— The Morphovision display using light tricks to make a model house seem to contort or even break apart (Image: Toshio Iwai)
Gadgets and gizmos designed to astound the senses are the highlights of the SIGGRAPH 2006 computer graphics conference, which opened in Boston, US, on Monday.
Inventions on display include a toy house that appears to warp into surreal shapes, a handheld device that "pulls" a person around and a display that generates holographic illusions using scores of hidden projectors.
The "Morphovision" display developed by video artist Toshio Iwai and Takashi Fukaya of NHK Science and Technical Research Laboratories in Japan consists of a model house inside a display resembling an arcade machine. The house appears to sit still inside the display but is actually rotating while a spinning mirror scans a bright spot of light over its surface.
If the scanning light is synchronised with the model's rotation, it all looks normal, but the viewer can also activate special effects. These change the scanning patterns, which makes the house seem to contort into twisted shapes or even break apart.
A handheld device also at the show exploits a person's sense of touch to foster another type of illusion. Called the Perceptual Attraction Force, the device contains two rotating weights mounted on a slider.
Accelerating one of the weights more quickly than the other and moving it along the slider makes the holder feel as if they are being pulled in a certain direction. A video shows the device nudging users around (55MB, mov format).
Developer Tomohiro Amemiya of NTT Communication Science Laboratories says smaller versions might eventually be used in GPS-equipped cellphones to point users in the right direction (see Gadgets get the feel of the tactile world).
Behind the screens
More optical illusions were offered up by a 3D wide-screen display called Holovizio, which creates giant images resembling holograms. But instead of using lasers, 64 digital projectors are arranged behind the screen, and are programmed to illuminate it together, in order to build up the 3D image.
The effect works across a broader range of angles than a conventional hologram, allowing several people to view it at once. A hand-tracking system also lets viewers interact with the display, turning the image upside down or back-to-front. This video shows the Holovizio screen in action (5MB, avi format).