In Sunday's Parade Magazine the telephone number for the Department of Transportation's National Ridesharing Information Center was listed as (800) 424-9184. The number is correct for callers outside the District of Columbia. Inside the District the number to call is 426-2943. CAPTION: Picture 1, Ford Motor Company engineer Jeff Street works with an electronic pen on design of the company's new world car -- the Escort. Most of the motor, body and chassis design was done using computer graphics. Ford design teams in Europe assisted Detroit colleagues through a computer hookup by transoceanic cable. Courtesy of Ford Motor Co.; Picture 2, Pilot's eye view, in a flight simulator, of a low-visibility approach to runway 14 (140*) at a major airport. This view, generated on a 25-inch, high-resolution TV screen and reflected on a 55-inch radius sphere-like mirror surface in front of a cockpit is called the SP-2 and is produced by Redifon Simulation in Arlington, Tex. A complete system typically uses four mirror-screens, two for the front windows and one for each side window. The system was introduced 18 months ago and has been ordered by major airline companies throughout the world. It can simulate nearly any flight condition in daylight, dusk or night. The technology, called calligraphic shadow mask display, which is the first of its kind, took three years to develop. An earlier system, called the SP-1, could not produce the color blue and was used primarily for dusk and night simulated conditions. Courtesy Redifon Simulation Inc.; Picture 3, Photo of Jupiter's moon Io has colors added by computer graphics terminal to indicate surface reflectivity. Colors could be changed at whim to make, say, red indicate higher or lower surface brilliance. Colors also may be used to show other characteristics such as temperature variations. Courtesy of Ramtek Corp.; Picture 4, A simulation system for ships shows pilot a situation in which he is approaching a freighter being steered by a
A pilot trainee sits at the controls of his gleaming new $18-million fighter jet. He is rapidly approaching the runway at the Patuxent Naval Air Test Center in St. Mary's County, Md. The concrete strip is clear of obstructions but shrouded in fog. Power back, full flaps, nose up, he coaxes the twin-engine monster down carefully but not carefully enough; the ground rushes toward him, his response to the controls is awkward. "Damn," he shouts as the plane disintegrates.Then, looking up through the canopy, he sees the shattered runway overhead. He has flown through the runway and is looking at the fragments of the punctured concrete above him.
The damage is purely pictorial, because this pilot has been flying in a simulator -- he has been looking through his canopy at constantly changing images projected from a high-resolution television screen onto a mirror-like surface in front of him, a startlingly real-looking simulation of a landing approach presented by an elaborate set of numbers stored in a computer. The Navy has found it cheaper and less bloody than using real hardware for beginning pilots.
An engineer is testing the design of a fender for the new Ford Escort -- not in a metal working shop but in an office. So far, not a single nut has been tightened on a bolt, no metal smelted or stamped, no seams welded. The fender exists only in the memory of a computer. Numbers, again. The engineer taps a few buttons on a keyboard and an image of the fender appears on a TV screen in colors that nobody will see in a showroom: violent red at the high-stress area where the fender curves down over the tire, more relaxed blues and browns in the areas of less strain. He changes a few numbers, reinforcing the stress area, and the red subsides; the fender is now less likely to tear, crack or bend when the car bottoms out on a pothole.
A few rooms away, another engineer, with his computer-generated TV image, is examining something that no human eye has seen: the inside of an internal-combustion engine in action.
Deep in the bowels of the federal bureacracy, a GS-16 with a report due to the Department of Energy is wondering where in the Washington area most of the people who drive foreign cars live. So he saunters over to the Department of Commerce's new Domestic Information Display System. He pushes a few buttons and calls up information from the Department of Transportation, Census and other government agencies that feed information into the DIDS computer.
Soon a map of the District of Columbia and surrounding counties appears on a color television screen. It shows green where the highest concentration of foreign car owners live, and lighter shades of green feeding into yellow and fianlly blue for the lowest areas of concentration. He begins to wonder if foreign car ownership could be correlated to any other factors. How about households with two bathrooms and a foreign car? He hits a few buttons and the colors change. A college diploma, two bathrooms and a foreign car? The map factors in the new information -- with most of the action west of 16th St. N.W. and in Montgomery County.
The fighter pilot, the engineers and the GS-16 are using a relatively new tool called computer graphics, the latest and perhaps most exciting development in the relationship between computers and human beings. When people first began communicating with computers, they used a language consisting strictly of numbers, then verbal languages requiring less technical knowledge were developed and now computers have been programmed to make pictures. That is a major breakthrough because about 80 percent of all the information reaching the human brain originates as visual images. Humans handle visual information by intuitive processes, and handle it much more efficiently and quickly than page after page of words or columns and columns of statistics. In many cases a picture on a computer graphics terminal can contain more information -- information readily identifiable and understandable -- than 10,000 numbers.
Almost unknown to the general public until a few years ago, computer terminals with graphics capabilities are becoming an essential part of our daily life. They keep track of what seats are available on airliners. They are used to give a picture of a battlefield and a plan of action for officers in combat. They help design nuclear power plants and monitor their operation. Physicists and chemists use them to "see" three-dimensional models of objects -- such as DNA molecules -- too small for analysis under microscopes. They are used to design Oriental-style rugs and fashionable appliques on clothing, to test a new automobile or airplane's performance befor a working model has been built, to draw a map and explain what the map means, to draw and help design a building or its plumbing and heating schematics, to draw a cartoon scene for a Saturday morning television program and put the scene in motion. Computer graphics have also been responsible for some of the more spectacular scenes in the "Star Wars" movies and Disney's "The Black Hole."
In industry the computer graphics terminal has perhaps its brightest future.
The technology already exists for "hands-off" production facilities in which a product is designed on a computer graphics terminal in the front office of the factory and the resulting design is then fed electronically into a machine that adapts itself to produce the design and eventually spits it out the back of the factory wrapped, addressed for delivery and untouched by human hands. Some solid-state electronic parts are already manufactured this way.
And, of course, simple computer graphics are used increasingly in suburban homes for a rousing game of armchair "pong," a search-and-destroy mission in outer space, a game of backgammon or blackjack.
Although pioneering work began on computer graphics about 15 years ago, the mushroom growth of the field is recent. In 1974, only 64 people attended the first national conference of Siggraph, a special-interest group of scientists working in computer graphics. This year, there were 6,000 people registered and 123 papers submitted for the same conference. About 80 percent of the people attending were not computer scientists but people who use computer graphics in medicine, physics, chemistry, product design and education.
A computer makes pictures on a television-like screen by a method something like the paint-by-number kits you can buy in hobby shops or the Etch-a-Sketch gadgets you can buy in toy shops. The screen is divided into a grid of numbered points called pixels (shorthand for "picture elements"), and the computer is instructed what color to put at a given point. More pixels are needed for a big screen than for a small one, and you can get away with fewer if you are using color and the picture is moving, because in such circumstances the eye demands less detail. For fine detail, some systems can divide a screen into millions of pixels.
There are various technologies. One system, the vector, draws lines between points on the screen and is best for precision work such as mechanical drawing and architecture. Another, the raster scan, operates something like a computer-directed color television screen. A cathode ray tube scans the screen constantly (60 times per second), beginning in the upper left corner and working down to the lower right. On each new scan it either repeats or changes the color already there, giving the picture the capability of motion. The picture can be made interactive -- changed by a person using a keyboard or an electronic "pencil" directly on the video screen. p
Once you have numbers translated into moving pictures, the possibilities are unlimited. At McDonnell-Douglas, the Navy's new F-18 fighter jet is flying in computer programs. Its wing configuration is changed in mid-flight to see which design works best.
"An engineer's designing skills have to be as sharp as ever," says Harry Soisman, the company's director of corporate manufacturing, "but the computer puts at his fingertips an enormous bank of previously stored knowledge -- millions of bits of information that he can draw on to develop his own concept. The computer lets him play with various options until those that fit a particular need all run together."
While industrial giants such as IBM, Ford and McDonnell-Douglas are the most noticeable figures on the computer-graphics landscape, the field is still new and flexible enough to allow small companies with innovative ideas rather than massive capital to gain a foothold. One such company is Contax, originated in Boston five years ago by two computer experts, George Soerheide and Ken Weiss.
"The idea was sort of evolved over a six-pack while sailing in Boston Harbor," says Soerheide. Today, after two years of production and sales, the company is still small, with eight full-time employes nand about the same number working part-time, but it has more business, nationwide, than it can handle.
Contax designs, sells and installs a highly specialized computer graphics system for taxicab companies and courier services that costs from $55,000 to $100,000.
The system keeps track of moving vehicles and picks the unit that is best located to answer a new call. A grid map of the city is displayed on a video screen and duplicated on a computer keyboard. The changing location of each taxi or courier is shown on the screen, and when a call comes in the dispatcher simply pushes the button for the section of the city where the call originated.
The computer's memory knows which streets are oneway and where a vehicle will have to go around obstacles such as a river or a park, and it is programmed to keep track of changing traffic patterns according to the time of day, updating the pattern every half-hour.
When the system originated, the computer would simply search for the best cab to take the call and tell the dispatcher. But now some clients are beginning to install equipment in taxis so the computer can communicate directly with the driver. One company adding this new feature is Yellow and City Cabs of Orlando, Fla., which was Contax's first client two years ago. "They absorbed a 40 percent increase in business during the first year with no increase in the number of cabs or dispatchers," Soerheide says. "That's a cool million dollars on the bottom line."
And in the future? For you, at home? James Foley, a computer graphics expert and professor at George Washington University says the technology already exists for this scene:
After waking up and showering, Bill, who lives in Wheaton and works at the Agriculture department, flips on his home television and switches to the cable channel for travel and weather. After punching a few buttons on his home keyboard, which looks like a typewriter, the set shows him a map that indicates alternative routes to his job in different colors. Georgia Avenue to 16th Street looks like the best bet if he chooses to drive, but the screen suggests he avoid the predicted traffic jam at Monthomery Hills by detouring down Forest Glen Road to Second Avenue to the 16th Street extension.
The display on the colorcoded route map notes that Bill will save 92 cents in costs each way that day by parking his car on Second Avenue and walking four blocks to the Metro in Silver Spring. The display also notes that this will take him 18 minutes longer than driving.
By pressing a few more buttons Bill discovers that heavy thunderstorms are predicted for the afternoon, and by over-laying weather information on his route map, he finds that the route home should be changed to avoid a possible street-flooding situation at 16th and Rittenhouse Streets.
A few more buttons pressed and Bill scans a seating plan for The Kennedy Center's Eisenhower theater, selects two orchestra seats for the following night and has them billed to his bank account. Other buttons and a complete analysis of the six stocks Bill has invested in are displayed in instantly comprehensible graph form.
"This is not as blue-sky as it sounds," Foley says. "A lot of these things are simply a matter of costs . . . a lot of this sort of stuff is available off the shelf, but it's expensive. Too expensive right now."