CyberEdge Journal

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

SIGGRAPH 2004 – Day 2

SIGGRAPH, Monday, night two, Los Angeles – Today was my day for casing the convention center to see where things are and start checking out the show. I ran into my old friend Jeff Abouaf, a great artist and 3D Studio Max expert ( and we went through the Emerging Technologies area together. We also listened to Bruce Stirling speak for a bit, and frankly, we were both amazed and what a pointless bunch of hot air he had to spew. I frankly had no idea what he was talking about, but he sure went on (and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and…)

Anyway, perhaps the most notable item in Emerging Technologies was the nationality of what seemed like a majority of the presenters. It seemed that every exhibit was staffed by Japanese students. This raises the question: what is happening in America’s schools? Are our students turned off to computers, or, as I think is more likely, are we seeing the result of years of denigrating education, turning out increasingly ill-informed, and frankly ignorant kids. I am increasingly appalled by our de-emphasis of education in the USA, and extremely worried that we are throwing away our future by refusing to educate our children. We need to put money in to our education system, or else we will live to see a future of ever-worse decision-making made by ever-stupider political, business, and civic leaders. End of rant.

On of my favorite exhibits in the Emerging Technologies gallery was from Hiroo Iwata’s University of Tsukuba lab. I am a long-time fan of Dr. Iwata-san’s work. His lab has consistently demonstrated some of the most creative, and often frankly weird, interface devices shown at SIGGRAPH. This year, his team is showing a device, called CirculaFloor, that allows one to walk (somewhat normally) in a virtual world. This is accomplished by having three moving platforms, each about 3 inches high and about 24 inches square, upon which one steps, one foot on each. The trick is that as one steps off the last platform, into thin air, the third one rolls around to place itself in front of the one from which you are stepping, putting itself under your descending foot. It’s damn weird, but incredibly clever, and a lot of fun. I’m not sure what a real-life application of this system would be, but once again, Iwata-san’s team has shown one of the most imaginative and out-of-the-box concepts at the show. Click here to see a brief QuickTime movie of the device in action. (Note: this is a 5.7 MB file.)

Another very cool exhibit, called Swimming Across the Pacific, was developed by Human Communications Technologies Lab at the University of British Columbia. This is a VR system, inspired by a stunt in which a swimmer swam in a pool aboard an ocean liner as it traversed the Atlantic. A team lead by Sidney Fels developed a system in which a head-mounted display-wearing user is suspended in a hang-glider harness with position sensors (from Polhemus) attached to his arms, legs, and head. Hoisted into the air, the victim, I mean user, then is able to swim, seeing his progress as water splashes around him in a realistic manner. Screens allow spectators to see that the water responds to the speed and violence of the swimmer’s motions. An interesting application, with potential application as a training system. Here's a picture of the Swimming system.

Finally, two duds. As usual, the SIGGRAPH art show is a complete disappointment. The art mostly seems trite and derivative, and if it hadn’t been made with computers, would be completely unworthy of note. Well, actually, it is almost all completely unworthy of note.

The other dud was the Realtime 3DX: Demo or Die presentation. This was the remnant of the Web 3D Roundup, with far less funding. However, the production, MC’d by Sandy Nessler, was fine, and the new scoring system, which used laser pointers to point at yes or no choices for each demo was innovative and fun. But by in large the presentations were uninteresting and/or impractical, and most looked like things we saw five or ten years ago, but with better graphics. It’s no wonder that 3D on the web hasn’t taken off – no has to this day figured out what to do with it.

Tomorrow is the first day of the exhibit, which I feel is the most valuable part of SIGGRAPH. I’ll be reporting then what I saw that was great, or not.


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