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  Reports from SIGGRAPH 2001

SIGGRAPH: Emerging Technologies

by Wendy Ju
July 23, 2002

The first thing you'll hear as you walk into the Emerging Technologies exhibits is the clanging of clashing swords.

The source of the loud clanging heard at the entrace to Etech is the Virtual Chanbara from The University of Tokyo. Participants don a virtual reality helmet and fight a bloodthirsty opponent with the aid of a whirring force-feedback device. According to its inventor, Daijiro Koga, the device creates the sensation of wielding a sword and the impact of the swordfight through the rotating element that transmit momentum to the user's arms. "It feels very real," says Bryan Wessels as he exits the Chanbara, "I caught myself moving around, like I was actually fighting."

Emerging Technologies features a number of interactive exhibits that allow participants to get caught up in an astounding range of experiences: flying a plane, assembling techno music, getting your picture taken by a roving red robot, stepping off a ledge, and, yes, even fighting ninjas with swords.

It's the tenth anniversary of Emerging Technologies, often termed "ETech" by the SIGGRAPH faithful. The display on the wall by the entryway illustrates the enormous range of topics covered by Etech contributions over the years. Scott Senften, this year's ETech coordinator, marvels at the innovations in areas such as immersive realities, hypermedia, distributed interaction, telepresence and biofeedback have been showcased at ETech. "We're starting to step on ourselves," he says. "Sometimes we'll read about something cool, and say 'That should be in ETech!' and then find out that it's been done, it was shown in ETech five years ago. It shows you how ahead of the curve we really are."

There's a long wait for University of North Carolina's installation, Physiological Reaction and Presence in Stressful Virtual Environments. This booth exhibits the synergy between academic research and participant entertainment: users are outfitted with physiological sensors before they step into the virtual environment, and their metrics are monitored. If your heart starts racing when you look over that virtual ledge, it means that the environment feels real. As Fred Brook's noted, "your intellect knows it is totally safe, but your viscera tells you otherwise."

Another exhibit that might make your palms sweat is Twister. This so-called "media booth" features a whirling array of display elements that create a virtual environment around the user. Stepping into the massive contraption, you might see a person standing next to you, or fish swimming by. Isn't it frightening to stand within a spinning keg of electronics? "No, it wasn't scary at all," says Garry Paxinos, as he emerged from the booth. "It just needs to have better display resolution to really work."

As the words "emerging technologies" implies, many of the projects are just sketches, hints of what excitements lie ahead. Given the experimental nature of the exhibits, it's not surprising that things sometimes break down. A survey of the exhibits on the morning of the opening day finds many signs politely asking users to return later in the day. Behind the scenes, frantic researchers are making last minute fixes to make things perform. The SIGGRAPH audience, a generally technologically savvy bunch, seems to understand. In fact, the opportunity to test out technologies before their time has really come is one reason why ETech exhibitors like bringing their research to SIGGRAPH. "As the cost of the hardware and computer parts come down, the technology is starting to come from all over," states Senften, "but we regularly get a lot of submissions from MIT... a lot of submissions from Japan."

In a room full of unusal inventions , the Public Anemone project from the MIT Media Lab stands out with its beguiling weirdness. A many-fingered robotic anemone sits by a rocky pond tending its plants. It occasionally sees visitors and reaches out towards them, but recoils sharply when the outstretched hands gets too close. At the end of its five minute "day," the anemone goes to sleep, the lights grow dim, and the rocks and flora start glowing to the beat of the sleepy background music.

Next door, the music is a bit more happening. The Augmented Sound Reality project allows users to place virtual sound sources in various places in the environment, providing a 3D sound authoring device.

The Block Jam project from Sony Interactive Labs also promotes an inventive way of putting sounds together. Brightly lit boxes, each holding a sound fragment, can be joined together and programmed. The playfulness of the interface and the interaction encourages bystanders to try manipulating the blocks to change the music being played. Senften comments, "There are a lot of submissions that the jury has to guess on... this was one of those where we didn't know what to expect but when it blows you away when you see it in person."

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of Emerging Technologies, however, is the possibilty that these mind-blowing inventions will actually make it into the real world. The Sonic Flashlight, for example, looks like a technology ready for prime-time. It's a handheld sonogram machine that uses a half-silvered mirror to project the tomographic image from the sonogram on a clear lense that lets you see the object underneath. It's a hilarious experience, imaging balloons with objects hidden inside, but as you gaze at the images without the use of any weird glasses or strange headgear, you can see how this could change the way doctors work.

And that's the message at the heart of this zany and exotic collection of contraptions and gadgets. The Emerging Technologies exhibits are changing the way SIGGRAPH attendees look at our future. In due time, any of these emerging technologies has the potential to change the world.




Conference eTech page



Interview with Scott Senften



Giant poster of all contributors to eTech since it begans 10 years ago.  



All Photos from SIGGRAPH 2002
Many that did not make it into stories, this one for example:



The Window in eTech 2002.  


This page is maintained by
Jan Hardenbergh
All photos you see in the 2002 reports are due to a generous loan of Cybershot digital cameras from SONY