Challenging reality

Chris Fitzsimmons interviews Andreas Michl, a Senior virtual reality solutions consultant at Realtime Technology, to find out how the company uses AV technology in developing virtual prototyping and visualisation systems for major industrial companies.

One of the more eyecatching booths at Integrated Systems Europe this year was that of Panasonic. Instead of making a product-centric display of projectors on shelves, they worked with a number of key technology partners to demonstrate real-world applications of their products. One of those partners was Realtime Technology (RTT), a German-based specialist in virtual prototyping and product development.

At ISE, RTT demonstrated the use of high resolution displays and cameras to apply different textures and colours to a 3D model of a car. Point the camera at the required material, and hey presto! The car chassis is covered in the chosen colour. Intrigued by this, I contacted RTT following the show, and asked Andreas Michl, who works for the virtual marketing business unit, about RTT and its activities.

“I’m the senior consultant for virtual reality solutions used at conventions, trade fairs and events. In general terms, we use the latest graphics and display hardware to set up rich media applications based on our own real-time rendering software solution, which is called RTT DeltaGen.”

RTT actually began life in about 1999, working for the product development groups of various car firms, helping them visualise their new vehicles during the design process. Since then the company has branched out into all manner of product development, from new sneakers to mobile telephones.

“When business want to visualise and animate their products in 3D, they can turn to the services of RTT. Virtual prototyping is increasingly replacing the use of expensive physical prototypes in industrial development processes and product design. This saves companies time as well as millions of Euros.

“The virtual simulation of different product variations provides the basis for important design decisions; this allows the time, human resources and costs of product development to be reduced considerably. This principle applies to the areas of sales and marketing as well. New methods of communication are needed to positively affect the purchasing decisions of consumers.

“Computer generated images and animations provide new opportunities for stunning product portrayals, whilst at the same time reducing communications budgets dramatically. A particularly powerful example of this is the configurator; at the touch of a button, consumers can create their own dream product and then view the virtual and photo realistic 3D model in real time.”

An example of the success of this for RTT is their roll out of over 400 configurators to Opel dealers in Germany in a kiosk-style appliance. Similar solutions have also been delivered to the likes of BMW and Audi.

The market for this so-called digital content creation is vast, and indeed growing. It’s a niche that is distinct from CAD, where RTT has its roots, and is predicted to have a value of some €4.3 billion by 2012.

RTT’s attack on the market is two pronged. These are the RTT Software and RTT Services groups, which combine to provide a client with software implementation, process consultations, integrated product marketing solutions at dealerships or exhibitions and also online platforms such as Web sites or microsites.

“At the heart of everything we do is RTT DeltaGen. It delivers real-time photorealistic display of 3D visualisations. It’s compatible with file formats of all the major professional CAD and CAS systems and can be used to work with and enliven each of these formats. It turns raw technical data into dynamic models, in real time. It’s the real time aspect that is the essence of everything we do. You don’t need to wait hours or days to render images or obserive changes in design.

“We combine that with RTT PictureBook, which is a workflow management solution. It allows customers to keep track of changes and details in a new product’s development and design phase – Which version is the latest? Where are the earlier versions and who worked on which details? – All of these issues are solved.”

“A really nice example of this in action is our work with Adidas. It works with many different materials – an unbelievably huge number of fabrics and textiles. We created an individual software solution that allows them to easily and quickly visualise complex materials with amazing realism.”

The work that RTT does puts it right at the bleeding edge the AV technology curve, especially when it comes to displaying for customers, and consumers the content it generates.

“We use a really diverse range of AV technologies in our applications from input and output devices to the processing units themselves. It’s important that we keep finding the newest things to keep our customers at the leading edge. On top of that we are also refining our software solutions all the time to put our visualisations in an even more perfect light.”

“Realistic visualisation is at the core of our business. Of course 3D, real time and an extremely high degree of realism are the essential ingredients of everything we do.

“In a media installation, we would consider all of these important, so we combine many different media types at once. For instance we may use a configurable 3D model, together with real materials and colour samples for the configuration itself.”

Looking forward, Michl identified several key areas of audiovisual technology which are particularly interesting.

“There are so many things out there at the moment. For example we are always looking for new ways to let both consumers and customers interact with the application. One way is via touch, we are currently working on applications that use Microsoft’s Surface technology.” An upgrade to this was recently announced at the South by Southwest technology event in the USA. “Multitouch is another thing and a further interface possibility is with gestures. These can make it really easy to manipulate and handle the models we generate.

“At the other end of the chain is the display. We are experimenting with projection technologies like holographic displays with technology partners such as Musion. 3D visualisation using the stereographic technologies are another area we are looking into. We are considering moving into cave style environments for really advanced product visualisation of more complex designs.”

Michl concluded by summing up RTT’s aims.“Our range of customised solutions are tailored to support each phase of the business cycle from product development to actual marketing of the final solution. We assist our customers by fine-tuning software, hardware and processes, freeing them up to focus on the core business of developing and selling great products. AV technologies are absolutely central to this at every stage.”

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