CeBIT 2010: CSIRO showcases augmented reality

CSIRO's augmented reality research paves the way for teleoperation of industrial machinery

CSIRO's biggest device at CeBIT this year is an augmented reality system that researchers have lovingly nicknamed "the tank". The showcased panoramic dome knits together live feeds from several cameras embedded in the convention centre's ceiling, giving users an almost three-dimensional view of the convention floor.

The display is also interactive. CSIRO's researchers have developed software that allows for additional information to be called up on screen in the form of moving text and pop-up videos. The demonstration of the technology showed RFID "people trackers", which were used to track the position of Members of Parliament during the convention.

CSIRO researcher, Ken Taylor, told Computerworld Australia that while the costs for such a setup were incredibly prohibitive for consumer applications - each camera in the system can cost up to $15,000 - there remained a number of industrial applications, such as teleoperation of heavy machinery for mines and shipyards, for which the costs would be practical.

The organisation is developing a control system for its augmented reality setup that will provide operators with the same sensory inputs that they would experience on the ground via force feedback and audio sampling. Unfortunately, lag times still remain an issue with the system, one that researchers hope to iron out in the upcoming months.

"Force feedback can only withstand a very short amount of lag because of instability," Taylor said. "Visual feedback is more resistant to lag because people go to a 'move and wait' strategy, but it does slow down their productivity."

Taylor said the technology at its current level would best suit conditions where control is kept local, with humans only making high-level decisions.

CSIRO recently was awarded the Clunies Ross Award for its work on WiFi technologies. The organisation will also be showcasing its smart mini-meter at CeBIT this year.

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