German researchers have developed a virtual chainsaw for a tool manufacturer. By using the concept of 'mixed reality,' which combines the real world and virtual reality, they've created a simulation tool to train workers to use dangerous tools with no risk to be harmed. As they said, 'It looks like a chainsaw. It feels like a chainsaw. It sounds like a chainsaw. And yet it only saws virtually.' The researchers added that the 'Cybersaw' is so intuitive that it can be used to train workers without the need to train them to use it. But read more...
As you can see above, the Cybersaw users can use it "on a virtual sawhorse located in an idyllic farm environment" (Credit: Fraunhofer IGD). Here is a link to a larger version of this image.
The Cybersaw was developed at the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics (IGD) in Darmstadt for DOLMAR, a chainsaw manufacturer. The lead developer was Dipl.-Designer Michael Zöllner who gives more information about the mixed reality chainsaw on his personal web page.
So how does the system work? "As soon as the starter is pulled, the motor starts to roar. With the saw screaming in his hand, the operator applies the real cutting bar to a Perspex tree trunk in front of him. But what he sees, on a projection screen behind the Perspex tree trunk, is a sawhorse in the midst of an idyllic farm scene. He can watch on the screen as the chain blade saws through the tree trunk, whilst with his hands he can feel the resistance of the pine wood and the vibration of the saw."
[Note: Perspex is a thermoplastic and transparent plastic sold by Lucite International. For more information, please check this page at Wikipedia.]
Here are additional details about how the Cybersaw was designed. "Computerized vision software takes care of the optical perception: 'There is a camera attached to the Perspex tree trunk. Via light-emitting diodes on the cutting bar, the camera determines the saw's precise position and transmits it to the virtual image of the chainsaw that can be seen on the screen,' explains Michael Zöllner, who developed the Cybersaw. Further extra features give the Cybersaw a completely natural feeling: The researchers have replaced the tool's motor and carburetor by electronics and vibration motors, with the result that holding the saw feels just like holding a real chainsaw in operation. The movable Perspex tree trunk offers the saw the resistance of the wood, and the simulated sound of a whining motor allows the operator to become totally immersed in the lumberjack’s world.
Here is a link to Fraunhofer IGD's Mixed Reality Chainsaw Simulation project. And here is a pretty nice description of the user experience. "At the beginning the user sees and hears the farm scene. A tractor parks in the yard, cats are sitting in front of the door, in the background cows are lowing and birds are singing. The user raises the real chainsaw and starts it by pulling the starter. The silence is being replaced by the loud noise of the engine. The motor howls when the throttle is pulled.
The camera zooms on the sawhorse and a 3D model of the chainsaw moves over it analog to the real chainsaw's movements in the user's hands. As soon as the guide bar applies pressure on the tube and the chainsaw accelerates one sees how it saws into the virtual log and chips are flying around. After cutting through the log the resulting slize and its weight is presented on the projection screen."
Finally, is this possible to use this concept of mixed reality to other areas? Apparently yes, because the researchers are now working "on the development of medical simulation environments in which health professionals can practice handling endoscopes. In this way they are not only optically immersed in a virtual patient’s body, but can also feel when they hit a vessel wall, for instance."
Sources: Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft Research News, August 2007; and various websites
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