Volumetric advances

A transatlantic research team, involving Swansea University academics, has developed a technique to improve the image quality of volumetric 3D displays.

The displays involve thousands of 3D pixels — called voxels — that either absorb or emit light from an isotropically emissive light device (IEVD). The voxels are projected onto a rapidly rotating screen, which creates a 3D image. The technology could be used to visualise data such as mathematical surfaces, technical designs, and biological and chemical structures.

One of the main technical hurdles preventing the widespread application of volumetric displays is the difficulty portraying shaded surfaces and opaque objects. These traits were improved with a new technique from Swansea researchers Benjamin Mora and Min Chen, along with colleagues from Purdue University in Indiana, US.

The researchers developed a method for modifying the original input data in a way that allows light rays to produce more shading and darkening effects. The group refers to the modified dataset as a ‘lumi-volume’.

The researchers demonstrated that, when they fed the lumi-volume data into the IEVD, the emitted light field and image contained shading effects as good as the shading found in images rendered on a traditional 2D computer screen. The technique could also generate better-quality opaque objects.

Unlike other kinds of 3D displays, volumetric 3D allows viewers to observe a 3D scene from multiple angles and depths without wearing special glasses. The displays also require less data processing than holographs. Mora said the technology could be used for showcasing virtual objects in museums. He added: ‘It also has potential for estimating the visual impact of objects such as car designs and buildings in their environment and the interpretation of 3D datasets and medical images, although more studies would be needed.’

Siobhan Wagner