“The taxes are low, the mountains are high, and the temperature’s just right,” said Vancouver Economic Commission chair Ian McKay to a media scrum on Monday. “Vancouver attracts creative people. If you’re a talented, creative person, this is where you want to live.”
SIGGRAPH 2014, a.k.a. Special Interest Group on GRAPHics, staged in Vancouver for the second time in its 40-year history, kicked off on August 10 and lasts until the 14th at the Vancouver Convention Centre. Held since 1974, this year’s edition is being touted as the 41st International Conference and Exhibition on Computer Graphics and Interactive Technologies.
The most cutting-edge area of the show is called Emerging Technologies, for which the conference received nearly 90 entries, finally selecting 24, 20 of which were submitted from outside the U.S.
“This year’s content is very diverse,” explained Thierry Frey, SIGGRAPH 2014 Emerging Technologies Chair. “For example, we brought forward a call for ‘invisible technologies,’ i.e. installations and projects that leave technology in the background to focus on the user/usage, and have a selection of pieces that fall close to that science.”
One of the Canadian entries in Emerging Technologies is Vancouver’s MTT Innovation Inc., which is showing off its High Brightness High Dynamic Range Projection display system. As projection systems go, MTT’s system promises to immerse the viewer in uncanny valley territory, bearing a disconcerting resemblance to visible reality. While typical projection systems boast of a 1,000:1 ratio between brightest and darkest image areas, MTT’s system promises an incomprehensible 800,000:1.
Another entry, called Birdly, has been getting a lot of attention. Originated at Switzerland’s Zurich University of the Arts, the flight simulator takes the novel approach of suspending the viewer facing down while small fans blow air in their face. The viewer, wearing an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, is shown aerial images shot from a drone. The combination of physical stimulation and visual novelty promises a kind of vertigo-inducing approximation of flight.
Oculus Rift’s creator, Palmer Luckey, spoke on the opening day of the conference, of the inevitability of virtual reality’s ascendance to mainstream adoption, citing mainly the lack of compelling content as an obstacle. This is also a problem that confronts the eventual widespread adoption of 4K television. Not enough people are shooting in these new formats.
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The failure of 3D TV to catch on provides a stark warning to innovators that no matter how compelling and interesting a technology is, lack of acceptance by the general public can doom even the best ideas to the scrapheap of history. However, a lot of the more innovative display methods, such as Pixie Dust from the University of Tokyo, which generates graphics by suspending tiny objects in standing acoustic waves, promises to have applications more suitable to large Blade Runner-esque outdoor displays.
David Ciccarelli, CEO of Toronto’s Voices.com, drew a lot of attention at last year’s SIGGRAPH for his status as a Google Glass Explorer. This year, Voices.com will be at the convention as part of the Ontario Pavilion. While a lot of the exhibits at SIGGRAPH can seem ephemeral, Voices.com appears to be the only tech company focusing on the importance of the human voice.
On its first visit to Vancouver in 2011, SIGGRAPH attracted 16,000 attendees. According to BC’s provincial government, that conference generated an estimated $38.5 million in direct and indirect benefits to the Vancouver economy.
Of Vancouver, SIGGRAPH’s Chair Dave Shreiner wrote on the conference blog, “The city is incredibly supportive of having us there – the Mayor even came to personally welcome and thank us for coming at one of our recent planning meetings. Vancouver’s also a vibrant and growing technology hub, which we’re hoping will provide lots of opportunities (whether for education, employment, or enjoyment) for our attendees.”
With 150 companies exhibiting at this year’s event, SIGGRAPH 2014 promises to be bigger than the first time around.