HP Thinks in 3D for Web Browsing

PALO ALTO, Calif. — You are traveling through a dimly lit maze of brick walls with various posters looming back at you. Suddenly, you turn to view one and with a click of a mouse, a movie starts playing.

It’s not the latest video game – it’s Hewlett-Packard’s future vision of shopping online.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based computer and printer maker recently unveiled its VEDA (virtual environment design automation) project to the press. The OpenGL and XML-based application is used as a visualization database that can be viewed in 3D to create online stores that you can walk through on your monitor, browsing through rooms of items sorted by your category of choice.

Inspired by first-person video games, the demo showed some eerily similar qualities to shooting games like Doom and Quake. However, HP Labs research scientists Nelson Chang and Amir Said assured there were no mutants or monsters crouching behind the turns, only endless possibilities for enterprise.

“Here you have an interface that a 10-year-old kid could understand,” said Chang. “Instead of a static Web page, you have interactive content that appeals to users visual senses and adds the benefits of physical stores to online stores.”

Chang said VEDA’s backend software creates a framework for rich media including audio, video, and 3D models, which could be manipulated. The demo simulated a trip through HP’s product catalogue including cameras and other materials that could be viewed 360-degrees. The virtual store could also be approached at the floor level or from a third-person overhead advantage point, allowing the user to skip to other sections without getting lost.

While the application could currently be used as a plug-in on a standard Web browser like Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape, the short-term solution is to put the database on a CD first.

“This is for certain applications such as e-commerce,” said Chang. “This is really optimized for images, but just how far can we go gets even more complicated. Mapping into documents is possible but visually un-interesting.

Chang and Said agreed that while today’s computers have more powerful graphics capabilities and that 3D interfaces were becoming more common, the biggest barrier to making VEDA a really useful too on the Web is bandwidth constraints.

“We see some compromise when you use lower speeds. You would need more than DSL or cable,” Said told internetnews.com. “What happens at slow speeds is that you would see a placeholder for a graphic as you move around the environment. The high-res photos become less fluid and more pixilated.

The concept of browsing the Web in 3D is not entirely new. Companies like Browse3D and 2ce with its CubicEye platform are making headway. But, HP says its version incorporates more advanced technologies.

“It could run on the Internet but then could go all the way to HDTV with two videos playing at the same time,” Said added.

HP said it has filed about a dozen patents in reference to VEDA that would copyright associating 3D environments with XML metadata. Currently, the Lab plans testing the system in the real world with retailers like Wal-Mart.

The company says the next step is to let their marketing team find ways of getting people to use the platform.

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