Thenkurussi Kesavadas has created a tool that will enable designers to sculpt a block of clay and get the 3D electronic image on the computer screen in return.
Present Position: Virtual Reality Lab Director and Associate Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, State University of New York at Buffalo
Degrees: BS Technology, Mechanical Engineering, University of Calicut, Kerala, India; Masters Technology, Aircraft Production Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, India; Ph.D., Industrial and Management Systems Engineering, Pennsylvania State University.
Why is touch input important for virtual reality? For many years virtual reality (VR) was mainly considered video images—now the main concept is to use VR to replicate what people do in real life. There is a lot of importance in color monitors and stereo displays. Many things we do in life are based on skills learned by touch, such as music skills. Doctors, for example, use touch to diagnose patients.
How does your touch input system work? With Virtual Play, the attempt is to get an artist's input into 3D CAD. We start with a block of sculpting materials, clay or Play Doh. The person working on the model wears a glove, which captures the way they move their fingers and the amount of force they apply. They see on the screen what happens as their fingers indent into the material. If you only make the model in clay, you have to scan it into the computer.
What fields will benefit most from this? One group will be animators who need to make interesting and funny-looking characters. People doing initial prototype designs, say a food processor or appliance, they need to see how it looks. In stores, you're seeing much more interesting shapes now. Another group is kids doing art—bringing their work computers lets them learn and do fancier things.
What steps are being taken to move Virtual Play from labs to commercialization? We have made some steps to license it. It could be ready as early as next year.
What need prompted this research? I worked with many CAD packages, starting with 2D packages. I was always thinking about how VR could improve the process of 3D modeling. My first efforts were to work on labs for medical applications, so doctors doing exams could store information on tissue stiffness or organ texture.
For info on Dr. Kesavadas, research, go to www.vrlab.buffalo.edu. For images of his research, go to www.vrlab.buffalo.edu/projects_group_manufacturing/model_glove/model_glove.html. Contact Kesavadas at firstname.lastname@example.org.