3D Data Visualization

Data visualization in 2D is what we have done most of our lives. Till recently, I viewed 3D as a medium for understanding and manipulating complex structures (say molecules, genes, architectural maps etc) both for academic and commercial use. With mashups, came the concept that you could intermix n-dimensional data (like OLAP) in a Web 2.0 environment. IBM’s ManyEyes uses this data to create 2D and 3D chart visualizations.

However, 3D visualization common use application still eludes me. I remember, as far as 10-12 years back, someone talked to me about “walking” into an Oracle database as an administrator and using hands to reorganize tablespaces, compress them and many other administrative actions. Years later, I watched Michael Douglas in Disclosure moving around a 3D file system and Tom Cruise and team waving life-videos and geo-spatial data on screens looking like a sheet of glass (I think it was in Minority Report).

Now Green Phosphor has come out with 3D technology based on the Content Injection and Control Protocol (CICP), sort of a “http for virtual worlds“, that merges excel data or database query outputs with 3D representations in a virtual world.

But I still struggle with possible applications. My friend Sid, at Indusgeeks, and his wonderful team, are looking at immersive and interactive 3D learning spaces for learning and collaboration.

What makes sense for me is not “representational” 3D (i.e. 3D visualization that depicts n-dimensional data visually), but “meaningful, context driven” 3D. For example, real time data about movement of whales in the oceans could be merged with a virtual ocean world where students could come and explore, replete with ocean and whale sounds, measurement techniques and tools etc. Or for that matter, a data center created on the fly for practice on measurements of power and cooling, from data that represents servers, power units, HVACs etc. These systems mirror real-life in ways that can go beyond the real life experience (e.g. walk inside a server or inside an artery). But they are also limited by the amount of kinesthetic immersion they can supply.

What is also interesting now is the availability of mobile phones with graphics accelerator cards built in. Imagine having a virtual world experience on your mobile phone. Look at Imageon. In fact, technologies are emerging today that allow you to use your mobile phone to click an image and have a backend system process indexed image (and possibly video) databases to return to you information related to that image. Imagine never having to be lost again or to click a product picture in a electronics store and get all the information and reviews related to that item.

In 3D terms, imagine being in a virtual world that reconstructs the actual background environment that each participant is coming from – one driving his car while in the conference, the other in her office, the third on the field at the scene of action, each being able to access and share information.

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