The NVIDIA GPU Technology Conference (GTC) which began in 2009, started Monday, May 8 and and ran through Thursday, May 11. This yearly conference produced and sponsored by NVIDA brings together thousands of scientists, technology experts, artists, virtual reality experts and media producers from all over the world to share and discuss their discoveries in the field of graphic technology.
Thursday at the GTC
A half-day at the conference, but reduced time made no difference in the fun factor. Unlike Siggraph, the 2017 is just as active and full of energy as the previous 3 days. Much of it is due to the crazed interest in Deep Learning, AR/VR and Articifical intelligence. You can feel the energy in conversations as you walk by. It feels great to be a part of such an inspiring event.
I had planned to research and write in the morning, but a glance at the big screen GTC Thursday schedule got me interested in two, back-to-back panels. One was on how the Unreal Engine is helping companies like McClaren Cars and NASA with developing VR and AR experiences. The other panel was about the future possibilities of AR/VR with a panel of NVIDIA team members.
NVIDIA Convergence panel
The Unreal Engine panel Beyond Games: How Unreal Engine is Putting the Reality into Virtual Reality, was amazing. I found out that although Unreal has been used primarily as a gaming engine for games, companies have taken advantage of Unreal's open source SDK (and collaboration with Epic, the Unreal parent company) to build completely new uses for a game engine. McClaren, the sports car company, is using Unreal to help them develop and problem solve 15 new cars they are creating. NASA is using Unreal for astronaut training in VR. They have saved huge amounts of money by 3D printing a tool and then making the tool functional inside of a VR environment. Astronauts end up remembering more of their training in real-world situations when their training environment more closely mirrors the real world one.
The Convergence of Artificial Inteligence, AR and VRVR/AR panel with NVIDIA was also a fascinating experience. The essential idea behind the panel was to discuss what is missing in VR/AR right now, how various VR/AR technologies are merging (Hybrid Reality is one term I heard) and to share ideas on how to develop tools and technology to make VR games, design, engineering and business better and more compelling. The overall opinion of the panel is that we need to have more interactivity in VR/AR and that too much emphasis has been put on the quality of the graphics. Haptics was something they all felt needed to be developed for virtual reality to be more than a novelty.
Haptics is a word that I wasn't aware of. A good definition comes from geomagic.com, "algorithms and software associated with generating and rendering the touch and feel of virtual objects". Basically, it's about physical interaction with virtual objects. Being able to truly interact with virtual objects is a big goal of future VR/AR technology. Be it a NASA Hybrid Reality lab simulation, engineers working on a new car design or VR artists trying to create a living environment in a game, haptics will be the main goal of many graphics technologies of the near future. And you can bet NVIDIA will be all over the ways to make this happen.
I spent the early part of Thursday afternoon at the NVIDIA booth on the show floor going through their various displays on Robotics, AI and Deep Learning. Some standouts include the police car of the future with a drone attached to the roof, an amazing display of the supercomputer DGX Station (with new Tesla V100 GPUs) and the NVIDIA Metropolis Project that posits the possibility of "smart cities" driven by AI (surveillance, public safety, traffic management and more). I posted a Facebook live video of the booth which you can watch at our Rederosity Magazine Facebook page.
I also took a walk through Lenovo's booth and got up to speed with the excellent technology they are developing for virtual reality. One computer that caught my eye was the Lenovo ThinkStation P320 which could easily be one of the best affordable virtual reality PCs available today. VR will be a big focus for computer manufacturers in the near future. Finding schemes to make these computers affordable to the general consumer will be a challenge as the hardware requirements for good VR are fairly high.
In my last hour at the GTC, I spent time in a local cafe and tried to organize my impressions of the last two days. It's an awful lot to take in. I'll be publishing a "wrap-up" article on Sunday where I will share my observations and ideas. I can say now, though, that what was just theory last year has become real, workable technology this year. The speed of NVIDIA's technology (and partners) is nothing short of amazing.
Demo of the P320 ThinkStation PC at the Lenovo Booth