By using the ‘canvas-utk’ software developed by the University of Michigan, the University at Buffalo, and the University Medical Center of Hamburg, researchers hope to take advantage of the internet’s ability to map physical space to create a visual environment that can be used to monitor the health and wellbeing of humans and the environment.
The technology is the first to be developed for a real-time virtual environment using the power of the cloud, according to a paper describing the work published in Nature Communications on Tuesday.
In order to produce this virtual environment, the researchers needed to develop a system to create images of real-world objects, such as a tree or a city.
They used the software to create an environment of 3D meshes, called ‘virtual-area objects’, which could then be viewed as part of a virtual physical space.
“We’re using a new technique called hyperbolic tangent analysis to produce an object-level view of the virtual space,” says Jakob Vollmer, an assistant professor of computer science at Michigan, who was not involved in the work.
Virtual objects have been used for visualization and research for decades, but the process of making a 3D model from scratch involves a great deal of time, and some of the objects can take months to render, according the paper.
Using this technique, the virtual objects can be viewed at the same time as they are being created, allowing the scientists to quickly map the space.
In the lab, the images can be generated by using two 3D models of a tree.
To create the virtual object, the model was created from a virtual tree, and then the scientists used the tool to create the model from a 2D model of a nearby building.
Vollmer says that they found that the software could also be used for creating virtual environments in the real world.
For instance, the image created by the ‘Canas utkat’, created using a virtual model of an office building, could be used as a template for the physical space of a building in the city, where the same virtual model could be created from.
This can help to reduce the time spent building the virtual environment in a laboratory setting, he says.
“Our goal is to use the system to monitor how the physical environment is affected by human activities, so that we can develop and use interventions that can affect health and health outcomes,” Vollver says.
Another application of the technology is to provide a virtual environment to a patient in a clinical setting, or a group of patients with various diseases, who have been experiencing an infection or other health problem.
Dr Vollmers adds that the system could also help to identify patients who have an underlying health problem that could require monitoring and treatment.
“If you are a patient who has a heart condition or a lung condition, for instance, then you can use the model to see what is happening to your body, which can help you understand what is going on in your body,” he says, adding that this could lead to the development of new interventions to treat or prevent a particular health problem or condition.
“We want to create these virtual environments for people in the future, where we can monitor them, make interventions, and also track their progress,” he adds.
According to Vollvers research, the software was also used to create virtual environments of buildings that were being used as data collection centres, or to track a city in which buildings had been destroyed or torn down.
With the system, the data can be stored on computers or devices, and can be accessed from any location, such a mobile phone, and it can be shared to other users.
One area where the software has been used is to create data-visualisation tools for public health researchers, such the US National Institutes of Health’s Pathway Data Science Framework (PDFS).
The PDFS is an open-source data-sharing platform for data scientists, and is based on a data-analysis platform called the Datalab software developed in the US by Catherine Oster, who works for the National Institutes.
Ms Oster said that the new research showed that the PDFS could be a useful tool for data analysts to use in their work.
“Data scientists can use it to build tools that can assist in developing new interventions and strategies,” she says.