Thursday, March 29, 2007

Inaugural Innovation Showcase at USC

Yesterday at the USC Innovation Showcase I had a chance to see many different emerging technologies. Some were subtle in their exposition but grand in theme, and others were just grand.

From Berok Khoshneves’ Contour Crafting technology, which builds a house in 24 hours at 25% of the normal cost, to methanol fuel cells that promise to create energy without any of the problems inherent in the storage, transportation, or use of hydrogen, the conference was chock-full of interesting technology.

I’d say Chris Swain, Todd Caranto and I set up a very well-balanced booth. Up at the top we had the USC for Games banner, with the two large framed pictures of Cloud and everyone reclining in ZML. On one side we had a live demo of fl0w on a PS3 and videos of Immune Attack looping, and on the other we live demos of the Redistricting Game, ELECT and a rotating presentation of New New Deal. With so much interactive, how can you go wrong?

One of the more interesting booths at the conference, in my opinion, was Eric Hanson’s booth on Panoramic and Gigapixel images. Very interesting stuff. But more interesting was something that they did with the pictures: he created 3d maps of the high-resolution pictures which gave them depth and allow a camera to move into an image – even a time lapsed image! He spoke about a month ago at an IMD Forum, if anyone recalls.

This allows for some interesting possible applications (all with clever coding, of course), the most unwieldy being closed sets for video games. Imagine creating a set, then taking a very high resolution panoramic picture of it, and compositing it (and its 3d-map) with additional high resolution panoramic pictures.

This would be more ideal for large outdoor areas and creates very interesting prospects for backdrops and backgrounds that no longer require powerful video cards to render while still giving an incredible level of detail. Instead of worrying about draw distances and available video RAM, you can create beautiful panoramic environments from real places – play a game set in rolling hills in which you can actually see the rolling hills – without drawing textures miles into the distance. If you utilize a composite of multiple time-lapsed images you can even give the mountains in the distance character and depth. There are some very compelling arguments for the use of these images and 3d maps in future games and projects.

Another cool booth was one that showcased some technology that allowed the combination of multiple cameras grafted onto the 3d map of an area to give a real time image of what a building or street looks like. The first thing I thought of when I saw this was playing games with teams of people running around USC trying to capture certain buildings from the other team. Give one team red shirts and the other green shirts, write a little code to track specific colors, and we could have a big game of capture the flag on campus! Fun stuff.

But even in light of this stuff, I think that we had the coolest booth there. Go team innovation!