Saarbrücken computer science professor did preparatory work for quantum leap in computer graphics

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NVIDIA is a leader in the manufacture of graphics processors and computer chips for personal computers and game consoles. Speaking to 1,200 experts at the SIGGRAPH Conference in Vancouver, Canada in August 2018, NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang announced a fundamental improvement in computer graphics. NVIDIA was the first company to sell a graphics processor for what is known as ray tracing, a computing process that renders virtual worlds in a photorealistic quality. NVIDIA has realized a vision that Saarbrücken computer scientists had already described in a research paper and presented at a conference in 2005.

“These are the same engineers I worked with du­ring my time at NVIDIA,” said Philipp Slusallek, scientific director at DFKI and professor for computer graphics at Saarland University. Since 1999, he has been involved with ray tracing at the Saarland Informatics Campus. This technique enables computer graphics to show shadows, reflections, refractions, and other indirect lighting effects. The payoff: computer-generated scenes are incredibly lifelike, nearly photorealistic. However, until now computers had to perform to the limits of their capacity in terms of computing power, which explains why interactive ap­plications such as computer games and ray tracing have gone separate ways.

As early as 2005, Professor Slusallek joined Sven Woop and Jörg Schmittler in presenting an approach to ray tracing that could be realized on just one powerful processor at SIGGRAPH in Los Angeles. Woop received a 25,000 dollar (US) research prize from NVIDIA for this work. The trio described the de­tails in a research paper titled “RPU: a programmable Ray Processing Unit for real-time ray tracing.” Two years later, Slusallek took a sabbatical and returned to continue his research at NVIDIA, where researchers were working on a software package for ray tracing.

Going back to 2004, the English language magazine GameStar printed a discussion between David Kirk, head scientist at NVIDIA, and Philipp Slusallek. The detailed exchange was illed with additional informa­tion on the subject and listed the advantages and dis­advantages of then-current rendering techniques in comparison to ray tracing.

“The great thing about ray tracing is that when you increase the computational power by a factor of X, it will also be faster by a factor of X,” said Professor Slu­sallek adding: “If the software platform is replaced by a dedicated hardware unit, the calculations will be even faster.”

NVIDIA CEO Huang promised even more to the audience in Vancouver last summer: “This is going to change the world of computer graphics fundamen­tally, and it is another step toward a more realistic re­presentation.” It was already demonstrated using a ray tracing sequence at the March conference. But, at that time, it required a US$70,000 computer with four high-performance graphics processors.

In Vancouver, this was done by the new ray tracing processor all by itself.

Professor Slusallek and his staff are proud of their share in this success.

Prof. Dr. Philipp Slusallek
Head of Research Department Agents and Simulated Reality
Phone: +49 681 85775 5276

Gordon Bolduan
Science Communication
Saarland Informatics Campus E1.7
Phone: +49 681 302 70741

Die Öffentlichkeitsarbeit am Saarland Informatics Campus wird unterstützt durch das Kompetenzzentrum Informatik Saarland, gefördert aus Mitteln des Europäischen Fonds für regionale Entwicklung (EFRE) und Mitteln der Staatskanzlei Saarland.

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