Have you ever played a video game or watched an animated movie with super realistic light and shadow movement? Ray tracing allows game developers and animators to emulate the way that light works in the real world, tracing the path of simulated light as it bounces off objects, interacts with the properties of other objects, and how its hue can change over time or as it moves across surfaces. Recreating the way that light works in the real world is resource intensive, requiring massive amount of computing power. Until recently game developers had struggled against the limitations of graphics cards that didn’t allow ray tracing technology to function properly in games. All that changed in 2019 with the introduction of Nvidia’s RTX 2000 graphics cards. While the potential that this opens up for gaming are huge, here are just a few of the endless possibilities for real-world applications of ray tracing in fields as diverse as medicine, TV and stage productions, architecture, and engineering.
In medicine, ray tracing is making major breakthroughs in the world of 3-D imaging. A huge leap beyond X-Rays, ray tracing will allow medical professional to create photo-realistic images of the brain, heart, and other vital organs with greater accuracy, which could mean major strides in the detection and treatment of tumors or medical defects.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is already undertaking research to produce the most detailed 3-D organ visualizations ever created. Using ray tracing software, researchers are able to create a photo-realistic image of the internal organs of mice and are working on expanding the possibility of using real-time ray tracing in medical settings to better image objects for the diagnosis and treatment of diseases.
Additionally, researchers and software technicians are working together to expand the use of ray tracing software to improve ultrasounds. Beyond allowing expectant parents to get a clearer image of their unborn child, the use of ray tracing in ultrasounds will also enable doctors to diagnose potential birth defects in-utero and make treatment plans prior to birth. For those seeking medical treatment, real-time ray tracing ultrasounds will allow doctors to better understand the extent of a patient’s injuries and better plan for surgery or other treatment options. Check out Going Under the Virtual Knife to learn more about how technology and medicine are working together to create better outcomes for patients.
Wonders of architecture
Since its very beginnings, the architecture industry has relied on hand-drawn renderings to help clients visualize proposed designs. Computer aided design (CAD) programs made creating those renderings less time-intensive, but even they had limits.
Both hand-drawn designs and CAD models have failed to produce realistic illumination effects and visualize how light will behave in the environment. Backwards ray tracing now offers architects the opportunity to create visually realistic images with accurate light modelling. Ray tracing software is succeeding in bringing architectural design to life.
On the stage
Theater and television lighting professional often spend days, weeks, or even months planning stage lighting setups. Often, when the lighting professionals finally get access to the venue or stage, they find that their lighting arrangement doesn’t work within the space or that there are additional aspects of the space that they didn’t take into account when planning lighting – leaving them scrambling to modify their plans.
Ray tracing allows lighting professionals to create visually realistic light models within an architectural rendering of the production space. Allowing set and light designers to develop and visualize complex lighting setups months before production ever begins, ray tracing is saving productions time, money, and effort.
Taking the world of ray tracing beyond rendering photo-realistic pictures, engineers are using the technology for global illumination. Lighting designers, solar energy researchers, and mechanical engineers are expanding the applications of ray tracing software beyond what was once thought possible.
Engineers are able to use ray tracing to predict illumination levels, luminance gradients, and visual performance criteria. Global illumination via ray tracing also allows engineers to analyze the distribution and directionality of light and radiant heat transfer from that light, which can help reduce the costs of heating and lighting spaces – especially important for companies focused on becoming more green.
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