A group of researchers plans to release a version of the Firefox browser that includes the built-in ability to view 3D graphics, a capability that could open the door for more interactive Web pages from developers.
Some gaming companies have created plug-ins that allow 3D graphics to be viewed, but the latest method does not require one, which potentially would allow the capability to be used by more people, said Philipp Slusallek, a professor at Saarland University, at the Cebit trade show on Wednesday.
There are two ways to generate a three-dimensional image for a two-dimensional screen: rasterization and real-time ray tracing. What the researchers have done is developed faster software for performing real-time ray tracing, which is also aided by today's faster processors, Slusallek said.
They've integrated that real-time ray tracing technology, called RT Fact, into Firefox and Webkit, the rendering engine for browsers such as Safari and Chrome, Slusallek said. The images are then described using XML3D, part of the HTML Web programming language, and the browser can natively render the 3D scene.
"With the integration of HTML, it means that every Web programmer can directly apply their entire knowledge to 3D," Slusallek said.
During a demo at the Cebit trade show, Slusallek showed how a Wikipedia entry on Venice can be gussied up with a 3D graphic of one of the city's palaces. "You can stand on the balcony and actually look at Venice from the top floor," Slusallek said.
The researchers plan to release a version of Firefox with RT Fact, although they're checking with Mozilla to see if they can call the browser Firefox. They expect to release the modified browser within a week or two.
Slusallek said they would like the technology to be embraced by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which is responsible for creating Web standards, in the hope that other software vendors will integrate the technology in their browsers.
The technology "is ready to go," Slusallek said. "You can see it works."
RT Fact was also developed by the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence and the Intel Visual Computing Institute at Saarland University in Germany.
Update March 4, 2010, 7:05 PM PST: The story has been corrected to clarify which browsers are supported.