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The Year in Science: Technology 1997

Being There (and Everywhere)

By Robert PoolJanuary 1, 1998 6:00 AM


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Don’t confuse it with virtual reality, that now ancient technology for implanting yourself in a computer- generated world. This is yet another leap in machine-made entertainment. Computer scientist Takeo Kanade has developed a technique for giving the motion picture viewer a choice of almost any perspective on the action. Someday soon, he warns, you’ll be able to watch a game of basketball or volleyball from the bleachers, from beneath the net, or even from the point of view of the ball—all from the wreckage of your home.

Kanade calls his technology virtualized reality, a name that seems unlikely to stick, and although he hasn’t yet taken it to the court, he demonstrated it this past year [CK] in a 16-foot dome in his lab at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute in Pittsburgh. Fifty-one cameras videotaped a man hitting a volleyball. Then a computer compared all these images and combined them, in a process similar to what the human brain does when it combines images from two eyes. Since nothing save the soles of the player’s shoes escaped the eyes of all 51 cameras, the computer had all the information it needed to generate a two-dimensional view from any given perspective.

The eventual goal is what we call ‘human transport,’ says Kanade. We could watch the NBA from mid-court or the NFL from the field, even moving with one of the players and seeing what he saw. For now, however, it takes two days for his computer workstation to crank out a mere ten seconds’ worth of images—and they aren’t even as clear as television. Kanade hopes to bring out a TV-quality, 30-second movie in early 1998.

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