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Rapid Virtual Reality breathes new life into artifacts

Teaming up with Synthonics Technologies, The Smithsonian Institution is aiming to make ancient history more fun for kids of the `90s with the release last month of a new CD-ROM that lets its users virtually interact with the museum's many artifacts....
November 1, 1998

Teaming up with Synthonics Technologies, The Smithsonian Institution is aiming to make ancient history more fun for kids of the `90s with the release last month of a new CD-ROM that lets its users virtually interact with the museum’s many artifacts.

The title features a new technology called rapid virtual reality (RVR) that was developed by Dr. Charles Palm, chief technical officer at Synthonics, and a key consultant to the U.S. Department of Defense during the Cold War. During the 43-year-long standoff between capitalism and communism, Palm created a device that enabled American naval forces to track Russian submarines underwater using stereo imagery.

Applying the same techniques to his latest invention, Palm has made possible the fast and affordable construction of 3-D replicas. The technology uses digitized photos of an object to build a wire-frame ‘skeleton’ structure on-screen, around which photographic textures are wrapped. In most cases, using RVR is 95% cheaper because surface textures need not be recreated using CAD (Computer Assisted Design) applications.

According to Mike Budd, president and CEO of Synthonics, ‘the other big advantage that RVR offers is extremely small file sizes-this makes the imagery easier to move around the Internet and it allows you to house more files on a single disk.’

The Smithsonian Museum Collections contains 670 separate images of historic artifacts, some which have never been on public display because of their fragility and/or lack of display space. Many of these treasures from 16 Smithsonian museums are in 3-D format and can be rotated 360 degrees in all directions, magnified, measured and stripped of their outer layers. The game can be purchased for $24.95 at Smithsonian gift shops and on-line at www.si.edu/shops.

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