Engineers and animators use computer simulations to model the ways objects bounce, bump, and change shape under external forces. Until now, these simulations were too complex to run in real time, but Jernej Barbič has developed a way to make them run tens of thousands of times faster than previously seemed possible—fast enough for engineers to be able to interact with a model and see it respond instantly, allowing them to experiment with designs as never before.
Barbič translates models with millions of parameters into versions that have just tens or hundreds but are still accurate. He created software that can automatically identify which parameters are the most important and determine how these can be combined to reduce their number.
His latest experiments connect models to haptic interfaces that allow a user to literally feel what’s happening in the virtual world. Producing a realistic physical sensation of movement takes approximately 1,000 updates per second. “That’s infeasible without Jernej’s approach,” says Adrien Treuille (a member of the 2009 TR35), a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Barbič is now in talks with the French company Haption to commercialize the technology. He says that because his techniques make it easier to quickly test and revise designs, products could “be made faster and turn out cheaper and safer.” —Tom Simonite