Through steady improvements in hardware as well as in graphics algorithms, three-dimensional (3D) computer graphics is rapidly changing from an esoteric and expensive specialty to a commodity, just as 2D graphics did when Apple released the Macintosh in 1984. 3D graphics has already become an essential tool in both science and industry for analysis, design, production, and exploration, as well as in the latest video games. Nonetheless, 2D GUIs (often called the WIMP interface, for windows, icons, menus, and pointing) are still dominant even for 3D applications. We believe that new user-interface technology, such as the Center's pioneering 3D widgets [CONN92], can be far more productive for 3D applications than WIMP GUIs.
We have developed 3D interaction techniques (or 3D widgets) for NASA, for use in visualizing and navigating scientific visualization environments. New accomplishments include an innovative interaction technique for context-sensitive 3D probing. We have implemented a prototype of this new widget functionality that gives the user finer positioning control of a widget near dynamic areas in a dataset (e.g., near reference surfaces). These 3D interface tools are now being used in the University of Utah's SCIRun system [PARK95] and at NASA.
Our long-term goal is to make user interaction with computer-based objects at least as easy as interaction with comparable real-world objects, particularly for familiar tasks. The strategy for achieving this goal is threefold:
* Focus on building interfaces for tasks in which speed of interaction is the essential feature of the real-world phenomenon (e.g., sketching designs on paper).
* Take advantage of the user's previously learned skills and experiences (e.g., ability to express ideas symbolically through graphical and gestural idioms such as architectural floor plans and hand waving).
* Evaluate our interfaces by studying the performance of users familiar with complex end-to-end tasks in an application area. We study the complex interrelationships among composite interaction techniques applied to real-world, non-trivial tasks.
* Center interaction research involves collaboration among multiple sites and with other universities. The Center's efforts have influenced commercial products (e.g., Silicon Graphics" Open Inventor and Caligari's True Space)
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