Monday, March 26, 2012

Augmented reality thermal imaging

IR: Watch the YouTube video
Augmented reality (AR) presents a live view of the real world whose elements are augmented by computer-generated data such as sound or graphics. The technology promises to enhance the user's current perception of reality. AR is considered as an extension of virtual reality (VR). But unlike VR that replaces the real world with a simulated one, AR bridges and takes advantage of the real world and the simulated world.

Augmentation is conventionally in real-time and in semantic context with environmental elements. With the help of AR technology, the information about the surrounding real world of the user becomes digitally manipulable. Artificial information about the environment and its objects can be overlaid on the real world to achieve seamless effects and user experiences.

Our NSF-funded Mixed-Reality (MR) Labs Project has set out to explore how AR/MR technologies can support "augmented inquiry" to help students learn abstract concepts that cannot be directly seen or felt in purely hands-on lab activities.

AR: Watch the YouTube video
One of the first classes of prototype we have built is what we call "Augmented Reality Thermal Imaging." The concepts related to heat and temperature are somehow difficult to some students because thermal energy is invisible to the naked eye. Thermal energy can now be visualized using infrared (IR) imaging. But we have developed AR technology that provides another means of "seeing" thermal energy and its flow.

The first image in this post shows an IR image of a poster board heated by a hair dryer. The second image shows a demo of AR thermal imaging: When a hair dryer blows hot air to a liquid crystal display (LCD), the AR system reacts as if hot air could flow into the screen and leave a trace of heat on the screen, just like what we see in the IR image above. You may click the links below the images to watch the recorded videos.

The tricky part of MR Labs is that, in order to justify the augmentation of a computer simulation to a physical activity, the simulation should be a good approximation of what happens in the real world. We used our computational fluid dynamics (CFD) program, Energy2D, to accomplish this. There are many more demos of MR Labs using Energy2D, which can be viewed at this website.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Energy2D: Computational fluid dynamics at your fingertips

Online Energy2D simulations
Energy2D is our signature software for simulating heat transfer and fluid dynamics. Fifty online simulations are now available to the world through Energy2D's website. These simulations run speedily on most computers, bringing a vivid, colorful world of science to your computer screen and allowing you to experiment with them.

All these simulations can be downloaded for editing, provided that you have also installed the standalone Energy2D software on your computer (you don't need it to run the online simulations--only when you need to edit or create a simulation will you need to install it). The editing interface still has limited functionalities, but we are hoping to make it ten times better in the future.

One of our next steps is to make a version that runs on Android. This will allow the simulations you have created to run on tablets and smartphones as well. Work is also underway to include other energy flows and transformations to enrich the natural phenomena it can simulate, and to integrate data from sensors to enable richer user interfaces.

The National Science Foundation provides the funding to make this possible.