My Research Background
In my Ph.D., I studied how people perceive, understand, utilize, and interact with real and digital objects during the early stage of the design process. Consequently, I developed techniques to effectively convey visual information and increase the expressive power of 3D computer graphics. This entailed the creation of a free-form modelling system with which a designer can augment their skills while modeling virtual scenes in a Mixed Reality environment. In this regard, I developed software components and hardware prototypes to magnify the potential offered by virtual environments to support the early phase of computer aided design.
I initiated my research based on the premise that, despite the widespread adoption of sophisticated software tools for mechanical design, serious difficulties were intrinsic to the stage of the design process where free-form surfaces have to be modeled according to functional product constraints and requirements. Many software solutions had attempted to tackle this issue, but products developed for 3D-modelling have never been nearly as user-friendly as those commonly employed for mechanical design. As a matter of fact, for 3D-modelling, traditional input-output interfaces such as mice, keyboards, and monitors are not suitable for maximally efficient interactions between humans and software. I hypothesized that interfaces used in virtual reality systems, like gloves and head-mounted displays, could be much more effective because they allowed for the exploration of 3D space in a more intuitive way.
From 1999 until 2003, I worked as a scientist at the Industrial Applications Department of the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research in Darmstadt, Germany and as a senior researcher at the Interactive Graphics Systems Group at Technical University of Darmstadt. During that time, I investigated a wide range of research topics in related to Virtual Engineering, especially regarding the simulation, analysis, and optimization of complex engineering applications for manufacturing and design. I actively contributed to the design of interactive digital products, environments, systems, and service technologies, supporting the entire production lifecycle from design to manufacturing. In particular, I led the design and I implemented part of the SpaceDesign system and I started and coordinated the development of the SmartSketches user-centered system, which both introduced computer-based tools into the initial stages of product design within mixed reality environments. To this end, the systems provided innovative multimodal user interfaces combining sketches, gestures, speech, and other intuitive mechanisms to accomplish design tasks in different contexts, ranging from small tablets to large-scale displays and immersive environments.
Within this application domain, I worked in the following investigative areas:
User and cognitive task analysis of multimodal interfaces.
Visual languages and multimodal input to describe model constraints.
Extended virtual and augmented environments for design.
Efficient search algorithms to match sketches against multimedia databases.
Intelligent user interfaces for product design.
Interactive building of precise 3D models from sketches.
Usability studies and empirical evaluations of multimodal interfaces.
In 2003, I was appointed Managing Director of GraphiTech Foundation, Italy. Under my leadership, Graphitech’s mission was to transfer knowledge between research and industry sectors by researching advanced graphics, information elaboration, and visual communication, which was achieved using mixed reality and Virtual Engineering.
While I held this position, I continued my research in the domain of Virtual Engineering, investigating the efficient and effective use of both large displays and lightweight near-to-the-eye displays within the product development process. I was interested in improving interaction with lightweight near-to-the-eye screens and tiled stereoscopic large-size displays. To do so, I studied how the improvements in interaction processes can be coupled with developments at the hardware level, resulting in the development of unique stereoscopic head-mounted displays using emerging display technologies such as LCOS and OLEDs. Software improvements enabled fidelity of the content to be displayed (rendering quality) and also supported the interface between the user and the displays through innovative 2D/3D interaction techniques for mixed reality and advanced tracking systems.
Later, my research activities widened from Virtual Engineering to the design of geo-intelligent and complex visualization systems, products, and related services, addressing aspects such as interactive spatial data infrastructure, context awareness, and the quality of dynamic interaction. In this context, I was the Principal Investigator of several relevant international research projects in which I evaluated the extent to which human participation and the use of technology are key factors for smart and sustainable urban development in the context of civil protection, eco-terrorism, energy efficiency, e-inclusion smart cities, and territories. My research used spatial data and geographic information systems to create new 3D-enabled data visualization services and to develop applications and interactive interfaces to support decision makers so that they might deliver better, quicker and more effective policies in the specific fields of environmental policy, emergency services, mobility applications, urban planning, monitoring, and regulatory governance. Within this application domain, I implemented the latest generation of 3D urban information models to create interactive web services based on geometric, semantic, morphological and visual appearance properties. In the last five years, this vision has evolved to more recent research interest addressing issues such as the visualization of a very large amount of multidimensional data to be made interactively available to a user looking for rapid, dynamic decision support. Within this topic, I focus on interactive visualization and intelligent complexity reduction for strategic activities. This entails investigating methodologies and developing information and telecommunication platforms to support the extensive analysis of existing data to deduce new and meaningful patterns. In this scientific domain, I was paying a specific attention to a plethora of issues dealing with environmental security and its implications for economic, cultural, and political instability.
Meanwhile, I had the opportunity and pleasure to explore the application of information technology in the domain of cultural heritage, with the aim to connect different cultures using new technologies and to develop instruments for the re-qualification of the archaeological, architectural and monumental patrimony. The possibility to visit an archaeological landscape or site and at the same time experience its reconstruction interactively makes the user experience more engaging, culturally enriching and entertaining. In fact, archaeological sites and ancient monuments are usually perceived by neophytes as fragmented, partial, difficult to interpret and comprehend, and irrelevant in the contemporary age. Furthermore, visitors of individual archaeological sites cannot intuitively deduce a wide picture of cultural and stylistic interrelations between various sites without visiting other culturally similar or related locations. This results in a frustrating and limiting experience for most people. The curators of archaeological sites tried to respond to this displaying textual information, artists’ historical renderings, and physical models of ancient monuments. These are all very small attempts to fill the lack of context that most of the visitors' experience, which has required a significant temporal investment and has shown limited results. I postulated that visitors need interactive and mobile tools from where to access data on demand about the site’s cultural background, artistic aspects, historical context, and other valuable information in order to effectively receive an enriched experience.
Similarly to my time in other research fields, I mainly gained experience in this domain through the leading medium-size projects funded by the European community and public and private institutions, collaborating with highly interdisciplinary and geographically distributed teams. The experience I had in this scientific domain permeates throughout and influences all my research vision, informing my goal to support the cultural interconnectivity of the world.