Seeing in 3D

A 3D projection system developed by students at Manchester University could breathe new life into painful PowerPoint presentations.

A team of six entrepreneurs – including three physics students and one physics graduate – has developed a digital system called PixelScape, which takes 3D computer images and projects them onto hundreds of tensioned nylon threads.

The result is stunning 3D colour projections measuring around one metre high, one metre deep and two metres wide.

The team’s innovative work has landed them the £25,000 first prize in Manchester University’s Venture Further competition for budding entrepreneurs.

Now in its second year, the Venture competition  is an opportunity for staff and students to test their ideas as potential new business opportunities. It is run by the Manchester Science and Enterprise Centre (MSEC).

With further development, the winning team believe PixelScape could be used to project graphs and other illustrative objects commonly found in PowerPoint slides.

So instead of just pointing at something on a screen, a presenter could turn the object into a 3D projection, walk around it – and even reach right into it.

The team are working on possible applications in video gaming, live entertainment and the healthcare sector – for example, a brain scan could be projected in highly detailed 3D and examined quickly and thoroughly by medical experts.

The PixelScape team is also exploring the possibility of incorporating gesture control systems — like those used by Tom Cruise in the film Minority Report — to replace mice clicks and keyboard presses.

The software that makes the stunning 3D projections possible has been developed from scratch by the team. They have also adapted existing projection hardware to make the system function effectively.

PixelScape team leader Elliot Woods is in the final year of a Master of Physics qualification in Physics and Enterprise. His physics background has been the basis of the complex models and programmes which enabled the first PixelScape model to be built.

‘The projection mechanism behind our main product has been designed and built from the ground up by the PixelScape team, building on ideas that have been published for some time. I’m very proud of how our team has made this into a workable and commercially viable solution and we’re all very excited about developing our next set of product ideas,’ Woods said.

‘Our latest prototype was built in our garage with no funds and very limited time. I think that a university is the only place you could possibly find the people who are intelligent, energetic and confident enough take on such insurmountable tasks,’ he added.

The development team will now concentrate on improving the resolution of the PixelScape system, to allow more complex and detailed objects to be projected.

The £25,000 top prize in the Venture Further competition includes £10,000 cash courtesy of AstraZeneca and Manchester Science Park, and £15,000 in-kind support. It is awarded to the business enterprise that is judged to have the most chance of success.

The in-kind support includes incubator space with The University of Manchester Incubator Company (UMIC), legal advice from Eversheds, Web and marketing advice from Thread Creative and business banking from Barclays.

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