Purdue University

Purdue University (3)

A new technique that uses the artificial intelligence methods of machine learning and deep learning is able to create 3-D shapes from 2-D images, such as photographs, and is even able to create new, never-before-seen shapes.

Karthik Ramani, Purdue's Donald W. Feddersen Professor of Mechanical Engineering, says that the "magical" capability of AI deep learning is that it is able to learn abstractly.

"If you show it hundreds of thousands of shapes of something such as a car, if you then show it a 2-D image of a car, it can reconstruct that model in 3-D," he says. "It can even take two 2-D images and create a 3-D shape between the two, which we call 'hallucination.'"

When fully developed, this method, called SurfNet, could have significant applications in the fields of 3-D searches on the Internet, as well as helping robotics and autonomous vehicles better understand their surroundings.

Perhaps most exciting, however, is that the technique could be used to create 3-D content for virtual reality and augmented reality by simply using standard 2-D photos.

"You can imagine a movie camera that is taking pictures in 2-D, but in the virtual reality world everything is appearing magically in 3-D," Ramani says. "Inch-by-inch we are going there, and in the next five years something like this is going to happen.

"Pretty soon we will be at a stage where humans will not be able to differentiate between reality and virtual reality."

"This is very similar to how a camera or scanner uses just three colors, red, green and blue—known as RGB—to create a color image, except we use the XYZ coordinates," he says.

Ramani says this technique also allows for greater accuracy and precision than current 3-D deep learning methods that operate more using volumetric pixels (or voxels).

"We use the surfaces instead since it fully defines the shape. It's kind of an interesting offshoot of this method. Because we are working in the 2-D domain to reconstruct the 3-D structure, instead of doing 1,000 data points like you would otherwise with other emerging methods, we can do 10,000 points. We are more efficient and compact."

One significant outcome of the research would be for robotics, object recognition and even self-driving cars in the future; they would only need to be fitted with standard 2-D cameras, yet still have the ability to understand the 3-D environment around them.

Ramani says that for this research to be developed, more basic research in AI will be needed.

"There's not a box of machine learning algorithms where we can take those and apply them and things work magically," he says. "To move from the flatland to the 3-D world we will need much more basic research. We are pushing, but the mathematics and computational techniques of deep learning are still being invented and largely an unknown area in 3-D."

Objects created using 3-D printing have a common flaw: They are fragile and often fall apart or lose their shape.

"I have an entire zoo of broken 3-D printed objects in my office," said Bedrich Benes, an associate professor of computer graphics at Purdue University.

The printed fabrications often fail at points of high stress.

"You can go online, create something using a 3-D printer and pay $300, only to find that it isn't strong enough to survive shipping and arrives in more than one piece," said Radomir Mech, senior research manager from Adobe's Advanced Technology Labs.

The 3-D printers create shapes layer-by-layer out of various materials, including metals and plastic polymers. Whereas industry has used 3-D printing in rapid prototyping for about 15 years, recent innovations have made the technology practical for broader applications, he said.

"Now 3-D printing is everywhere," Benes said. "Imagine you are a hobbyist and you have a vintage train model. Parts are no longer being manufactured, but their specifications can be downloaded from the Internet and you can generate them using a 3-D printer."

The recent rise in 3-D printing popularity has been fueled by a boom in computer graphics and a dramatic reduction of the cost of 3-D printers, Benes said.

Researchers at Purdue and Adobe's Advanced Technology Labs have jointly developed a program that automatically imparts strength to objects before they are printed.

"It runs a structural analysis, finds the problematic part and then automatically picks one of the three possible solutions," Benes said.

Findings were detailed in a paper presented during the SIGGRAPH 2012 conference in August. Former Purdue doctoral student Ondrej Stava created the software application, which automatically strengthens objects either by increasing the thickness of key structural elements or by adding struts. The tool also uses a third option, reducing the stress on structural elements by hollowing out overweight elements.

"We not only make the objects structurally better, but we also make them much more inexpensive," Mech said. "We have demonstrated a weight and cost savings of 80 percent."

The new tool automatically identifies "grip positions" where a person is likely to grasp the object. A "lightweight structural analysis solver" analyzes the object using a mesh-based simulation. It requires less computing power than traditional finite-element modeling tools, which are used in high-precision work such as designing jet engine turbine blades.

"The 3-D printing doesn't have to be so precise, so we developed our own structural analysis program that doesn't pay significant attention to really high precision," Benes said.

The paper was authored by Stava, now a computer scientist at Adobe, doctoral student Juraj Vanek; Benes; Mech; and Nathan Carr, a principal scientist at Adobe's Advanced Technology Labs.

Future research may focus on better understanding how structural strength is influenced by the layered nature of 3-D-printed objects. The researchers may also expand their algorithms to include printed models that have moving parts.

For more information, visit: www.purdue.edu

Purdue University President France A Córdova on Tuesday (Jan. 24) announced the launch of a new research commercialization center that will move Purdue discoveries to the marketplace more quickly, increase revenue for the university, and spur economic development in Indiana and the nation.

The Innovation and Commercialization Center is a key element of Purdue's Decadal Funding Plan, a long-term initiative to support core university activities and reduce the institution's dependence on state appropriations and tuition increases.

"Purdue performs almost $600 million a year in government and industry sponsored research, and the university owns almost all of the intellectual property generated by that research," Cordova said. "The Innovation and Commercialization Center will step up the value of carefully selected Purdue-owned intellectual property, allowing us to spin it out of the university in a way that directly benefits both Purdue and the economy of Indiana."

The center will serve as a "one-stop shop" for faculty and staff inventors and offer seed grants and other funding for testing concepts, developing prototypes or participating in joint technology development projects with external partners. First-year activities will be supported by $1 million in gift funds donated by alumni entrepreneurs. No general funds from state appropriations or tuition will be used.

Keith Krach, chair of the Purdue Board of Trustees and a serial entrepreneur, said the center would be attractive to investors and venture capitalists.

"These are busy, intense individuals who want one point of contact who moves at the speed of business and understands research and technology," Krach said. "The defining characteristics of this center will be pace and partnerships."

Richard Buckius, Purdue vice president for research, said the center also would combine commercialization support with mentoring from established entrepreneurs and experienced faculty.

"The longer term plan is to develop a robust early stage venture funding community and tech-based start-up economy in Indiana," Buckius said. "Our goal is to create a set of opportunities that will draw experienced investors and tech-based entrepreneurs to West Lafayette."

Gerry McCartney, chief information officer, vice president for Information Technology at Purdue and the Olga Oesterle England Professor of Information Technology, will serve as the center's inaugural director. McCartney has significant experience in licensing software applications to industry, starting first with the WRDS product, a business intelligence tool, while he was at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, continuing through the SIFT project at Purdue's Krannert School of Management, and most recently with Signals, an application that tracks student course activity and warns them if they're getting into academic difficulty. Signals, branded as Course Signals, is commercially available through a Purdue partnership with SunGard Higher Education.

McCartney will serve a split appointment between the center and ITaP for two years, and there will be a national search for the next director who will be part of the Purdue Research Foundation. McCartney's first steps will be to create an advisory committee of faculty and business entrepreneurs and organize sessions for faculty, staff and alumni to learn more about center support programs. The Innovation and Commercialization Center will be based in the Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship in Discovery Park.

The Purdue Research Foundation's Office of Technology Commercialization, under the direction of Elizabeth Hart-Wells, will be part of the new effort. While OTC will continue to provide Purdue faculty, staff and student entrepreneurs advice and support in establishing intellectual property rights and turning those discoveries into products and services, the Innovation and Commercialization Center will expand its resources to support translation of Purdue discoveries.

Dan Hasler, Secretary of Commerce and chief executive officer of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, said the center would be important to Indiana's economy.

"Purdue's new commercialization center reinforces the long-standing, world-renowned reputation for innovation of Indiana's colleges and universities," Hasler said. "We are pleased to see this center speed the process of promoting Hoosier ingenuity in the global marketplace."

Purdue West Coast Partnership director John Boyle, who works on getting Purdue research and Indiana opportunities in front of businesses in Silicon Valley, said the center would facilitate the engagement of Purdue alumni and venture capitalists who want to get involved.

"In addition, potential corporate partners, including the high-tech firms based on the West Coast, will find it easier to identify and pursue Purdue technology that has commercial applicability and is of interest to them," Boyle said.

Purdue has long been a national leader in commercialization activities. The Association of University Technology Managers ranked Purdue No. 6 nationally for its commercialization successes in the 2010-11 fiscal year. Purdue, through its research foundation, had 11 startups in the period. In the past 15 years, Purdue faculty and the Purdue Research Foundation are credited with spinning out more than 75 startup companies and licensing hundreds of technologies to industry.

Purdue's Decadal Funding Plan will increase sources of revenue beyond tuition and state appropriations, the traditional sources for public university funding, by doubling financial capacity through continued cost-cutting, expanding online degree and professional education offerings, encouraging more robust use of campus facilities through summer teaching, and ramping up research commercialization and funding.

The plan began in March 2011 under the direction of Córdova; Tim Sands, executive vice president of academic affairs and provost; and Al Diaz, executive vice president of business and finance, treasurer. Thirteen groups of faculty and staff prioritized more than 50 strong revenue-generating ideas into three areas: Efficient and Effective Purdue, Global Purdue and Innovative Purdue.

For more information, visit: www.purdue.edu

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