visible.

Because the 3-D mode reduces resolution by 50%, Sharp provides the ability to push a button, switch off the stripes and revert to 2-D mode. "You don't want 3-D for a highly detailed spreadsheet," says Joel Pollack, vice president of Sharp's Microelectronics Display business. A 2.2-inch version of this 3-D screen is in a $290 camera phone sold by Japan's NTT Docomo. Pollack says larger screens will hit stores in less than a year, with 15-inch monitors costing under $1,000 and laptop PCs under $3,000.

Glasses-free 3-D won't be all that fun until more movies, games and programs are produced to be 3-D-ready. X3D and a software firm in Santa Monica, Calif. called DDD are avidly pitching Hollywood and the videogame industry on their ability to convert content into 3-D. With DDD's TriDef software, a movie studio would pay between $100,000 and $150,000 to convert a feature-length DVD to 3-D. Its chief executive, Christopher Yewdall, is a realist, expecting to produce short movie trailers by 2004, followed by full-length movies culled from old 3-D film libraries. "You're not going to be able to convince Steven Spielberg to remake Close Encounters of the Third Kind," says Yewdall.

Hidden movement: Dragonflies use "motion camouflage" to stalk prey
3D-News Posted: Sunday, June 8, 2003 (0:49 UTC) | Posted By: Webmaster

Strange as it may seem, dragonflies use movement for their camouflage, according to a study published in the British journal Nature.  

Camouflage is usually associated with immobility: a chameleon changes colour to blend into the background and spots enable a leopard to conceal itself in the undergrowth.

It is movement that usually betrays a predator. When an image flows across the light-sensitive cells in the retina, an alert response is triggered and sent to the brain.

But the dragonfly (Hemianax papuensis) gets its camouflage through mobility, the study says.

The insect shadows its target so precisely that it always appears as a fixed point in the prey's retina.

There is no optical flow across the prey's retinal cells, and so no alert response is triggered. The object is perceived by the prey as stationary and thus does not appear to be a threat.

The research was led by Akiko Mizutani of the Centre for Visual Science at the Australian National University in Canberra.

His team used stereoscopic cameras to reconstruct the movements in three dimensions of 15 flights by male dragonflies that were jousting for territory.

"Stalker" dragonflies shadowed their targets with millimetric flying precision and positioning control, showing "clear evidence of active motion camouflage," the authors say.

Exactly how the dragonfly does this flying and navigational feat, though, remains a puzzle.

The scientists believe they did not see a simple case of insects chasing each other around. Quite often a "stalker" dragonfly would discreetly break away from his target and fly off, to ensure that he remained undetected.

Europe launches first ever Mars space mission
3D-News Posted: Wednesday, June 4, 2003 (8:09 UTC) | Posted By: Webmaster

On June 2nd, Europe launched its first ever bid to explore Mars, when the Mars Express orbiter successfully embarked on a half-year journey to the Red Planet.

Ninety minutes after liftoff from the Russian space base in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, the orbiter -- carrying the "Beagle 2" lander -- separated from an unmanned Soyuz rocket and began its 400 million kilometer (250 million mile) trip to uncover the mystery of life on Mars.

If all goes according to plan, on Christmas Day the Beagle-2, named after the ship that took Charles Darwin on a quest for the origins of life, will land on the planet and begin its exploration.

A few hours before launch time at 11:45 pm (1745 GMT), ESA scientific director David Southwood voiced his appreciation of Europe's cooperation with Russia in the 190-million-dollar (162 million euro) Mars mission.

"I'm really happy at this launch, also happy with the Russian involvement: this would have been unthinkable 20 years ago," he said.

For Europe it was "our first step" towards exploring other planets, Southwood noted.

The orbiter is to reach Mars in less than seven months, its seven cameras, radars and spectrometers ready to scour the planet's surface from orbit.

Once in orbit around the Red Planet, the Mars Express will launch the Beagle-2, which will descend to the equatorial region of the Isidis Basin to test the Martian soil, probably landing in the small hours of December 25.

Scientists hope that its lander's findings could, like the data Darwin brought back from the remote Galapagos islands, revolutionise man's understanding of his place in the universe by detecting signs of life on Mars, a notion that has fired men's imagination for centuries.

Beagle-2The Beagle-2, seen in simulated images bouncing on the Martian surface like a large football, contains a package of sophisticated instruments, a pair of stereoscopic cameras, a solar power pack and a "mole" robot that can inch along the Martian surface, or drill a metre or more below it, to sample the soil.

The Mars Express will be followed by two vastly better-funded US missions, one scheduled for June 8 and the other provisionally due to lift off on June 25, also aiming to settle once and for all the question of whether life exists, or has ever existed on Mars.

They will be joined by a Japanese mission launched in 1998, the Nozomi, which after getting lost due to technical mishaps is due to arrive next year.

All four missions are taking advantage of the fact that in August Earth and Mars will be in opposition -- at their closest points.

For the moment however, the Beagle-2 is hogging the limelight, its profile raised by the presence on board of a spot painting by the British artist Damien Hirst -- to serve as a colour calibration chart for its cameras -- and a call-sign composed by the British pop group Blur.

First results from the mission are expected "early next year," Southwood said.

The ESA official regretted that European countries had not been more deeply involved in space exploration.

"So far the French have been the only people in western Europe who feel that a developed nation should have a space project. We have to do things in space, to look outwards," he said.

By pressing ahead with the Mars Express, the ESA is taking a gamble that small, quick, cheap missions can contribute usefully to space research.

The strategy has its critics who say that it can cut too many corners in design and testing compared with bigger, lavishly-funded long-term projects.

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