Benefits of Visual Data System’s Surrogate Travel

There is an explosion on a North Sea oil rig. How do the emergency services find their way in darkness down smoke-filled corridors? Until recently they had to rely on maps, plans and fading memory of what the innards of the rig looked like.

But now a new computer-backed video process allows them to ‘visit’ the disaster area before they attempt a rescue. Visual Data System’s Surrogate Travel enables viewers to find their way, on a screen, through any environment, from city streets to a sewer system. These can be filmed in a variety of conditions, for instance by day or night, or in smoke, or on a bicycle.

By moving a joystick in any of four directions, the user can turn left or right, climb or descend staircase, or, using four option buttons, zoom in on such details as the locks on a door.

The location is first filmed in the form of a tour, in separate sections for each corridor, room or staircase, and then recorded on a video disc. Viewers can then go anywhere the cameraman has been. Whenever they make a turning at an intersection, the next part of the tour is electronically called up in five seconds at the most, which is as long as it takes the computer to search the entire disc.

Viewers can switch from touring corridors to a ‘where am I?’ mode, calling up maps, or moving from a head-high view of streets to an overhead, helicopter view.

The system was developed at Massachusetts Institute of Technology for the American military and security services. Last year it was used at the Los Angeles Olympics to give security officers a complete record of rooms and corridors in the Olympic complex.

Peaceful applications could soon include guiding people around labyrinthine cruise liner corridors or a major city’s metro stations. The system could also serve as a visual reference book of a water authority’s pipelines or of the insides of a local authority’s housing stock. The discs, read by laser, allow very quick access, and, unlike tape, do not wear out. ‘The secret is knowing how to film the environment and edit it on to the disc in a natural way,’ said William Donelson, of Visual Data Systems, which is introducing the concept to Europe.

Another application of the video guided tour is in selling buildings yet to be built. Video Presentations has adapted a miniature video camera with a 10 millimeter diameter periscope lens which is held on a gantry to peer inside detailed models of proposed buildings.

The company has completed a 15-minute video presentation of a pounds 16m office complex in Monaco. It filmed the inside of a 3ft high model, meticulously shifting the camera’s position to simulate the perspective of a moving guide.

Sequences of an actor filmed against a plain blue background with the camera adjusted to ignore blue are superimposed on to the film of the building. The actor appears to stroll through a life-size building, pointing out its charms.

The object is to let the offices before they are completed, culminating the average 18-month wait between completion and occupation of a building.

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