Monday, October 30, 2006

2006 IEEE ISMAR Conference

The IEEE ISMAR conference (International Symposium on Mixed and Augmented Reality) is the annual meeting of researchers who work in the domain of Augmented and Mixed Reality. Its current schedule is to be held every two years in the US, then in between once in Europe, then in Japan. In the last year, ISMAR 2005 was held in Vienna, and this year it was in Santa Barbara, California, hosted by University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB), from 22. - 25. October 2006.

I have been active in the steering committee of this conference since its beginning in 1998 when it started as a simple workshop (IWAR 98). This conference provided the opportunity to meet again familiar faces and also get acquainted to new players in this field.

For the 2006 ISMAR meeting, 105 papers had been submitted (including posters: 117). During a weekend session of the program committee (which had been held in June 2006 in Los Angeles) where I attended as area chair, 30 papers were selected for acceptance, which translates to an acceptance rate of 29%. Printed Proceedings and a CD with the papers were given to attendees. The conference details, including the program, can be access at the conference web site at

The overall statistical data are as follows: there were 15 papers from Europe, 7 from America, 8 from Asia/Pacific. 15 posters, 2 keynotes, 2 demo sessions, 2 tutorials, and 2 workshops were included in the program. The whole conference was organized in a single track, so it was possible to attend each presentation. A total of 160 attendees were registered.

The meeting venue was the Corwin Pavillon at University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB). The 2006 ISMAR general chair was Prof. Tobias Hoellerer (UCSB), whom I have known since his PhD work at Columbia University with Steven Feiner back in 1997.

Two workshops were held on the Sunday before conference: Industrial Augmented Reality, and the Workshop on Mixed Reality in Fim Making. In addtion, there were tutorials for Computer Vision for Augmented Reality, Head-Worn Displays: Fundamentals and Applications, and a Student Research Colloquium.

I attended the workshop on film making. 9 papers were presented, including a keynote by Paul Devebec (USC). Mixed Reality (MR) can be a useful tool in pre-visualisation, before expensive movie scenes are being filmed. In TV, MR is being used with Chroma-key techniques to merge real sceneries with graphical information, or with placing the actors into sceneries outside the studio environment.

On Monday, the conference started with a keynote talk “The Poor Man’s Palace: Special Effects in the Real World” by Ramesh Raskar from MERL (Mitsubishi Research Lab). The last time I had seen him was at the very first IWAR workshop in 1998, which was the predecessor of the ISMAR conference. Ramesh presented his vision of applying special effects in the real world, by projecting graphics into the real environment. He also demonstrated a product from Mitsubishi: the Mitsubishi Pocket Projector, a miniature projecting system. In addition he discussed the use of photo-sensing RFID tag which could emit their information triggered by coded light.

A 2nd keynote was given on Wednesday by Prof. Tom Furness (University of Washington, Seattle). I have known Tom since 1998 due to collaborations in a US project on augmented reality. Instead of the originally planned topic on AR technology, he decided to give his presentation a personal touch: “My attempts to save the world”. First he started with his work for the US Air force in developing helmet-mounted displays for fighter airplane cockpits (1967). This work led to making a headset for dentist’ patients, distracting them from the dentistry work done on them. In 1989 he moved to U. Washington to found the Human Interface Technology Laboratory (HitLab) – in mid 2007 a new HITLab will be started in New Zealand . He co-founded Virtual Vision (now eMagin, Inc.), a company working on such head-worn displays. After developing the "Virtual Retinal Display", a new problem has been addressed: to provide true stereo displays, not just based on dual-eye disparity, but also on single eye accommodation: the wave front of the light is manipulated, simulating depth. He further got involved in using Virtual Reality (VR) for learning, working on the Puget Sound Cruise, a system for interactive learning about nature. He also is involved in PARVAC, the Pacific Rim visualization center for visualizing natural threats and disasters. The technology of “low vision” is used in helping the blind to improve eye sight. In his talk, he made a passionate plea for peace and against war. He finally proposed the founding of a “Virtual World Society”, with $30 membership per year, to help developing educational games.

The individual sessions dealt with applications of AR, tracking, AR user interfaces, mobile tracking, mobile user interfaces, evaluations, calibration and resutrasion, multimodal AR, and visualisation. There were also sessions with 21 demonstrations and 15 posters.

The progress on tracking, which is a very important subject for Augmented Reality, had been significant – basically visual tracking can be considered as being solved, except for specific cases and lighting conditions.

In general, in the US the interest in the technology of Mixed and Augmented Reality has slowly faded over the past years, whereas in Europe and Asia the technology still is quite actively pursued. This may lead to ISMAR being no longer held every 2 years in the US.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Pictures from the ISMAR conference

The annual ISMAR conference was held in Santa Barbara from Sunday, 22.October, until Wednesday, 25. October. On Sunday I attended the Workshop on Mixed Reality Technology for Film Making, where the applications of this technology to the movie industry were discussed. During the 3 following days, single-track presentations of research results were presented as papers and demonstration.

Friday, October 27, 2006

New Blogger

As of a fw days ago, I moved this blog to the "betablogger", a new way of using this blogger host. This allows a slightly different way for me of publishing my entries here - should make no difference to you viewers.

One notable difference: I no longer can use the tool "Hello" to upload pictures (Hello, Picasa, and Blogger used to work together quite well, but not this does not work anymore). As you may have noticed, the pictures in my posts now can appear in different sizes, and can be left- or right-justified. You still can click on them to get a high-resolution version (1024x768).

Sunday, October 22, 2006

New Photoalbum

I tried out a new photoalbum, on Google / Picasa. Looks like a nice and easy way of sharing lots of pictures. I put there more pictures from various events and travel. Will be expanded!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Travel to Santa Barbara

in a plane, to the US. First Class on Continental Airways is quite extrodinary, and always has been in my experience. Sometime back in 1999 I got an upgrade to US domestic first class, from LA to the East Coast. What a huge legroom! I believe it is longer than any other airline first class. But that comes at a cost of the Economy class: when a few months later I flew Continental Economy US domestic, I noticed how small the distance between the seats was - the knee bumed against the previous seat.

A great meal, and I watched movies on the video-on-demand system: "Click", with Adam Sandler, followed by "A Scanner Darkly". The latter movie was a dark depiction of drug addiction in the future. Unfortunately, I dozed off for about 1/2 hour while it was running on that little TV monitor in front of me, so it appeared even more surrealistic to me than intended, since I lost the string of action somewhat. But nevertheless, I would recommend it: it is in cartoon style, but filmed as a real movie, then with some "posterisation" effect (reduction of colors) made to look as if drawn as a cartoon. Quite disturbing from its content...

And then "The Maltese Falcon". I have watched this movie numerous times, on TCM (Turner Classic Movies), and even once in a movie theatre (in West Hollywood, Fairfax Avenue, summer 2000). But I keep forgetting what it is about and how it ends, so everytime I watch it, it seems new to me. It is so stylish, in its "film noir" theme and its seemingly pointless chase of that Falcon. Stereotypes of characters which shaped the career of actors (Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, Sidney Greenstreet), paving the way for the ultimate film noir "Casablanca". I could not miss that treat to watch that film again, probably for the thousandth time. (And it did not matter that I again fell asleep for a few minutes, as the sleep deprevation slowly caught up with me).

In Los Angeles, I had rented a car from Fox Rent A Car - they had the cheapest car rentals, starting at $15 per day. I splurged a bit and spent $20 per day - for a PT Cruiser! In the shuttle from the airport to the rental location, every car renter said that they had never heard before from this Fox company, but that they were quite thrilled about the inexpensive price.

At 11:00pm I arrived in Santa Barbara.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Steam in the Bronte Country

"Wuthering Heights" is an internationally known novel, available in several movie versions. The author of this novel, Emilie Bronte, lived in the first half of the 19th century here near Bradford: in Haworth. Her sisters also contributed to the fame of the Bronte family: Charlotte Bronte wrote "Jane Eyre", which just had been shown on the BBC as a new multipart filmed version.

Through the town of Haworth goes a historic museum railway: the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway which operates steam trains on a regular schedule during weekends. On the weekend of 13.-15.October, there was a "steam gala" with several "guest locomotives" - so why not combine a visit to the Bronte Parsonnage with a ride on a steam train?

We parked the car in Keighley at the train station. From there, the Worth Valley Railway leads south through the Worth Valley until the small town of Oxenhope. Haworth is just one stop before Oxenhope.

The weather was cool, a bit chilly, humid. But at least it did not rain!

Steam locomotive at Keighley station.

On steam train through the Worth Valley.

Up from Haworth station through the cobble-stoned street towards the centre of Haworth.

In Haworth.

The "Bronte Parsonnage", home of the Bronte family.

Memorial to the Brontes in the nearby church.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

ISLES Workshop in Cyprus

The previous meeting of the EU Leonardo-funded project ISLES had taken place in Bucharest this past April. Now it was the turn of another partner to host the meeting - at the Cyprus College in Nicosia. So the Leeds Met participants in this project (myself and Ah-Lian who also had been in Bucharest) flew on 3.October to the airport of Larnaca on Cyprus, as the airport of Nikosia is still closed, due to the occupation by Turkey.

As we boarded the Cyprus Airways plane in Amserdam, a highly guarded official walked by us. His body guards held machine guns in their hands - this guy must have been a big shot. I did not recognise him, but he was probably a politician.

The island of Cyprus is divided: the officially recognised Cyprus is the southern part, with predominantly Greek heritage, while the northern part, invaded by Turkey in 1974 and occupied since then, is not internationally recognised. Cyprus (excluding the Turkish part) is a new member of the EU since 2004, and as Turkey is moving towards EU membership, there is hope that the "Cyprus question" moves toards being resolved in the near future.

Nicosia, or Lefkosia as it is also called, is a divided city: into the Greek southern part, and the Turkish northern part. The southern part is full of thriving business, but seems also to be spoilt by many ugly concrete buildings. Many cars pollute the air, and there are very few sidewalks. Nobody walks here, it is almost like in Los Angeles. The centre is nice, with several pedestrian streets, restaurants, shops.

View over Nicosia.

In the centre of Nicosia.

Border within the city - from the Greek part.

The same border part - seen from the north side, the Turkish part of Nicosia.

Village atmosphere in the Turkish part of Nikosia.

The ISLES meeting began on 4.October with an evening conference, with speakers Roberto Cavaliere and Nicos Lygeros. It then continued for two more days of meetings, reports, and discussions.

Of course an important aspect of these EU related travels is to get to know the culture of the host country. Our hosts had arranged for nice dinners in restaurants, to sample the great local food. On the first evening we went to a fish restaurant Paragadi, who served a huce meal of "Meze": that is all kinds of appetizers brought to the table, where everyone could share them. They kept bringing so many things, that when the main dish came, nobody was hungry anymore.

The 2nd evening Lena and I went to another recommended restaurant: Plaka (see review on Fodors. Hard to find by foot, especially at night. But what a treat: 32 dishes were included in the "Meze", for about 10 Cyprus pound (20 US dollars) per person. The owner who sat at the door entrance, proudly showed us a picture of former German chancellor Helmut Kohl dining in this restaurant! We also discover a picture of pianist Cyprien Katsaris, who is the cousin of Marius, my former colleague from RSC whom I just had met two weeks ago.

We stayed one more day until Sunday, so that on Saturday we could rent a car and travel around the whole island. The landscape reminded me a lot of Southern California in summer: very dry, sandy, small patches of brown plants, trying to grow in the hot October sun (30 deg C). Somewhat similar to the Mojave desert. Small villages are perched onto hill sides, surrounded by olive trees. The Cyprus olives taste much more bitter than their French or Italian counterparts - maybe because of the dry sandy ground?

The village Lefkara in the South of Cyprus.

Colorful houses in Lefkara.

Renovated Roman Amphitheatre near the Apollo temple in Southern Cyprus.

Paphos Castle at night.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Leeds Met is shortlisted for "Higher Education Institution of the Year"

Last week our university, Leeds Metropolitan University, was shortlisted by the newspaper THE TIMES as one of five candidates for the award Higher Education Institution of the Year. Having worked here at this university for more than a year now, this is not surprising: this university has quite a momentum in its effort to become a "Great North Uni" and to overcome the disadvantages of being a "post-1992" university (in that year, Leeds Met became a "full" university, and hence is considered a new university, without the clout and heritage of older institutions). The big emphasis on research activities, scholarship, and contribution to the community can be felt here everyday, in reflections, in events, in meetings.

Fingers crossed that Leeds Met will become the winner for this award!