Virtual tool, real impact: Assoc Prof Zheng Jianmin

Blurring the seams between the physical and virtual world is an exciting new research area called reality computing, which lets users interact with real objects in their digitised 3D forms.

“Previously, in computer graphics, we created digital forms or models of non-real objects,” says Assoc Prof Zheng Jianmin, a professor at NTU’s School of Computer Science and Engineering and an expert in computer graphics.

“Reality computing focuses on digitising objects from real life and creating digital models that look the same or almost the same as the real object. Once you have the 3D form, you can follow with other processes, such as 3D printing, or visualising the digital 3D model on an interactive website,” he adds.

As a postdoctoral researcher at Brigham Young University in the US, Assoc Prof Zheng co-invented a technique for geometric modelling and computer graphics—a breakthrough in the field of mathematical modelling of curves and surfaces known as NURBS modelling, which allows design, analysis and refinements to be carried out in one framework. Called T-spline, the software is widely used in industrial design, such as for jewellery.

Assoc Prof Zheng is part of the multi-million-dollar Virtual Singapore programme sponsored by Singapore’s National Research Foundation. His goal is to eliminate redundancies and reduce data requirements while maintaining the accuracy of the data, and to intelligently extract the data’s semantic information, which adds basic meaning to the data and allows the creation of city models.

In a collaboration with a Singapore-based furniture company, he is developing an AR-based mobile app for users to virtually place furniture objects in a real-world room. In another collaboration with a colleague from NTU’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, he is designing software to digitally model and re-create wood-carved objects using AI and 3D printing techniques.

As an example of the versatility of his technology, Assoc Prof Zheng’s work even has clinical applications. To help visualise and determine the exact boundaries of organs or tumours, for instance, he is developing algorithms that make it possible to construct 3D models from computed tomography scans.

The article appeared first in NTU’s research & innovation magazine Pushing Frontiers (issue #13, June 2018).

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