I recently had the opportunity to meet with a Portland, Oregon-based company called BitAnimate to discuss what they are doing regarding the creation of 3D content. I would classify what they are doing as solid engineering that combines their extensive expertise and patent portfolio. The first application they wish to engage customers on is a stereoscopic 3D mapping and navigation application for the automotive industry, although many other segments can benefit from what they have developed as well.
Bit Animate has been around for some time. We first reported on their 2D-to-3D conversion technology back in 2011 at the height of the 3D TV boom. They were able to do conversion of 2D video-based content to stereo-3D in real time using PC-based software that looked quite good. This technology has improved since then and is part of their portfolio of 3D tools.
The focus today is the creation on stereoscopic 3D mapping and navigation software. They believe that current navigation tools for automobiles, whether built-in navigation devices or personal devices, don’t give a good enough view of the map to properly aid in navigation.
The demo was done on a 3D TV with polarized glasses. This immediately raised concerns about the need to wear polarized glasses to see a map in 3D. Company co-founder and CEO Sarvenez Sarkhosh explained that they are developing the 3D mapping software that can be output in a variety of formats. This could include formats for use on a multi-view glasses-free 3D display, an eye-tracked stereo 3D display or even a multi-planar display. “How this is visualized in a physical display is up to our customers and partners,” said Sarkhosh. “Demonstrating the capabilities of the 3D mapping on a glasses-based 3DTV is just the simplest way to demonstrate the features,” continued Sarkhosh. The company also demonstrated the stereo 3D mapping and navigation on a glasses-free 3D tablet as well.
Returning to the demo, we were shown a computer-generated stereoscopic representation of a city (Berlin and New York) with details of the buildings and the travel route highlighted in blue. The user has the option to:
- Change the field of view to widen or narrow the view
- Adjust the interpupillary distance for better 3D comfort
- Move the depth volume forward or backward relative to the screen plane
- Pitch the viewport up or down
- Change the height offset of the viewport position
- Scale the rendering (so the skyscrapers in NYC are NOT geometrically accurate for better viewing)
Stereoscopic 3D View of BitAnimate’s Mapping Application
All of these features and adjustments seem to be quite valuable for creating an image that is usable for the driver. Applying these adjustments in real-time and automatically to a mapping application is unique, thinks Sarkhosh.
In addition, the development of this 3D database is something the company has spent considerable effort on. “There are many companies that have launched satellites and car-based cameras to develop mapping databases but at considerable cost,” explained Sarkhosh, “We have built our database using public-access topographical and mapping data to create terrain with the right profiles, roads that are up to date and correctly placed, and buildings that are modeled with a high degree of detail. Our 3D generation and modeling software can use this type of data or customer-specific databases, if preferred,” continued Sarkhosh.
One interesting option that was explained but not demonstrated was the ability to access a “street view” image and using their 2D-to-3D video conversion software, generate a 3D street view image as well. “We can also easily add voice navigation of the view setting as well,” said Sarkhosh.
Sarkhosh then noted that a group consisting of BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz just paid $3.1B to gain access to a mapping database developed by Nokia. “We can implement our 3D solutions in this database, for example,” stated Sarkhosh.
But why wouldn’t leading car companies or tier one developers develop the 3D tools and outputs themselves, I asked? What is the value of working with BitAnimate?
“These companies often outsource or partner with technology suppliers for a number of reasons,” started Sarkhosh. “Often, they do not have the technical expertise in house and they may not want to invest to develop this capability. Secondly, it may be more cost effective to simply license, buy or partner with a third party, or third, the outside provider may have important IP that is deemed valuable and fourth, all of our products andservices are covered by issued and pending U.S. and foreign patents. Our mapping solution is very cost effective and high quality, and, with our strong expertise in this area, we are already starting to engage on this automobile mapping application. We are open to working with clients in a number of ways including licensing, technology transfer and engineering development.”
So tell me about your patent portfolio, I then asked. “We have 52 currently active patents or patent applications in total,” explained Sarkhosh, but not all apply to the 3D mapping application.
“We have looked at the market to see if any company or product offers a viable and cost-effective solution to create stereoscopic 3D mapping and navigation in real time and automatically, but we did not find any solutions,” claimed Sarkhosh. “Therefore, our solution currently is unique and has no comparable competition in the market.” She also explained that there are many other potential applications for this stereoscopic 3D mapping and navigation solution. “Almost any transportation application from long-haul trucking to FEDEX, from helicopters to boats and future flying cars can benefit for a more intuitive view of where they need to go. Drone navigation is also very interesting. Binocular AR glasses are a popular tool for drone navigation and we can create 3D video with navigation marker overlays – something I don’t think anyone is doing,” continued Sarkhosh. “Autonomous automobile navigation is coming very quickly and our 3D tools can be very helpful by feeding directly into machine vision algorithms and becoming part of the AI suite of decision-making tools.”
I must admit, I was initially skeptical about using stereo-3D for a navigation application as some portion of the population reacts poorly to it and auto-stereo and eye-tracked stereo displays are not always that great. But BitAnimate sees such 3D mapping solutions as optional, so if it bothers the driver, just use the 2D mode. Plus, they are positioning themselves to be able to output data in alternative formats as better 3D displays come along including multi-planar and eventually, light field displays. Their value is in assembling data and understanding how to implement high quality, efficient and cost effective 3D solutions. If they can deliver on that potential, they are a company worth having a discussion with.