Editor’s note: Every year for the past 50 years, Siggraph has delivered academic, scientific, and commercialized research into visual technologies. For the past several years, much of this has focused on spatial computing. This year, thought leader and AR Insider contributor Charlie Fink attended in his signature roving-enthusiast style, covering as much ground as possible and absorbing as much knowledge and XR action as he can. Here are his highlights from this year’s show… 

Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang Delivers Triumphant Keynote. “In 2018, we bet the company on AI,” he said. It has paid off handsomely. He introduced several new products and partnerships, some already announced. Most importantly, he introduced GH (aka “Grace Hopper”) a super chip for AI, which Huang described as computing’s “killer app.” The chip is ten times faster, much cheaper, and has lower power requirements. Huang emphasized the democratizing effects of AI. “Everybody can do this,” He said several times.

Other Siggraph Highlights: the new Dreamscape free-roam experience, “Clockwork Forest,” comes straight from their labs in Geneva. The adventure represents an important technology pivot away from backpack PCs. The new technology is the result of a massive R&D effort from Vicon and Artanim, the Swiss research institute behind Dreamscape’s VR tech platform. The benefits of markerless are tremendous across all motion capture applications, from Hollywood VFX, AAA games, and life sciences and engineering. The technology is still in its prototype stage and is not yet available to market. The experience will be open to the public at Dreamscape’s LA location beginning early August.

Siggraph’s 50th Anniversary Time Tunnel. An immersive experience, maybe a hundred feet long, showed animated projections on both walls illustrating the milestone developments of the computer graphics industry. ACM, the academic organization which puts on the show, Autodesk and a student team at the University of California, Santa Barbara, created the immersive exhibit.

Mort Heilig’s Sensorama, in all its mechanical glory, was on display. USC’s Scott Fisher told me they’re still restoring the fiberglass and wood hull, which contains a movie projector and the smell-o-vision apparatus. They used a Quest 2 to demonstrate the films, which Heilig made by lashing two movie cameras together to create the stereographic effect. The smellovision was delivered by the attendant.

In addition to restoring the Sens-o-rama cabinet, Heilig’s six janky films have to be restored. The two I saw consisted of a dizzying handheld frolic with a beautiful girl on the California coast and a 60 mph motorcycle ride through 1956 New York. Heilig was selling the immersive movie theater for $6,000 ($67,000 today). At $.25 per play, a Sens-o-rama cabinet would need to generate 24,000 plays to break even. Does the machine below look like it’s capable of running a one minute film 24,000 times, or even 100 times? Insanely impractical, the Sensorama is an idea whose time still hasn’t come.

Also featured was the famous Ivan Sutherland 1968 demo recreating his lab and first VR experiences. Again it is recreated in VR on the Quest. As you can imagine, it was very short and crude.

Charlie Fink is the author of the AR-enabled books “Metaverse,” (2017) and “Convergence” (2019). In the early 90s, Fink was EVP & COO of VR pioneer Virtual World Entertainment. He teaches at Chapman University in Orange, CA.

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