Students Staff

23 August 2013

Getting to the heart of 3D

Colchester Campus

3D cinema

We all know that enjoying a 3D movie at the cinema involves wearing a special pair of glasses which transform the flat image on the screen to three-dimensional glory.

What scientists at the Essex are hoping to achieve with a new £369,000 research project is to get a better understanding of how the brain does this.

3D movie audiences experience a vivid awareness of three-dimensional objects and people because the special glasses present two slightly different versions of the movie to the left and right eye.

The purpose of the three-year research project at Essex, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), is to determine how the brain is able to interpret these differences between what is seen by the two eyes.

As lead researcher and visual science specialist Dr Paul Hibbard explained: “We know that a 3D understanding is achieved by neurons at the back of the brain responding to the different images from each eye to make a 3D model. What we don’t know, and are trying to understand, is how the neurons are achieving this.”

Advances in technology have transformed the 3D entertainment industry and designers of movies and virtual reality systems are keen to make their products as “real” as possible. This research will help give a better insight into the binocular image differences that our brains respond to, and how it uses these to determine three-dimensional shape. This can then be used to directly inform the design of virtual reality systems as well as the development of artificial computer vision.

Dr Hibbard, from the Department of Psychology, said the research could also prove important at helping the theoretical understanding of binocular vision, which could impact on developing successful therapies for conditions such as amblyopia and strabismus ("lazy eye" and "squint") where binocular depth perception may be impaired or absent.

The research will involve capturing 3D models of various natural materials using a laser scanner. This will then be fed into a computer, which the scientists will then try to teach to see 3D. The computer will know the exact 3D shape, but will be given the image as a human would with a left and right view.

“The computer will then have to figure out how to make a 3D model,” explained Dr Hibbard. “How the computer does this will give us an indication of how the brain works. We want to understand what the brain is doing with these images and by getting a computer to learn to do this will help us to understand the process.”


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