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In his book, “The Rainbows End,” author Vernor Vinge places characters in a world where everything is seen through advanced contact lenses.  Within this futurist environment, computers are embedded in clothing and replace or overlay what the eye would normally see with sophisticated 3D graphics. Sound far-fetched? Actually, Google’s soon-to-be-released “Google Glasses” makes Vinge’s idea seem possible.  

Although a bit more primitive than what is described in Vinge’s book, Google Glasses purportedly augment reality by projecting a layer of information over physical objects. For example, a person wearing Google Glasses could be walking by a sandwich shop and see the store’s daily lunch special displayed on the inside of the lens. Or, a person wearing the Glasses while attending a car show could read detailed product information on each make and model.  Taken another step, that same person might be able to “see” inside the car through detailed 3D virtual images. These scenarios are no longer some future scientific fiction reality. The visualization technology needed to make them happen exists today and the potential applications across all industries are truly mind-boggling.   

Future Applications of 3D Visualization 3D visualization technology has already revolutionized many fields from medicine to manufacturing. But what has been accomplished to-date is only the tip of the iceberg. Very soon getting information visually will become the new norm.  According to visualization researchers at PML Applications Ltd, “In ten years time, future scientists and technologists who have been “brought up” on games technology, Second Life, Google Earth/Ocean and GPS will expect to have data and information delivered in 3D.” This is because sophisticated technology software transforms large amounts to data into realistic visual models, which makes it easier to access, analyze and communicate all types of information. Below are a few examples of industry-altering applications for the near future: 

Medical: 3D images are widely used throughout the medical world. Computer created images from data sets to give surgeons insight into medical conditions previously hidden from sight or help them see the surface of objects and shapes of organs. Future applications being discussed are the ability to view a 3D model of an injured knee and click on the various “components” in that knee to learn which medicines might be appropriate.  Other innovative applications include showing patients the results of surgery before it happens,  analyzing large amounts of data for medical research, and allowing data to be easily transported and read regardless of a doctor’s physical location.   

Manufacturing & Service:  Most companies rely heavily on CAD files to review designs and make manufacturing decisions. This is acceptable to the few involved in building the product, but makes understanding the information nearly impossible for anyone outside the design team.  Instead, cutting-edge companies are now using 3D visualization technology to create easy-to-understand, realistic product models based on the CAD files. Not-so-future applications include leveraging these 3D models throughout the value chain so that procurement, service, sales and marketing can virtually explore a product, disassemble it and click on any component to access the information behind it. Another example is service personnel who can visually examine an area for repair, view a maintenance video, and fix the problem without lengthy manuals.  

Environmental:  As in the medical field, 3D visuals are already being used within environmental studies to virtually “see” beneath the surface or create impact models of proposed development projects. Yet, as Virtual Reality Geoscientist, Ruth Rusby, explains, “the future is not just about 3D, but is a fully immersive and interactive world.” She goes on to give the example of using future visualization technology to uncover natural resources beneath the earth’s surfaces (World Oil).  Another application in development is using actual survey data to create realistic virtual worlds. These realistic landscapes provide views from any angle and can be used to make strategic, fact-based environmental assessments. 

Urban and Residential:  Urban and residential planning applications are also being developed using 3D visual technology. Imagine being able to see gas lines beneath the ground before digging, or know the layout of pipes in a house before taking down a wall. Urban planners could use 3D models to help with all types of planning from the potential solar energy output of roof surfaces to noise pollution to assessing the threat of coastal erosion.     Of course, the above examples are just a few of the innovative, 3D visual applications expected to emerge in the near future.  Regardless of the industry or the delivery device, the one consistent driver is a desire to make it easier for people to access and use available information. With industry heavyweights like Google, Apple and SAP on the case, perhaps the idea of an augmented reality isn’t as far away as it seems.  

Robert Merlo – SAP Visual Enterprise Solution Marketing

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