Friday, August 15, 2008

Computer science research leads to commercial products

Computer scientists at universities and the research labs of companies like Microsoft, Google or IBM work on new ways of doing things that may one day be used in commercial projects. In addition to theoretical studies, they often build hardware or software prototypes that test and demonstrate their ideas. (The slogan "demo or die" is common in such labs).

They also publish papers describing their work in technical journals and conference proceedings. One can get a glimpse of the future by reading those papers and attending conferences. For example, the 2008 conference of the Association for Computing Machinery Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics (SIGGRAPH for short) was just held in Los Angeles. Projects presented at SIGGRAPH foreshadow tomorrow's image and video editing programs. For a first look at features that might one day be in Photoshop or Windows Movie Maker, check these projects:

You will find demonstration videos and technical papers at each of these sites.

The case of Pixar Animation illustrates the research-commerce relationship. In 1986 Pixar, then a brand new company, showed its first film, a short called Luxo Jr., at the SIGGRAPH conference. Watch Luxo Jr. and you will note things like the accuracy of moving light, shadows and reflections and the sinusoidal movement of the lamp cord when Luxo jumps. Achieving that sort of realism was state of the art research in 1986, therefore relevant for a scientific meeting. (The creation of a cute character was not science, but story telling art). The interplay between research and commerce continues -- Pixar employees presented a technical paper and a course at SIGGRAPH 2008.

Entrepreneurs and venture capitalists watch developments at research conferences like SIGGRAPH for ideas -- what are some other computer science conferences?