Two-dimensional display modeling on computers developed out of necessity, not choice. Three dimensions can easily be displayed on a screen, but 3D representations are difficult for computers to process and hold in their memory.
However, games like Second Life, office utilities like Qwaq (our coverage), and applications like Google Earth are slowly bringing 3D into everyday computerized life. Now a company called 3D Solid Compression (3DSoC) says it can bring easy 3D representation to the internet, and even mobile phones.
The challenge in replacing a standard picture like a GIF or JPEG with a three-dimensional picture that can be viewed at different angles is that, while a JPEG is a small enough file for today’s computers to easily display or download from the internet, standard 3D files like STLs are huge. Ordinary computers can’t easily handle them.
An STL is a file type engineers use; for consumers, more compressed versions have been developed. Unfortunately, they still aren’t small enough. Chances are good that many of the attempts at 3D representation you may have seen on the ‘net are actually just a series of pictures strung together to give the impression of continuity, like a flip-book. (Check out Audi’s 360-degree view of its S6 for an example.)
3DSoc’s claim is that it can compress 3D files to be about 100 times smaller than an STL, and 15-20 times smaller than the leading 3D compression tools currently on the market, including Google’s Sketchup. The resulting files would be as small as most 2D pictures seen on the internet today.
That could make 3D a standard feature on the internet. Although it would take time for designers to adopt, there are some immediately obvious uses — for retailers like Audi, for example. For such publishers, the company also offers tools to convert or create 3D models.
The challenge for 3DSoC will be getting companies and operating systems to install their viewing tools. To tackle the problem, 3DSoc is seeking partnerships with companies like IBM and Yahoo, as well as cell-phone manufacturers like Nokia.
3DSoC is a recent technology spin-out co-developed by researchers at Stanford University and the Indian Institute of Science. The company is based in Bangalore, India and was funded for an undisclosed amount by IDG Ventures India and other unnamed investors.
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