March 3, 2005 Superimposing virtual objects over real static images is common practice in some industrial applications. Using a modified telescope, researchers are now aiming for the tourism, entertainment and education sectors. The device is set to premiere at CeBIT and the Messel Pit.
Most visitors to the Messel Pit fossil site near Darmstadt / Germany are disappointed with their first view. Anticipating a spectacular UNESCO world heritage site, all they see is a large barren hole in the landscape. This is no surprise given that the riches of this important fossil find have been embedded in oil shale for millions of years.
Not until geologists and archeologists complete their work will the average person be able to enjoy the fascination of this long-lost era thick with cat-sized primordial horses, thumb-sized mudfish and giant ants.
And since digging around on your own is of course forbidden, the operators of the site are establishing a communications and information center. One of the exhibits is a high-tech telescope, an enhanced version of the coin-operated telescope found at many tourist lookout points. Employees of the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics IGD will begin installing the telescope in April.
Using augmented reality (AR), the system superimposes computer-generated images over a real-time view. The AR telescope is equipped with a front-mounted camera to capture the actual scenery. In place of the eyepiece, a small monitor fixed on the rear of the telescope displays the images combined by the computer.
The result is a view of the landscape containing cut-away views of the geological strata of one of the most spectacular fossil finds, enhanced with text and graphics. As with any AR system, the computer needs to know which way the viewer is looking at any particular moment.
Tracking sensors provide this data by measuring the horizontal and vertical angle of the telescope. Because the telescope is fixed in one site, the superimposed images are extremely precise and jerk-free, providing a level of quality not always possible with freely maneuverable systems.
The telescope will be on display March 10-16 at CeBIT in Hanover (Hall 9, Stand B36) where developers hope to lure additional customers from the tourism and entertainment industries. There is virtually no limit to the types of scenery that can be superimposed, making the telescope interesting for architects as well.
Designing a scene merely requires a simple graphics editor. Objects can easily be arranged with a drag-and-drop tool. “For the tourism industry, a side benefit to the coin-operated telescope is that you can recover the investment,” says Didier Stricker, head of the IGD department of virtual and augmented reality. “For us however, the primary goal is to get people excited about a technology that will be part of our day-to-day lives in ten years or so.”