After years of operating in stealth mode, startup company Caustic Graphics has launched its CausticRT development platform, taking aim at design tool developers looking for a new and improved way to deliver high-end raytracing capabilities for cinema-quality 3-D graphics.
The CausticRT SDK, comprised of the CausticOne raytracing accelerator card and CausticGL programming API, is designed to unlock the power of existing GPUs and CPUs to efficiently perform raytracing, a graphics function typically available to only a handful of industrial designers with access to expensive and dedicated render farms. Rasterization graphics techniques commonly used in 3-D programs like CAD take an approximation of a scene, but raytracing brings a higher level of realism to products and scenes thanks to the way it duplicates the natural physics of light. As a result, Caustic officials contend the technique is well suited for a variety of industrial design and engineering applications, including design reviews for showcasing work in as highly realistic an environment as possible.
"Engineers using studio tools to design a product get a proxy of what the product will look like once it's manufactured, while raytracing provides an accurate rendering of what the product will look like when it's produced," says Alex Kelley, Caustic's vice president of sales and marketing. "What raytracing can do for industrial design is enable groups to make fewer models, which is cost efficient and allows them to make more decisions upfront than they do today."
Despite its promise, raytracing capabilities have had limited traction as a mainstream feature of popular 3-D packages. The primary obstacle has been a memory issue, since raytracing requires access to disparate parts of the scene that are typically stored in memory in random locations. CPUs and GPUs are not set up to accommodate this kind of random access to memory, thus have been ineffective platforms for powering raytracing functions.
Not so with the Caustic technology, according to officials. CausticRT employs a breakthrough algorithm that addresses this issue and helps organize the so-called disparate or incoherent rays into a data flow that takes full advantage of the computational horsepower of CPUs and GPUs. As such, the Caustic system is not a replacement for these technologies, but rather a complementary and enabling platform, Kelley says. "What we're solving is getting all the rays through memory and scheduling them so a GPU or CPU thinks it's doing rasterization," he says.
The CausticOne co-processor works with the GPU/CPU to efficiently shade and render high-end 3-D imagery 20 times faster than current techniques, Kelley says. The CausticGL programming API is based on the Open GL standard and can be tapped to port 3-D applications to work with the Caustic platform.
The entire CausticRT SDK is priced at $4,000, including the card, CausticGL API and one-year license to firmware and software updates. Additional subscription plans are available for support and service. Caustic2, the mass production version aimed at engineers and industrial designers, is targeted for an early 2010 release.
Caustic is currently working with 3-D software developers to port their software to the new platform.