The Johns Hopkins Gazette: August 20, 2001
August 20, 2001
VOL. 30, NO. 42


JHU Partnership Makes Graphics Software Available For Free

Technology Transfer Office sets up innovative pact to gauge marketability

By Phil Sneiderman

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

A new partnership between the university and the Chicago-based Open Channel Foundation now allows design engineers and computer programmers to download for free a graphics program that significantly speeds up the way a computer displays a three-dimensional model as the model changes position.

The program, devised by Subodh Kumar, assistant professor of computer science in the Whiting School of Engineering, also gives the user greater control over the level of detail that appears on screen. The software is called sLIB, short for "surface library." By posting the source code on the Open Channel Web site, which is

Subodh Kumar, assistant professor of computer science, devised a program that significantly speeds up the way a computer displays a three-dimensional model.

The organization and the university hope to make the software more widely available. The software is designed for use with the Irix operating system, but Kumar said programmers also can compile the code for use with other operating systems, such as Windows. By posting sLIB for free downloading, the university and Open Channel hope to gauge interest in the product and encourage further development.

This effort to disseminate software developed by a Johns Hopkins computer scientist marks the first agreement of its kind to be arranged by the university's Office of Technology Transfer. Technology Transfer staff members who have been exploring licensing opportunities for sLIB decided to work with Open Channel, which provides a test bed for computer enthusiasts who wish to try out innovative technology in a structured, open source environment.

The sLIB program solves a thorny problem that plagues many computer-aided design engineers, video game developers and others who produce sophisticated three-dimensional computer models. Generally, the more detailed these models become, the longer it takes to put them in motion on the screen. The sLIB program addresses this by significantly speeding up the way a computer displays the models. The secret to his software, Kumar says, is in how it handles Non-Uniform Rational B-Spline representations, the mathematical shapes that computers can use to depict curved surfaces. A computer can put NURBS together to form a 3-D representation of the complete object. "SLIB converts NURBS on the fly into a small number of well-placed triangles that are then displayed quickly," Kumar says.

Previously, Kumar made sLIB available for free downloading through a university Web site. But the agreement with Open Channel is expected to help him introduce the software to a greater number of programmers who may wish to try out and adapt sLIB to their own applications. "This is the first time the source code for this software has been made available," Kumar says. "In the coming months, we also hope to post documentation that will help computer users to refine the software for a variety of purposes."

In this early technology transfer phase, sLIB users will not be charged a fee. If a market for the product evolves, Open Channel will work with Kumar to develop a commercial version of the software and will pay the university royalties. "This is a win-win situation," says Nina Siegler, director of the university's Office of Technology Transfer. "Often, the market is just not ready to support an advanced research tool like sLIB. This partnership with Open Channel will spur interest among early technology adopters and provide the resources to convert sLIB into a commercial product."