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Focus 2001

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ICICS—Exploring Human Experience to Create Better Technology
fT J*H  2*   I(lnl
*t Some of the key ICICS investigators left to right, front row: Rabab Ward, Jim
Varah, Sid Fels, KD Srivastava. Back row (l-r): Nick Pippenger, Raymond Ng, Alan
Mackworth, Dale Cherchas, Kelly Booth, Clarence de Silva, and Victor teung.
$22 million in funding is transforming CICSR into ICICS, UBC's Institute for Computing, Information & Cognitive Systems
When we sit down at our computer in the morning, it is difficult to
imagine that less than twenty years ago PCs and laptops didn't exist.
The fax machine was revolutionary. Newspapers were still typeset by
hand. Like any relationship, the one between humans and computers
has had its ups and downs. Computers and related technology have
transformed the way we work, communicate, create, learn, and play.
They have increased productivity, put a wealth of information at our
fingertips and connected us across the globe. They have also increased
workloads and learning curves, caused repetitive strain injuries, and
led to isolation and new addictions. For better or worse, they are now
an integral and increasingly intrinsic part of our lives. During the past
two decades, humans have been scrambling to catch up, keep up and
adapt to new technologies.
To transform the way we use, design and interact with machines
and technologies requires a major conceptual shift—one that focuses
on studying, understanding and communicating human experience.
"ICICS will foster collaborations between researchers from all disciplines,
particularly those studying health, emotions, social interactions, and
our relationship with the environment," says principal investigator
Rabab Ward. It is a vision that is strongly supported. The ICICS
proposal received over $22 million in funding: $8.85 million from the
Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI), matched by $8.85 million
from BC's Knowledge Innovation Fund, and $4.5 million from UBC's
Blusson Research Fund.
ICICS spans all disciplines
The process of writing the proposal took over a year and a half,
and involved more than 80 faculty members. Jim Varah, professor of
Computer Science, and KD Srivastava, vice-president emeritus and
former ECE head, both helped author the proposal (which had 10
senior applicants and 120 co-applicants). Not only was the initiative
lauded for its innovation and vision, the breadth of disciplines
involved will make ICICS one of the most comprehensive and
continued on page 6
Spring 2001 Vol. 12, No. 1
Spearheading System-on-a-Chip 3
Cutting Through Contradiction 4
Orchestrating Harmony 5
Capturing our Attention 6
Embracing Embodiment 7
Going Against the Flow 8
Computer Visionaries 9
Geometry of Shadows and Light 10 AnneCondon (left)
and Rabab Ward   I
Computer Science professor and CICSR
member Anne Condon (profiled in
Focus, Spring 2000) is currently the
Acting Director of CICSR while I am on
sabbatical. Anne has agreed to take on
these extra responsibilities during an
exciting time. In fact, we have so much
news that we have expanded this issue
of Focusto twelve pages.
The biggest story is CICSR's
transformation into ICICS. With $22
million in funding from CFI, the
Province and UBC, our research will
now involve collaboration with disciplines from across campus. The cover
article and inside spread describes the
process, the initiative, the infrastructure,
and some of the groundbreaking work
that is being conducted under the
ICICS umbrella.
The other major story is about
people—the talented new faculty
members that have recentlyjoined
CICSR. Most have come to UBC from
academic or industry positions in
Europe and the US. This issue features
Ian Frigaard (non-Newtonian fluid
dynamics), Wolfgang Heidrich (interactive computer graphics), Holger Hoos
(artificial intelligence, computational
musicology, bioinformatics), Tim Menzies
(artificial intelligence), Ron Rensink
(computational studies and psychophys-
ics), Resve Saleh (System-on-a-Chip), and
new ME head Nimal Rajapakse (smart
materials). You will also read about a
CICSR/UBC spin-off success story, Point
Grey Research. Their work in computer
vision technology is capturing the
attention of companies worldwide.
Rabab Ward, CICSR Director
New ME Head Pioneers Smart Structures
"This is a dynamic department with a great group of colleagues,
excellent students and very helpful staff."
When he speaks of "active control," Nimal Rajapakse is referring to an essential feature of smart
structures. But the term could also apply to his philosophy of work and life. UBC's new head
of Mechanical Engineering is committed to the core values of his job: excellence in teaching
and research, innovation and collegiality. In 2000, the Canadian
Society for Civil Engineering awarded him the Horst Leipholz
Medal for his outstanding contributions to engineering mechanics
Rajapakse came to UBC from the University of Manitoba, where
he was also department head. "This is a dynamic department with a
great group of colleagues, excellent students and very helpful staff,"
he says. "Research today is increasingly interdisciplinary and ICICS's
infrastructure really supports this." Rajapakse's research—modelling
of adaptive (smart) materials—involves continuum mechanics,
material science, physics, and mathematics, as well as extensive
computer-aided simulation.
Smart structures sense and adapt to change through a system of embedded sensors and
actuators made out of adaptive (smart) materials. These structures are of particular interest to
the defence and aerospace industries, which are committing considerable funding to this area
of research, particularly in Europe, Japan and the US. NSERC and Manitoba Hydro have
been funding Rajapakse's smart structures research since 1995.
Rajapakse's particular area of expertise is in piezoelectric/ferroelectric solids, crystalline
materials that exhibit unique behaviour under mechanical loading (pressure) or the application
of electricity. When subjected to pressure they create electricity (this is the concept behind
sensors). Conversely, subjecting these solids to an electric field generates a strain in the material
(the concept behind actuators). Since they can be used as both sensors and actuators, piezoelectric solids are very important to the design of smart structures. They are also used in thin
film applications involving microelectromechanical systems.
One example of these applications is helicopter blades with embedded piezoelectric
actuators for adaptive shape (camber) and vibration control. Another is the active control of
vibrations in space structures. Smart materials also have important applications in civil engineering, particularly in structural problems related to earthquakes. They could also provide a
more comfortable driving experience. "A smart suspension system in a car could sense the
profile of the road and provide better control and comfort," says Rajapakse, referring to a
recent application of piezoelectric ceramics by a leading automaker. Smart skis can even take
the edge off of moguls. Nimal Rajapakse is at rajapakse@mech.ubc.ca or at (604) 822-0497
Recent books by CICSR members
Yusuf Altintas, Manufacturing Automation: Metal Cutting
Mechanics, Machine Tool Vibrations, and CNC Design
(Cambridge University Press, 2000).
—— UTttUffllF ■
jt      HHMIHE5   1
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Clarence de Silva, Intelligent Machines—Myths and Realities
(CRC Press, 2000); and Vibration—Fundamentals and
Practice (CRC Press, 2000).
FOCUS Spearheading System-on-a-Chip
Resve Saleh's mission is to create a world-leading research centre for System-on-a-Chip design,
testing and verification.
The widening gap between technology and
productivity is fuelling a revolution in silicon
chip design. Advances in deep submicron
technology (DSM) have escalated the
amount of logic, circuitry and functions that
can be designed into chips. Currently,
hundreds of millions of transistors can be put
on a single chip, and this is predicted to
increase to one billion before the end of the
decade. "The problem is the number of
transistors that designers can build in a day is
not increasing significantly," says Electrical and
Computer Engineering professor Resve Saleh.
He believes we need to change the way chips
are constructed to solve this productivity gap.
Challenges to SoC
The concept of System-on-a-Chip (SoC)
is simple. A computer chip is made up of
several blocks, many of which perform
standard functions. Instead of redesigning
the blocks that control functions such as
memory, interface blocks and processing
units, they would be reused. However, there
are several hurdles to overcome before SoC is
feasible. Since technology changes so rapidly,
what works on today's design may not work
on subsequent ones. And the concept of
reuse is not built into chip design because of
the cost, effort and the time it takes to get to
Another challenge to SoC is the technology itself. Designers have to work at a higher
level of abstraction. Putting transistors closer
together and driving more current through
them results in more coupling and substrate
noise and other undesired electrical effects.
"The next generation of designers must
understand what's going on both at the
system level, and at the silicon level," says
Saleh. In order to train designers to work in
SoC, his current course in DSM integrated
circuit design will become a permanent part
of the curriculum.
Perhaps SoC's biggest challenge is integrating digital and analog components on a single
Resve Saleh is a member of the International Roadmap of Semiconductors Committee.
chip. More analog blocks are
required for wireless, LAN and
packet processing applications,
and analog requires more voltage
and different processing optimization than digital circuitry. It also
works best in quiet environments.
Digital circuitry, which constantly
switches from low to high
voltage, is very noisy. "David Pulfrey of the
SoC group is exploring these issues in his
research," notes Saleh.
QoS and programmable IP
Designing reusable intellectual property
blocks involves issues of legality, licensing,
"Just putting things on a
-"-:_ and hooking them
>gether doesn't
guarantee that it will
work. In fact, right now it
probably guarantees
that it won't work."
management, storage, and
retrieval. And standards
must still be developed so
that third party IP will be
compatible with proprietary design blocks. Quality
of Service (QoS) priorities
are also difficult to establish
when industry standards
are constantly changing.
Along with Steve Wilton and Andre
Ivanov, Saleh is working to develop programmable IP blocks with on-chip testing
capability, and Computer Science colleague
Alan Hu is investigating issues of high-level
verification of SoC design, continued on back page
Spring 2001 Cutting Through Contradiction in New Software Models
Tim Menzies uses AI tools to find key testing variables in the complex chaos of software code.
The concept of using randomized search for
software testing still raises indignation—and
eyebrows—among many software engineers,
who prefer to use established methods to
ensure that software products are reliable and
predictable. However, they face an increasingly daunting challenge. As software
requirements increase, so does complexity,
and testing involves solving extremely
difficult NP-hard problems (computationally
intractable problems for which there are no
known efficient algorithms) or trying to find
the best possible solution within a web of
variables and possibilities. In the dog-eat-dog
dot.com world, software developers simply
don't have the time or money for traditional
Studying ants to understand software
"Pragmatically, we know that 60 to 80
percent of the requirements of any system
appears after the first version of software has
been fielded," says cognitive scientist Tim
Menzies. "Whatever picture you have at the
start is at best 20 to 40 percent correct."
Menzies explores how quirks in human
cognition affect the process of software and
knowledge engineering. Of all the variables in
software design, the greatest are human
factors such as having different designers with
their own approaches and concerns working
on the same product. "Yet somehow, reasonably good software is produced most of the
time," he says.
He and Computer Science colleague
Holger Hoos are part of a group of researchers
who are studying the self-organizing behaviour of ant colonies to try and unravel the
shape of software and the mystery of why, as
a rule, it works so well. "If we try to describe
software as pathways, are they expressways or
tangled spaghetti?" Menzies asks. The answer
seems to be a bit of both, and the emergent
behaviour of ants provides a clue to the
inherent order in software's randomness.
Consider the apparent chaos of an ant colony.
When forager ants search for food they lay
down a trail of pheromones. The other ants
follow the scent of the forager that returns
first, and this becomes the expressway to the
food source.
Now, imagine software as ants running in
a maze, or trying to get from the head to the
feet of a skeleton. There are things the ants
don't know about the space they are exploring, and they have differences of opinion
as to the best way to get from point A
to point B. Should they go down one
arm, or another, or down the spine?
Eventually, they will choose the spine.
Menzies is interested in settling these
"arguments" in software design by
helping developers sift through redundant options to find the pathway of least
resistance. His "funnel theory" shows how
this narrow "software backbone" contains
variables that appear in every solution,
producing an expressway out of the spaghetti
of code. Simple machine learners can explore
software with funnels to automatically find
order within the apparent chaos.
Tarzan: finding pathways in ajungle of code
"The surprising observation is that if you
troll the space of possibilities, you will usually
find a small number of master variables that
control the rest of the show," says Menzies.
He is currently working with Marcus Feather
and NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab on requirement engineering for deep space missions.
Flight software has to be highly reliable and
there are always early life-cycle decisions
where people disagree.
Menzies' early life-cycle assessment
tool, called Tarzan, can sift through
millions of combinations to determine
which ones offer the most direct
pathway to the best solution. He notes
that Tarzan's ability "to swing through
decision trees" has many other software
Menzies believes that most software code
inherently generates these expressways. "If
you think about how complex the universe
is, and how many options we face each day
and how we manage to muddle on through,
either we have some wonderful control over
the universe, or there is more order in its
randomness than we thought. My money is
on the universe."
Tim Menzies can be reached at
timm@ece.ubc.ca or at (604) 822-3381
Assistant Professor of
Electrical and Computer
Engineering, Tim Menzies is
also co-founder and organizer
of WISE, the international
Workshop on Intelligent
Software Engineering.
mi m Computer scientist, musician, theorist, scuba
diver—Holger Hoos is truly a man of the
post-modern renaissance. His ability to thrive
in both research and creative environments
has led to a unique cross-pollination of
research interests. A bassoonist who played
regularly with several ensembles in Germany
before coming to UBC, Hoos admits that
music has influenced much of his research.
"The department here is fantastic. I think
ICICS will provide great opportunities for me
to tie all of these interests together," he says.
Hard problems & stochastic search
Hoos' initial research was on the
satisfiability problem (SAT), a prototypical
hard (NP-complete) combinatorial problem,
which involves a number of logical variables
connected with "and" and "or." SAT plays a
central role in three key areas of computer
science: theory and computational complexity, artificial intelligence and automated
reasoning, and hardware design and
verification. As software systems and their
underlying algorithms become more complex,
rigorous theoretical analysis is increasingly
difficult. Although it is possible to see and
analyze each line of code, it is often next to
impossible to predict the global behaviour of
algorithms, and this is critical in being able to
apply or improve software systems.
Along with Electrical and Computer
Engineering colleague Tim Menzies, Hoos is a
pioneer in the emergent field of empirical
computer science. "Tim and I tend to view
certain algorithms and systems as physical or
biological phenomena, where you don't really
know, or care, what happens at the most
detailed level. Yet you can observe, hypothesize and model the system's behaviour, and
then test it through further experiments," he
says. For example, stochastic search algorithms use randomized decisions that can
actually increase the efficiency of the search.
However, the resulting behaviour is very
complex and can often only be analyzed    i
empirically. He and Menzies draw on
biological models such as Ant Colony
Optimization to try to build a theory on how
stochastic search techniques can solve NP-
hard problems faster and more efficiently.
Hoos' interest in biology dates back to his
undergrad studies at TU Darmstadt in
Germany. Along with Computer Science
Bassoonist and Assistant Professor of Computer
Science, Holger Hoos is also co-organizer of the
IJCAI Workshops on Stochastic Search Algorithms
and Empirical Methods in Artificial Intelligence.
colleagues Anne Condon, Nick Pippenger
and David Kirkpatrick, Hoos recently
founded the Bioinformatic, Empirical and
Theoretical Algorithms Laboratory (6-Lab) at
UBC. Bioinformatics is a new field of study
that combines research in molecular biology,
computer databases and algorithms in order
to facilitate biological research, particularly in
the field of genomics. Hoos, Condon and 6-
Lab colleagues are working on projects such
as inverse RNA folding, DNA word design,
and phylogenetic analysis for environmental
ecology applications.
Computational musicology
Hoos' work in computational musicology
involve^ollaborations with colleagues across
campus, including Keith Hamel from the
^j^hool of Music. Hoos developed the guido
Music Notation Format to represent music
(and the parameters of duration, tone, pitch,
and instrumentation) at a logical level in an
electronic, humanly-readable form. The
motivation for GUIDO came from his early
work on SALIERI, a software environment
that supports the computer-assisted composition, manipulation and analysis of music. In
addition to being able to quickly transpose,
edit, listen to music, and see the score, the
user/composer can create computer music
from mathematical concepts or even biological sequences. "One exciting example is you
can render DNA sequences musically, and
this can complement our visual perception of
this kindrof data in a most enthralling way."
Does Hoos still find time to play bassoon?
"I really miss playing, but bassoonists are
pretty rare so I'm confident that I will find an
ensemble to play with," he says. "The only
thing that's not ideal about my situation here
is I am involved in too many interesting
Holger Hoos can be reached at
hoos@cs.ubc.ca or at (604) 822-1964
Spring 2001 Capturing our Attention
To Ron Rensink, seeing is not necessarily perceiving. He is one of several new CICSR
members whose study of human experience is key to ICICS.
How does a magician mesmerize? What
processes are or aren't at work that allow us to
be convinced by "now you see it, now you
don't" sleight of hand? Why do we sometimes
simply not see things that are right in front of
us—like a car bumper, for instance? An
assistant professor in Computer Science and
Psychology, Ron Rensink's work in attentive
and pre-attentive processes is unravelling some
of the riddles of perception and consciousness.
Rensink came to this field of study by a
rather circuitous route. After completing his
master's degree in theoretical physics at ubc
he went on to study AI and computer vision.
"I was inspired by Bob Woodham to talk to
researchers who study real vision," says
Rensink. He began working with Anne
Treisman and later Jim Enns in the Department of Psychology and this led to a postdoc
at Harvard's Vision Sciences Lab. Rensink's
work in computational studies and psycho-
physics led him to discover that the processes
involved in human sight—such as interpreting three-dimensional curvature, depth and
surface properties—are much more complex
than originally thought.
Looking without seeing
From Harvard, Rensink went to work for
Cambridge Basic Research (CBR), a collaboration between MIT, Harvard and Nissan.
There he studied the issue of invisibility or
why so many drivers involved in traffic
accidents claim not to have seen what was
right in front of them. At first it was thought
the phenomenon was caused by poor
visibility. "It turns out it is attentional," says
Rensink. "You actually have to focus your
attention on the thing that is changing in
order to see it, otherwise you will effectively
be blind to the change no matter how large it
That means if a driver in front of you puts
on the brakes, and you are changing a CD, or
talking on a cell phone (as a recent ICBC
study has confirmed), you probably won't
notice until you actually focus your attention
on the brake lights. And with cars becoming
continued on page 11
ICICS continued from page 7
unique interdisciplinary research institutes in the world, and bring together researchers
from the faculties of Applied Science, Arts, Commerce, Dentistry Education, Forestry
Medicine, Pharmacy and Science.
The new ICICS facility is scheduled for completion in the 2002-2003 academic year. Its
space and equipment will support research that consists of three overlapping components:
human communications technologies, multi-agent systems and global information systems.
The largest infrastructure component will be a fully-equipped human communications
technology laboratory that will include a human observation and measurement lab, a
virtual reality room and a fully instrumented system demonstration lab. A robust, high
bandwidth intra- and inter-building communication network—complete with manipulators and robots—will explore multi-agent technology. A parallel router/switching facility will
support research in global information systems.
The research undertaken at ICICS will have applications in e-commerce, education,
engineering, entertainment, linguistics, medicine, and psychology. "The breadth of
disciplines that are represented is quite unique," says Srivastava. For example, the large
amount of funding available for IT research in the US means that most of their academic
institutions tend to specialize in certain areas. ICICS's founders all agree that improving
human-computer interaction begins with improving interaction between people—and this
means bringing researchers together under one well-equipped roof.
"We want to change
ICICS infrastructure
The new 30,000 sq. ft. ICICS facility will include
4 Onyx II Infinite Reality Systems for real-time
image generation
Optotrak for high-speed tracking in the Human
/leasurement Studio
Mew '
■ Electromagnetic Articulograph (EMA) for trackii
the human face and tongue
■ 6 degrees-of-freedom tracking devices, body suits,
cybergloves and stereo head-mounted displays for
virtual reality and interactive visualization projects
■ Staubli AX170 Unimation and CRS A465 Ind. Robotic
robots for intelligent multi-agent systems research
■ 2 fully wired and switchable large video projection
rooms with high-quality audio
■ Research infrastructure for file services, online A/V
services, backups, and multimedia production
the focus of our research so that human needs come first,"
FOCUS Sid Fels:"I think an artist goes through a similar
process as an engineer in that both are involved
with bringing an idea into existence—into
something you can see, hear, use, or appreciate."
Scientist and
Ron Rensink is
helping to
design simpler,
more effective
interfaces for
complex tasks.
e^l^TJ^ ctc^ (&*>
Embracing Embodiment
"Technology is driving a way of thinking that was not possible
before/' says Sid Fels."And this is changing how we define
ourselves and our tools/'
Electrical and computer engineer
and media performance artist, Sid
Fels spends a lot of time thinking
about the nature of technology and
our relationship with it. One of the
ten principal researchers on the
ICICS proposal, Fels explores issues
of embodiment and human-
computer interaction.
Forklift Ballet
Fels' multimedia dance collabora
tion, Forklift Ballet, was recently
performed in AcquiTerme, Italy.
In the piece, skilled drivers guide
electrical forklifts about the stage
in a semi-choreographed "ballet."
An accompanying musician
performs synthesized music by moving
two wands through space. The ballet
examines the way that people embody
technology. To drive a forklift with
proficiency and precision involves an
intimate relationship between human and
machine, where the machine becomes an
extension of the body and its use involves
both physical skill and expression. In
contrast, the musical wands are difficult to
embody, and the music they produce seems
somewhat devoid of expression beside the
graceful movements of the machines.
"The reason is that forklifts—and
conventional musical instruments—give you
force-feedback, so they really do become part
of your body," says Fels. He believes that
human aesthetic, physical and emotional
needs must be integrated into engineering
and design in order to develop more adaptive, intuitive and satisfying interfaces.
Modelling human speech
Fels has already created a system that
supports embodiment—Glove Talk II—
which allows users to talk with their hands
(see Focus Spring 1999). He and other ICICS
researchers, including Bryan Gick (PSYC) ,
Dinesh Pai (CS) and Kathy Pichora-Fuller
(AUDI), are working on articulatory speech
synthesis, which involves modelling human
speech to produce more natural-sounding
synthesized speech.
"Think of your vocal tract as an irregularly
shaped tube, with a tongue and uvula and
walls of muscle," says Fels. "Current
models condense those shapes into
simple circular cross-sectional areas." To
understand and model how our vocal
tract really works first involves
collecting data from imaging tools
such as x-rays, MRI, ultrasound, and
magnetic tracking of the tongue.
Airflow is then simulated through
the vocal tract and articulatory phonetics
is used to determine how movements of
the tongue, uvula, cheeks, and lips
change the shape of the vocal tract to
make different kinds of sound.
says CICSR director Rabab Ward.
Would an automated message be less
annoying if the voice sounded sincere?
Would the voice of an AI tutor be more
captivating if it sounded more human?
Possibly. Certainly avatars such as Britain's
Anna Nova or the late Max Headroom would
be more life-like. Since articulatory speech
synthesis connects the face and vocal tract
models, the facial movements would be
perfectly synchronized with speech.
"We know this is a major contributor to
the understanding of speech," says Fels. "We
believe that these articulation patterns will be
much easier for voice recognition systems to
use." And if it is easier for computers to
understand us, it will be easier to design
better voice-based interfaces.
Changing human-computer relationships
Whether developing AI applications or
creating new media performances, Fels
continued on backpage Going Against
the Flow
Ian Frigaard models complex
flow problems in non-Newtonian
fluids for industry partners.
When we squeeze a tube of toothpaste,
dollop whipped cream on a latte, or put gel
in our hair, we likely don't think of these
substances as "fluids" or consider the complex
properties that make them behave the way
they do. Most fluids are Newtonian, with
predictable behaviour and viscosity (or
resistance to flow when subjected to stress).
Non-Newtonian fluids (such as pastes and
gels) display such a complicated array of
properties that their errant behaviour still
eludes theorists. It is this very complexity that
fascinates new CICSR member Ian Frigaard.
"I am motivated by physically complex
engineering problems in which analysis
requires a mix of different mathematical
methods." Frigaard's concurrent academic/
industry experience played a crucial part in
directing his research. He completed his PhD
at Oxford while working for Alcan, and as a
postdoctoral student at Cambridge he
worked as an oil and gas research engineer
with Schlumberger. Both positions involved
the study of non-Newtonian fluids.
"Schlumberger is one of the few global
industrial companies with a dedicated
research facility for fluid mechanics," says
Frigaard. As a rule, companies tend to
contract out this type of research, which is
often conducted with university partners. He
says the challenge is for academic researchers
to understand what companies want, and for
industry to realize that solutions to complex
engineering problems require basic research.
Solving "mud problems"
One example is drilling for oil. Rotary
drilling involves controlling the complex
interaction between two non-Newtonian
fluids: drilling mud and cement. Drilling
mud is a weighted fluid that is circulated into
the well bore through the drill pipe. The
mud's hydrostatic pressure prevents water
and gas from seeping into the well and
causing blowouts or "gushers." It also carries
rock cuttings to the surface and lubricates
and cools the drill bit. However, wells usually
deliver oil, gas and water in continually
changing proportions, and developing
treatment fluids with the right viscosity and
weight to maintain the desired pressure
depends on continuously changing variables.
Modelling this complex flow behaviour is
critical to developing the right drilling mud
for the job.
In deep drilling, a series of progressively
smaller steel casings are inserted into the well
and cemented to the outer circumference of
the borehole to prevent the transfer of fluids
into the well. This method allows wells to be
drilled to depths of more than 9,000 meters
through rock formations that have fluid
pressures greater than 1,400 kilograms per
square centimetre. The difficulty is getting
the cement down into the well, which means
displacing one non-Newtonian fluid with
another. "The deeper you go, the less
flexibility you have on how fast you can
pump fluids," says Frigaard. "As the well
becomes narrower and more complex, its
changing geometry alters the fluid behaviour." The very characteristics of the mud, the
density and weight required for drilling,
make this displacement extremely difficult.
Frigaard is currently working with two UBC
grad students to help Schlumberger solve
these "mud problems."
Capping oil wells
A major concern for Canadian oil companies is pressure and leakage at the surface of
capped wells. To stop surface casing vent flows,
companies must first determine the depth of
the leakage, make a hole in the casing and then
inject it with cement. In addition, a series of
cement plugs must be inserted at various
depths of the well to seal the casing hole. Since
cement is heavier than the fluid beneath it, the
properties of the mud must be such that the
cement remains suspended on top and dries
and seals without falling down the well.
Frigaard's research is helping companies like
Schlumberger avoid the extensive cost of
repairing leaks by ensuring that their wells are
environmentally sound at the outset.
"The challenge is not necessarily in the
mathematics, but in its application to
complex problems, and this involves understanding the dynamics of the systems
involved," says Frigaard. "With the Pacific
Institute of Mathematical Sciences (PIMS)
and the Institute of Applied Mathematics
(IAM), UBC is one of the strongest places in
North America to pursue this kind of work."
Ian Frigaard is at (604) 822-1316 and
FOCUS Point Grey's Computer Visionaries
UBC spin-off Point Grey Research is trailblazing computer vision technology for a host of emerging
and yet-to-be-envisioned applications.
Imagine a computer that recognizes your face,
greets you in the morning, and logs in all of
your passwords automatically. Imagine being
able to search databases of 3d images that you
can rotate with simple hand and face gestures.
Or, imagine machines that perform complex
tasks in hostile environments, such as underground mining and arctic mapping, without
the need for human intervention. Computer
vision is the core technology on which much
artificial intelligence (AI) research and
application depends.
In four short years, Vancouver's Point
Grey Research (PGR) has become a leading
developer of computer vision hardware and
software for an expanding array of applications. The company was founded in 1997 by
former CICSR MSc students Vladimir
Tucakov and Malcolm Steenburgh; Don
Murray, currently a PhD student at ubc; and
Rod Barman and Stewart Kingdon, former
technical staff of the Institute for Robotic and
Intelligent Systems (IRIS). "Much of the
research leading up to PGR's spin-off was
funded by IRIS's Technology-GAP program,"
says Tucakov.
Digiclops and Triclops
The core of PGR's computer vision hardware is Digiclops, a digital stereo vision
camera that captures 3d imagery in real time
and on-line for applications such as object
and people tracking, virtual reality modelling
language (VRML), human-machine interfacing, and mobile robotics. The Digiclops
camera is an extremely sophisticated sensor
with a large field of view. Unlike laser sensors,
which scan an object by beaming light at it,
the Digiclops is passive, instantaneous, and
operates in dynamic and unstructured
environments. Three cameras are used to
capture 3d information, so high calibration is
the keystone of the Digiclops system. All
images are synchronized internally, producing
accurate and dense 3d measurements of both
horizontal and vertical features. Triclops is the
complementary software development kit
that enables accurate, high-speed 3d
processing of digital stereo images.
When the products were launched
in December 1999, the demand was
so great that the company sold out the
first production run before the first unit was
even completed.
The company is working with high-
profile players such as Microsoft, Intel,
Hewlett-Packard, MIT, and NASA on several
high-cost, low-volume applications. For
example, Microsoft uses PGR's Digiclops
camera in the development of smart homes
and intelligent environments. While working
with these companies enhances PGR's
credibility in the marketplace, Tucakov
believes the real growth potential lies in high-
volume, low-cost applications. "We can
customize the core technology to a
wide range of applications," he
says. "The challenge now is to
find strategic partners and
identify their needs."
Emerging markets and applications
Point Grey Research is currently developing applications in the retail, safety and
security industries. The company's Censys3D
software can recognize and track individuals
in a crowd under varying lighting and
environmental conditions. People tracking is
used in retail environments to improve
continued on page 12
Spring 2001 The Geometry of Shadows and Light
By studying how light shapes and shades objects in the natural world, Wolfgang Heidrich
generates computer images that are more photorealistic.
Have you ever watched a televised weather
report and noticed the peculiar way shadows
are cast on the set? Or wanted to buy an item
on-line, but didn't have enough visual information to make a decision? These are some
of the problems that Wolfgang Heidrich is
hoping to remedy. A new CICSR member
and assistant professor in Computer Science,
Heidrich came to UBC from the Max Planck
Institute for Computer Science in Germany,
where he was working on interactive computer graphics for use in industrial design.
Photorealistic rendering in industrial design
One of Heidrich's projects in Germany
was the simulation of car interiors with
BMW. The traditional process for most
industrial design applications has been to
build several physical prototypes. While
computer modelling and simulation is now
changing this process, the problem with
traditional computer graphics is that the
images tend to be so pared down that they
no longer have any physical meaning. "It
looks moderately okay, but you have no way
of making anything that follows physical laws
and corresponds to something that exists in
the real world," Heidrich says. While interactive computer graphics can simulate materials
in an immersive (virtual reality) environment,
they still require more refinement before
industrial designers can use them to make
meaningful decisions.
Global illumination
Typical problems with current rendering
methods involve how light interacts with the
surface of objects. Simple graphic renderings
use local illumination, which model a single
light source interacting with an object's
surface. But most light sources are not direct,
and light bouncing off walls and other
surfaces affects how we perceive shadows,
colour, texture, and depth. Global illumination takes all of this light activity into
account. This is particularly important in
photorealistic rendering and in applications
such as lighting design—for example, where
you put a light source in a car console. "If you
are driving at night, and wearing a white
shirt, you don't want a light source that
shines onto your arm, because you will not be
able to see anything outside," says Heidrich.
Image-based rendering and microgeometry
Image-based rendering uses calibrated
cameras and light sources to capture geometry
and measure the appearance of materials so
that they can be more easily modelled and
graphically rendered. This works well for
simple smooth-surfaced objects and materials
that are not too shiny. However, photorealistic simulation of complex materials such
as fabric and carpet requires not only modelling the geometry of the fibres at a microscopic level, but also modelling the microscopic reflection of light bouncing off each
Heidrich has some remarkable examples of
these techniques. In one simulation of a
room, an image of sheer curtains has the effect
of silk taffeta, where the warp and weft
threads are different colours. The fabric
shimmers and changes colour with the angle
of the light. In another example, a picture of
clouds is illuminated by a single light source.
"Here, you only see the light that comes off
the clouds directly. But when you also
simulate how the light bounces around
between the different water particles within
the cloud, you get a much more realistic
picture," Heidrich says. Indeed, the effect is
startling. He and colleagues have developed a
global illumination algorithm to enable more
efficient and faster modelling of micro-
geometry and global illumination effects.
Applications for interactive computer
graphics include virtual and augmented reality,
e-shopping catalogues, computer games, and
special effects for the movie industry. "With
the research expertise at UBC, and companies
like Electronic Arts, Radical Entertainment,
and MainFrame here in Vancouver, this is
definitely one of the best places for me to
pursue my work," says Heidrich.
Wolfgang Heidrich can be reached at
heidrich@cs.ubc.ca or at (604) 822-4326
FOCUS CICSR Passing Notes
In the last issue of Focuswe promised a profile
of Rob Rohling (ECE). Rob arrived only in
January, so we had to postpone his story. Kris
de Voider (CS)and Will Evans (CS) also
joined us in January so watch for profiles of
these new CICSR members in the future.
^^^^t Vinod Modi (ME) received
f ^L      the Control Authority
'fif      Award for his entry entitled
"The Moving Surface
» "TL | Boundary-Layer Control,"
Hi      .  ^^    at the Fluids 2000 confer-
^^ "^^^*    ence 0f [ne American
Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
Nick Jaeger (ECE) has received the NSERC
University-Industry Syngery R&D Partnership Award, in conjunction with Farnoosh
Rahmatian of Nxtphase Corporation, Brent
Sauder of BC Advanced Systems Institute
(ASI), Greg Polovick of BC Hydro, and Vern
Buchholz of Powertech Labs. The award
recognizes the collaboration that led to the
transfer of photonics technology from Nick's
lab to the power measurement marketplace.
^^ David Pulfrey (ECE), a
^^^^^^k       new CICSR member, has
9 ^m     been elected a Fellow of
IEEE "for contributions to
, the modelling of hetero-
__^t^^^0 _        junction bipolar semicon-
^^fc I   ■     ductor devices." (More on
David in a future issue.)
Recent winners of ASI Research Fellowship
grants include Cristina Conati (CS), Ian
Frigaard (ME), Wolfgang Heidrich (CS),
and Robert Rohling (ECE). Victor Leung,
Babak Hamidzadeh and Matt Yedlin (all of
ECE), in partnership with Telus, have
received funding from the ASI Strategic
Research Program.
Rensink continued from page 6
smarter and dashboards more like cockpit controls, drivers have much more to pay attention
to. Nissan is looking at possible applications of Rensink's research on attention processes in
brake light design. They found that having lights flash on two or three times, instead of only
once, produces far better detection of brake light onsets than standard brake light systems.
"Many problems that are interesting from an academic perspective are also of great interest to
industry," says Rensink. "This is just one example." He is also working on applications in
computer vision and human-computer interfaces.
Controlling the chaos of free flight
If today's drivers are overwhelmed with information, imagine how air traffic controllers must
feel. "With so many people flying, the density and capacity of traffic control systems is
stretched to the maximum," says Rensink. As a result, the current "highways in the sky" system
will eventually change to free flight, where flight patterns will be more random and controllers
will have to do more manual tracking. Obviously, this involves a greater risk of human error.
Rensink is working with Kelly Booth, Karon MacLean and Brian Fisher from Computer
Science, and Jim Enns from Psychology, to develop new displays for air traffic control systems.
" If we know what kinds of errors humans make, we can design our systems to compensate
for them." Rensink notes that our attentional processes account for only part of what we are
actually aware of, therefore our brains are able to process much greater amounts of information
than we realize. He wants to replace some of the conscious "thinking" processes, such as having
to interpret coded instrumentation, with "intuitive," non-attentional processes of other sensory
systems, such as simple visual and auditory recognition. The trick is understanding—and
learning how to trust—these more intuitive processes. "We need to download some of the
conscious work and let our unconscious mind do the walking," says Rensink.
Ron Rensink can be reached at (604) 822-0598 or at rensink@cs.ubc.ca
Dr. Alain Fournier
Alain, a CICSR
member and
professor in the
Department of
Computer Science, passed away on
August 14, 2000. He is fondly
remembered by his colleagues, his
students, his family and his many
An endowment fund has been
established to honour Alain and his
contributions to the field of computer
graphics. The endowment will fund a
scholarship to a PhD student in
computer graphics at a Canadian
Alain's influence as a scientist, a
teacher, a mentor and a friend went
far beyond the boundaries of UBC.
He is remembered with respect,
gratitude and abiding affection. The
scope of his research profoundly
affected the field of computer graphics
at many levels. It is therefore fitting
that the scholarship should be
national in character, and that it
should be adjudicated by Alain's
former doctoral students, in conjunction with the Department of Computer Science at UBC.
We invite friends, colleagues,
alumnae—indeed, anyone who felt
Alain's influence—to contribute to the
Alain Fournier Scholarship. It is our
hope and expectation that Alain's
memory will live on for generations to
come through this endowment. Please
send your contributions to
The Alain Fournier Memorial Fund
Department of Computer Science
University of British Columbia
201-2366 Main Mall,
Vancouver, BC, v6t 1z4
Spring 2001
11 I Saleh continued from page 3
"I believe the greatest challenges also present the greatest research
opportunities," says Saleh. He notes Canada has taken a very strategic
view of SoC. The Canadian Microelectronics Corporation (CMC)
has been funded to the level of $40 million to build the infrastructure, acquire the intellectual property and install the management
facilities to allow Canadian researchers to access IP through a virtual
private network.
This was a large part of Saleh's motivation to move back to
academia from industry positions at Simplex, Nortel, Tektronix,
Toshiba, and Mitel. He chose Canada because of the CMC infrastructure and the high quality of expertise at UBC. He also credits
industry partner PMC-Sierra for major funding and support. He
believes all of the ingredients are in place to create a research centre of
excellence in SoC/IR "We have innovative experts in the field, high-
visibility projects, state-of-the-art equipment, lots of funding from
industry and government, and the ability to attract key researchers."
Resve Saleh can be reached at res@ece.ubc.ca or phone
(604) 822-3702
Point Grey Research continued from page 9
shopper-to-cashier ratios, labour scheduling
and product placement. It also helps with
merchandising decisions by monitoring how
many shoppers stop at product displays and
for how long. For security and safety systems,
the advantage of this technology over video
monitoring is that someone doesn't have to
continuously watch a screen in order to
identify suspicious behaviour, unauthorized
individuals, or personnel entering hazardous
areas. The camera's 3d sensors are not affected
by shadows or sunlight and can accurately
"We can customize the core
technology to a wide range of
applications. The challenge now is
to find strategic partners and
identify their needs."
pick individuals out of a crowd. PGR is also
researching applications in virtual reality, computer interfaces, interactive entertainment,
medicine, manufacturing, and the automotive
"What we are really undertaking is a
technology push, which is very difficult
because the applications are still emerging,"
says Tucakov. But he is confident that once
companies understand what PGR's products
can do, the applications will follow. "As
technology becomes more affordable,
computer vision applications will become
more commonplace."
For further information on Point Grey
Research, contact Vladimir Tucakov at
Fels continued from page 7
doesn't distinguish between the practical and
artistic applications of his work. He credits
Japan's Advanced Telecommunications
Research Laboratories (ATR) for much of his
"If someone creates a new technology for
bungee jumping, it is really no different than
if I create some weird interface for making
music," he says. And whether for aesthetic
enjoyment, thrill seeking or increased productivity, the beauty and merits of any technology—like art—rest with the viewer/user.
"ICICS will provide an opportunity for
scientists, engineers and artists to work
together to change the way we think about
and design technology—not merely as
something that gets a job done, but as
something from which we get pleasure and
Sid Fels is at ssfels@ece.ubc.ca and
(604) 822-5338
CICSR Centre for Integrated Computer Systems Research www.cicsr.ubc.ca
The UBC Centre for Integrated Computer Systems Research (CICSR) is an interdepartmental
research organization made up of computer-related research faculty members in the
departments of Computer Science, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Mechanical
Engineering. Currently, there are more than 80 CICSR faculty members who direct over 350
graduate students and collaborate with dozens of industrial firms in areas such as robotics,
artificial intelligence, communications, VLSI design, multimedia, and industrial automation.
Return Address:
CICSR, University of British Columbia
289-2366 Main Mall,Vancouver, BC.V6T 1Z4
Writer:   Mari-Louise Rowley,
Pro-Textual Communications
Design:   William Knight, wilyum creative
Photos:   Janis Franklin, Greg Morton
UBC Media Group
Office:   University of British Columbia
289-2366 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC, Canada, V6T1Z4
Tel:   (604)822-6894
Fax:   (604)822-9013
E-mail:   cicsrinfo@cicsr.ubc.ca
Contact:    LindaSewell,PublicationsCoordinator,
CICSR Office


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