Voxels are the way of the future for search engines designed to mine for 3-dimensional
objects across the web. Car parts, furniture, art collection object, or just about
anything represented by a 3-D vector file format. Researchers at Purdue University
have created a method whereby inputting a 3-dimensional sketch of, say, a football,
will result in files containing objects that have a shape close to that of a football.
For the system to work, cooperative users must make the 3-D files available for
searching. The most likely early adopters will be manufacturers and distributors
with inventories of solid parts, like aircraft, automotive, appliance, tool, plumbing,
and furniture products. Once a standard is defined, a whole new dimension (pun intended)
of resources will be available to folks looking for parts that can be described
by what will become a simple 3-D sketching interface.
Today's search engines perform what can loosely be described as a 1- or 2-dimensional
search for images. Even so, the image pixels themselves are not actually scanned
for content, but relies on file names and descriptive "Alt" text to clue in the
search engine. That is where the voxel comes in. Whereas a pixel represents a color
and a location in an image, a voxel represents a volume (hence the "V" in voxel)
at a given point in the solid object. Since both the presence and absence of material
is represented, a 3-D search engine can tell the difference between a disk with
rounded edges and a toroid that is basically the same shape, only with a hole in
Thomas Funkhouser, a Princeton University professor, has put a
3-D search engine (sketch
Takeo Igarashi) on the Web that lets the user sketch an object using a computer
mouse, add a text description, then search for similar models in design databases.
Once there, click on the Text & 3-D Sketch link, and play around with the application.
I sketched a hollow bowl and it found bowls and pots without entering any text keywords