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Why use a 2D cursor in a 3D world? Computer cursors go 3D

10 August 2015

Researchers at the University of Montreal have developed techniques that enable computer cursors to interact in 3D in single or multi-user, local or remote collaborations.

The system, unveiled at the SIGGRAPH 2015 Conference in Los Angeles, is not so much about turning Word into an IMAX experience as offering designers an opportunity to navigate through and modify their creations, manipulating 3D objects with 3D interactions.

"Our new technology challenges the notion of what a cursor is and does," says lead researcher Professor Tomás Dorta of the university's School of Design. "The cursor becomes a drawing and controlling plane. The techniques we're unveiling today involve using a tablet to control the cursor, but as it does not necessarily rely on external tracking of the user's movements, eventually other devices could be used, such as smart phones or watches." But what does control plane mean? 

"We use a Butterfly-net analogy to explain how the cursor selects objects in space - users simply sweep the 3D cursors through. For the manipulations of objects, users can use gestures and movements such as pinching and orientation."

The cursor is being demonstrated within the researchers' Hyve-3D design system, a full scale immersive 3D environment that enables users to create drawings on hand-held tablets, which can then be manipulated on the tablets to create a 3D design within the space.

As the designers are immersed in their work - for example, designing a living room - they can test different furniture options according to the scale, and even work on the interior detailing.

The immersive images are the result of an optical illusion created by a high-resolution projector, a specially designed 5m-diameter spherically concave fabric screen and a dome mirror projecting the image onto the screen. Special techniques render the 3D scene onto a spherical projection in real-time

Univalor, the university's technology commercialisation unit, is supporting the market launch of the Hyve-3D system and the 3D cursor, via the startup Hybridlab Inc. Several patents are pending.

"Beyond its utility for sketching, we believe the 3D cursor has applications in a wide range of fields, such as architectural design, medical imaging and of course computer games," says Dorta. "This isn't a gimmicky rebirth of the cursor, it's about re-thinking how humans interact with computers as part of the creative process."

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