Free graphics program for 3D anomalies

Johns Hopkins University and the Open Channel Foundation are offering design engineers a free downloadable graphics program that speeds up the way a computer displays three-dimensional models.

A new partnership between The Johns Hopkins University and the Chicago-based Open Channel Foundation now allows design engineers and computer programmers to download a free graphics program that significantly speeds up the way a computer displays a three-dimensional model as the model changes position.

The program, devised by Subodh Kumar, assistant professor of computer science in Johns Hopkins’ Whiting School of Engineering, is said to give the user greater control over the level of detail that appears on screen.

By posting the source code on the Open Channel web site (http://www.openchannelfoundation.org), the organisation and the university hope to make the software, called sLIB (‘surface library’) more widely available.

The software is designed for use with the Irix operating system, but Kumar said programmers could also compile the code for use with other operating systems, such as Windows.

By posting sLIB for free downloading, the university and Open Channel hope to gauge interest in the product and encourage further development.

The sLIB program reportedly solves a thorny problem that plagues many computer-aided design engineers, video game developers and others who produce sophisticated three-dimensional computer models.

Generally, the more detailed these models become the longer it takes to put them in motion on the screen.

The sLIB program addresses this by significantly speeding up the way a computer displays the models.

The secret to his software, Kumar said, is in how it handles Non-Uniform Rational B-Spline representations, the mathematical shapes that computers can use to depict curved surfaces.

A computer can put NURBS together to form a 3-D representation of the complete object. ‘SLIB converts NURBS on the fly into a small number of well-placed triangles that are then displayed quickly,’ Kumar said.

Previously, Kumar has made sLIB available for free downloading through a university Web site. But the agreement with Open Channel is expected to help Kumar introduce the software to a greater number of programmers who may wish to try out and adapt sLIB to their own applications.

‘This is the first time the source code for this software has been made available,’ Kumar says. ‘In the coming months, we also hope to post documentation that will help computer users to refine the software for a variety of purposes.’

In this early technology transfer phase, sLIB users will not be charged a fee.