Carnegie Mellon team builds ‘time machine’ for data visualization

With support from Google, researchers have built a system allowing viewers to explore gigapixel-scale, high-res videos and image sequences by panning or zooming in and out while simultaneously moving through time.

Viewers can watch a group of plants sprout, grow and flower, or view a computer simulation of the early universe.

“With GigaPan Time Machine, you can simultaneously explore space and time at extremely high resolutions,” said Illah Nourbakhsh, associate professor of robotics and head of the CREATE Lab.

The system is based on the GigaPan technology developed by the CREATE Lab and NASA, which can capture a mosaic of hundreds or thousands of digital pictures and stitch those frames into a panorama that be interactively explored via computer.

To extend it into the time dimension, image mosaics are repeatedly captured at set intervals, and then stitched across both space and time to create a video in which each frame can be billions of pixels.

Using HTML5 – and with help from Google – the team developed algorithms and software architecture allowing a seamless shift from one video portion to another as viewers zoom in and out. To keep bandwidth manageable, the GigaPan site streams only those video fragments that pertain to the segment and/or time frame being viewed.

“Simulations are a huge bunch of numbers, ugly numbers. Visualizing even a portion of a simulation requires a huge amount of computing itself,” says Tiziana Di Matteo, associate professor of physics at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center.

But, she says, visualization of these large data sets is crucial to the science” “Discoveries often come from just looking at it,” she adds.

The team says it’s keen to work with people who want to capture Time Machine imagery with GigaPan, or use the visualization technology for other applications. There’s more information here.