26 July 2012

Q&A with SIGGRAPH 2012 Mobile Chair Lars Erik Holmquist

The following is a brief conversation with Lars Erik Holmquist, SIGGRAPH Mobile Chair and Principal Research Scientist at Yahoo! Labs. Holmquist has led pioneering research efforts in mobile user interfaces, robotic toys, information displays, media sharing, location-based applications, and much more. 

Prior to joining Yahoo! Labs, he headed major research labs at several Swedish institutes, and was co-founder and research leader at a large research center with 45 employees and total funding of over $30 million.

Lars Erik Holmquist, SIGGRAPH Mobile Chair
How is SIGGRAPH Mobile the same and also different from the Symposium on Apps at SIGGRAPH Asia?
The SIGGRAPH Asia Symposium on Apps started last year in Hong Kong, and is a great way to showcase the applied and business side of mobile applications. For SIGGRAPH Mobile, we want  to not only retain that, but also delve deeper into what makes mobile graphics great. To this end, we have lined up exciting mobile graphics hardware and software presentations with many of the top providers and leading academics. This is a great development and gives the LA program a unique feel.

How would you briefly describe this year's content?
It has a great mix of show-stopping demos, hands-on tutorials, and cutting-edge presentations and discussions. We start early in the week with a basic "get up and running" iOS graphics tutorial and an introduction ofp the mobile web framework Cocktails and Mojito. During the main day, we have content ranging from intermediate to advanced, from a panel of some of the biggest mobile GPU vendors to presentations on how to utilize mobile graphics in settings ranging from advertisements to in-car applications.

If someone is new to the field or a passive user, why would this content still be of interest?
This program gives a "lay of the land" of the mobile graphics landscape at a level that should be accessible to most SIGGRAPH attendees. If you just want to see what is going on in the field, you can hang out in the demo area and see the some of the latest mobile hardware and software. If you want to get your hands dirty, several tutorials will give you a first taste of developing mobile graphics and apps. And if you want to know how to transform your existing SIGGRAPH knowledge into the mobile world, much of the program is dedicated to showing techniques and frameworks that can optimize that process.

Image from the Talk: Mobile Augmented Reality in Advertising

Why is it important for SIGGRAPH to have this as a content category?
From the early days, computer graphics was the domain of science and specialized industry. Today, we have reached a stage were literally everyone can carry the equivalent of a high-end workstation in their pocket. This has had an incredible impact on the accessibility and applications of computer graphics. While the dedicated server farms of the major studios and research centers will always have the edge on quality, for most people, phones and tablets are now their main contacts with games, movies, and other digital media. SIGGRAPH needed to acknowledge this change because it is where much of the future (and actually even the current) market for graphics lies.

What trends are you seeing in this industry?
We are seeing a strong trend toward powerful mobile GPUs that make it possible to develop high-quality interactive graphics (both 2D and 3D) in shorter times and with higher cross-device compatibility.  But for mobile, there are limiting factors that don't affect traditional graphics workstations, such as power consumption and heat issues. Thus vendors have to work even harder to bring out chips that provide the desired performance without draining your battery (or catching fire in your pocket!)

I also see a trend for higher resolution display, where many manufacturers are pushing the limit of how many pixels you can cram onto a screen, until we are at a stage where the detail level is beyond what the human eye can discern. When that level is reached, the industry needs to optimize other aspects of the visuals, such as color reproduction and power consumption.

Where do you see mobile graphics and devices in 3-5 years from now?
There will be a trend toward integrating mobile devices even more with the real world around us; for instance, by using sensors to pick up what the user is doing and what they plan to do. I also would like to see interfaces that bring the small screen of the mobile device out into the world, rather than it being the focus of one person's attention. Instead of wearable screens or glasses that hide our face and isolate us from others, I am excited by technologies such as projector phones, where you can project graphics on literally any surface. Mobile devices play a big role in our social life, and technology should be designed so that they bring us closer together, not further apart.

Describe an exciting project you have recently worked on at Yahoo! Research
We are working on some incredibly interesting techniques to make the real world searchable and available for information processing. Imagine if you could do a search for your lost wallet, much like you search the Internet for web pages today, and the system would tell you that you left it on the kitchen table! Or what if a store down the street could access your wardrobe and automatically recommend a tie that goes well with your shirts, much like Amazon recommends books based on your and others’ purchases? We call this hyper-personalization, and it has the potential to change how we live and interact with the physical world in the future.

What motivates you as a SIGGRAPH volunteer?
It is a great community and an exciting, vibrant conference! No other place has such a wild mix of everything from movie special effects to robots, and I learn something new every time I go.

What other SIGGRAPH content are you looking forward to experiencing outside the Mobile program?
I always love to attend the main Electronic Theater screenings - it is almost like going to a Hollywood premiere! I also make sure to check out Emerging Technologies and Art Gallery for the latest in interactive technology and installations, and attend the Technical Papers Preview to get a feel for the newest techniques in research.

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