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Unlimited Detail has been featured in New Scientist Magazine. Story and link below.

Pointillist style could bring lifelike graphics to PCs

AS THE artist Georges Seurat knew, a beautiful image can be created from a series of dots. Now an Australian firm hopes to use this trick to revolutionize computer graphics and make it possible to create stunning virtual worlds on relatively modest machines.

Existing graphics software creates virtual objects for home computers and games consoles using polygons. The more polygons you use, the more detailed your object can be, says Bruce Dell, CEO of Unlimited Detail in Brisbane, Australia. But that approach is inefficient because it renders some background detail hidden behind foreground objects. For the average home system, that unnecessary work affects the quality of graphics.

Instead of polygons, Unlimited Detail's system uses dots - billions of them - to create a "point cloud" representation of a virtual world. By selecting one point for every pixel on the display screen, it's possible to create an exquisitely detailed 3D snapshot in much the same way as a Seurat pointillist painting. Change the selection several times per second and you can move smoothly through the virtual world. Dell claims to have developed an algorithm that identifies the million or so points needed to match the computer display's resolution quickly enough for smooth animation.

His system for transforming the detailed point cloud into an on-screen image is analogous to a search engine, says Dell. "Google has web pages categorized so it can quickly and easily find what it needs, and we have also found a way of categorizing and easily accessing our data."

Working on a laptop with a single core processor and without a dedicated graphics card, Dell claims his software can move through a 3D virtual world at 28 frames per second to produce an animated sequence - selecting the 614,400 points needed to produce a 1024×600 image for each frame. The result can be seen in the image below-left, created by Dell, although he points out that he is no computer artist and a professional would do better.

The idea of point-based graphics has attracted increasing interest in recent years, says Neil Dodgson, a computer graphics researcher at the University of Cambridge. "What is surprising is that they claim they can search through billions of points to find exactly the right ones to display on your screen - and do this in software and in real time."

To do that at speed, the point-cloud data would have to reside in a computer's random access memory, where it can be accessed most quickly, says Dodgson. Even on powerful home computers, the limited RAM space will affect the ability to produce images.

Dell says he has got around this by finding a smart way to compress the points to cram a huge number into the RAM. However, until he has been awarded the patents covering the technology, he says he's not prepared to reveal more.