University Researcher to Demonstrate New Technology at SC98

Fairbanks, Alaska - Most people can imagine using a computer program to produce art. But, imagine having the ability to run a 3D-computer program with your body--without the aid of a mouse or keyboard.

This is just the kind of technology that Chris Hartman, a University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) Computer Science faculty member, and Bill Brody, head of UAF's Art Department, are striving for. This month Hartman will take his and Brody's ideas to Orlando, Florida, for demonstration at Supercomputing '98 (SC98), the annual international high performance networking and computing conference.

Hartman and Brody are using the virtual reality technology at the Arctic Region Supercomputing Center to design a program called Body Language User Interface (BLUI).

"It's a three-dimensional drawing program," says Hartman, "But what makes it special is that it's based on your gestures." The user draws on a virtual reality screen with a wand, and can "undo" with a shake of the head, or "quit" by dropping his or her hands to the side.

In order for BLUI to work, two TV cameras are placed at a 45 degree angle on either side of a Pyramid Systems ImmersaDesk visualization screen, giving the computer a pair of "eyes." Bill and Chris will program these "eyes" to recognize the hand as a tool. As an open hand swipes across a line on a 3D sketch, the line will widen. A grabbing motion will replace the usual "select" menu.

"Eventually Bill wants to sculpt--to do things you normally wouldn't be able to do with certain materials," says Hartman. This would mean the ability for an artist to add to a rock sculpture, when in reality an artist can only subtract rock to create a sculpture.

The researchers use video to capture human gestures, which are used to create the program. Some information is still based on how the user moves the wand and where the user looks on the screen. "Ideally, you eventually won't use the wand at all," says Hartman.

Hartman will demonstrate this new program 3 pm Wednesday, Nov. 11, on a Pyramid Systems ImmersaDesk in R780, the Department of Defense booth, at SC98.

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