Norrköping, Sweden -- Planners in this university town and elsewhere in Sweden are betting big that visualization technology is poised to enter the mainstream for scientific, medical and a range of other applications.
The Swedish government, along with Linköping University here and government-backed groups such as the Stockholm-based Knowledge Foundation, are busy developing the infrastructure needed to make the Scandinavian country a global leader in visualization development. The Norrköping Science Park, which has close ties to Linköping University, has helped create demonstration projects developed by the Norrköping Visualization and Interaction Studio, housed on the university campus. Researchers here divide visualization content into scientific, information and geospatial and computer graphics/virtual reality categories.
According to the technology's promoters, visualization is primarily about using growing computing power to harness huge amounts of data. "Visualization is all about incorporating such solutions as 3-D models and virtual reality [to] create easy-to-understand interpretations and simulations of complex and often large quantities of data," the science park's prospectus explains.
The university and the studio are preparing to break ground early next year on a new facility that will serve as the focal point for Sweden's visualization initiative. It will also house a next-generation visualization center, according to Anders Ynnerman, professor of scientific visualization at Linköping University and director of the virtualization studio.
Ynnerman said students working at the studio are developing new visualization algorithms while he and other managers seek partners for applied research projects. A product unit has been established as a way to reach out to potential end users of visualization technology. Computer graphics and special effects are two early candidates.
Among the most compelling virtualization projects under way here are an interactive tour of the universe, dubbed Kosmos, and virtual autopsies that in at least one case helped solve a medical mystery stemming from an accidental police shooting. The virtual space trip was developed in collaboration with New York's Hayden Planetarium and the American Museum of Natural History, along with Stockholm-based SCISS (Smart Content for Interactive Systems) AB, a supplier of visualization tools. Developers in Sweden are also working with other U.S. planetariums and museums to disseminate the technology and make it a teaching tool.
Another SCISS tool allows real-time downloading of satellite images to simulate Earth's orbit.
Several of Ynnerman's students have been hired by Hollywood special-effects outfits such as Digital Domain. Among the movie projects his visualization graduates have worked on are water sequences in the films "Flags of Our Fathers" and "The Day After Tomorrow" (for examples, see www.d2.com/).
But planners here want to move beyond current entertainment applications to make visualization technology a practical tool for medicine, health-care delivery, air traffic control, architecture and other real-world applications.
A 2004 study sponsored by the Knowledge Foundation identified visualization technology as a promising Swedish export.
Officials in Sweden, which has a population of slightly more than 9 million, are seeking greater foreign direct investment and stressed repeatedly that the country's high-tech sector can't compete globally without exports. And technologies such as visualization head the list.
Bosse Sundborg, "cluster coach" for visualization at the science park, said the export study revealed that "everyone knew a little bit about visualization, but [not much] about the market and the potential applications."
Sundborg oversees a collaborative effort called a "C-site" designed to link top researchers around the world with the visualization studio and the Center for Medical Image Science and Visualization.
Back in Stockholm, Häkan Eriksson, program manager for the Knowledge Foundation and a professor at Sweden's prestigious Karolinska Institute, is overseeing a five-year, $85 million effort to identify and fund visualization projects in Sweden. Health care is a key focus, along with integrating visualization projects into Sweden's extensive IT infrastructure. As it sifts through proposals, Eriksson said, the foundation is looking for "real applications" and how applied research projects can be linked to industry.
Eriksson said the Knowledge Foundation is attempting to operate on the same rigorous, results-oriented model for as- sessing technology proposals as the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency does. That means focusing on applications, industry collaboration and cross-disciplinary projects.
"Collaboration and co-production are the goals," Eriksson said during an interview in his Stockholm office.
Along with biotechnology and new drug development projects, one of the most intriguing proposals being considered involves simulating the relocation of an entire town situated over a huge deposit of iron ore. The municipality of Kiruna in northern Sweden may have to be moved to get at the deposit. Planners want to use visualization technology to simulate the move before engineers actually attempt it.
The foundation must whittle down the number of project applications from 16 to five by year's end. The first projects funded under the program will be awarded in February, Eriksson said.
Back in Norrköping, university researchers have applied visualization technology to help police solve a shooting incident. A 3-D autopsy based on photos of the victim showed that a warning shot fired by police at a gun-wielding suspect ricocheted off the pavement and struck the assailant near his spine. The visualization technique helped police determine the angle of the bullet's trajectory off the pavement before the victim was struck.