The charge toward glasses-free 3D displays hasn't left the iPad out in the cold, as we pointed out a few months back. Now, using a bit of smoke and mirrors (well, mirrors at least) a team from Japan's Ochanomizu Women's University (OWU) has developed a novel approach that incorporates a centuries-old artist's trick to bring "tangible" depth to the iPad's 2D display.

In the 16th Century, painters developed a technique (dubbed mirror anamorphosis) with which carefully distorted 2D paintings could be viewed in proper proportion from acute angles or using conical or cylindrical mirrors. Probably the best known example is Hans Holbein's 1533 portrait The Ambassadors with its anamorphic skull - what appears top be a grey streak in the foreground of the painting (below) is revealed as a human skull when viewed from an angle.

Hans Holbein's The Ambassadors and the "hidden" anamorphic skull

"We noticed that anamorphosis can be used to project data onto a 3D object by placing a 3D object on 2D data, so we developed an interactive system called Anamorphicons," said OWU researcher Chihiro Suga.

With traditional mirror anamorphosis, the mirror remains fixed and the observer moves around it. The OWU approach, however, utilizes the iPad's multi-touch sensitivity and allows the user to spin a cylindrical mirror on the iPad to change the view of the object. But therein lies the rub. Up to 70 images of the subject, pre-distorted using polar coordinate conversion software, must be loaded to create the 3D effect.

The mirror column contains two touch pens which contact the iPad. "The top surface of the pillar is an aluminum plate," Suga explains, "so it conducts electricity. The touch pens and the aluminum plate are connected by wiring inside, so the Anamorphicons are shown on the iPad while the user is touching the plate- it's just as if the user is touching the iPad with two fingers."

An iPad application tracks the coordinates of the two touch pens as well as the mirror column's rotation angle. Each position of the cylinder corresponds to one of the seventy images, which are displayed seamlessly as the user rotates the mirror.

"Now, we can project information onto 3D objects, and let users manipulate them by hand in a tangible fashion. So we think this system could be used to make shopping sites more user-friendly," Suga said. If this takes off, product photographers ought to see a nice uptick in their workload, as well.

Source: Diginfo

Watch the video below to see the system in action:

View gallery - 11 images