Issue: Volume: 22 Issue: 11 (November1999)

For People Who Need People

The latest product from human-simulation company Boston Dynamics Inc. (BDI) is destined to be a crowd-pleaser, or at least a crowd-maker. Called PeopleShop, the turnkey application lets users rapidly populate real-time virtual environments with lifelike human characters who move realistically throughout the digital terrain in which they`re placed. The system comes with a full cast of people, each of whom has its own skeleton, texture-mapped geometry, and behavior library. The characters are embedded with a degree of intelligence, enabling them to move realistically within and around structures and objects and to make natural transitions between activities.
Image courtesy of Boston Dynamics. Terrain databases courtesy of NAWCTSD.

Most of the PeopleShop functions can be accessed in real time from within a scene. Users can create and edit activity via a graphical interface and watch the characters act out their rolls immediately. Also, they can edit and play a scene simultaneously. The program supports embeddable run-time applications, enabling users to export PeopleShop scenes and install them into third-party real-time systems.

PeopleShop is an outgrowth of BDI`s research into real-time character development and biomechanical simulations. The application was designed to streamline the creation of virtual environments for a range of applications, including architectural visualization, urban planning, marketing, driving simulation, military training, and mission-planning systems.

"[PeopleShop] is really the first off-the-shelf, reasonably priced program for this kind of thing," says Ron Wolff, a researcher at the Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division (NAWCTSD). Wolff and his colleagues use modeling and simulation tools to help evaluate new weapon concepts. They populate their virtual environments with armed soldiers who need to move and respond to the environment. "There`s a lot of work going on in human animation, but much of it is still very complex and far off. BDI has taken a simplistic approach to provide a product that works now," says Wolff.

BDI sells PeopleShop direct in North America and through resellers internationally. Direct, the development software, including all characters and motions, costs $13,500.

Cambridge, MA