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Rudolph P. Darken
Professor
Dept. of Computer Scienceemail

Watkins Hall, Rm. 384
Naval Postgraduate School
Monterey, California 93943
(831) 656-7588 (office)
(831) 656-7599 (fax)
(831) 915-1063 (mobile)

 

Material contained herein is made available for the purpose of peer review and discussion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of the Navy or the Department of Defense. [Disclaimer]

A few words ...

I've been at the Naval Postgraduate School for over 10 years now as a Professor of Computer Science and also as a member and then Director of the Modeling and Simulation Institute there. I began my career at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington DC where I co-founded their first virtual environment lab in 1991. That was a great time. Just before the VR-hype got into full swing ... there were great people working in the field then. visorI was privileged to get to know most of them. Then it all got out of hand, and you probably know the rest of the story. I still believe that virtual environments are useful in specific circumstances, but now I advise people away from them more than I advise them towards them. Why? It's about the ends not the means. It's about high performing people (or highly entertained people), not gadgets. So I became more interested in the human side of interactive systems than in the gadgets. Interestingly, our ideas for gadgets actually got better and more innovative because of this. Understanding how technology impacts people means knowing about people and how they work and play as much as it means understanding the technology. Consequently my work has headed in the direction of human systems -- I want to know how to best develop solutions that fit people, I want to know how to do it affordably, and I want to know how to sustain those products through their useful lifetime.

Spatial cognition

I developed an interest in spatial cognition when it occurred to me that I got lost so easily in the virtual environments I would use in my laboratory. compassAt least it seemed to me that I got lost easier in virtual spaces than in real spaces (very debatable). This was my primary research program for the first 10 years of my academic career. We studied terrestrial navigation, mostly through sport orienteering, which turned out to be an amazing research vehicle. A former student of mine had that idea. Then another student extended this to helicopter pilots ... another great idea. We studied all sorts of tools and techniques. We studied training systems as well as performance aids. Lots of field work! I still think most of the potential for virtual environments as a study platform for spatial cognition has gone untapped. There is still so much to learn in this area.

Open source gaming and simulation

Eventually, our research program in spatial cognition led to the development of some useful software. It disturbed me that even with the favorable academic discounts we would receive, our customers still had to pay a high price to be able to use the software we developed. This irritated me so much that we got the idea to use open source. Now, this was hardly a novel idea ... tfopcsimhere were and are lots of open source game engines available. But we had a slightly different idea. We took a bunch of existing -- and most importantly successful -- open source projects and cobbled them together under a single API that became the Delta3D Open Source Game Engine. There are few things I hate more than vendor lock-in mechanisms that are not based in legitimate intellectual property. That is, if a vendor has an algorithm that is special and is their property, I'll pay for it. But don't try to make me pay for your scene graph because there are tons of those. Well, this "science project" took off. Lots of people thought the same way we did. In fact, we built one of the most successful applications to ever come out of our group with it -- the Forward Observer PC Simulator (pictured). But the problem with Delta3D was agility. Even with all the parts being open source, it was really hard to switch a module out and replace it. We're working on a way to remedy that now. It'll be a radical new way to develop games and simulations!

Technology transfer

What's worse than spending resources, time, and energy developing a technology and then having it not find its way into product development so it can be used? Academia often thinks of this as someone else's problem. We're doing something about it. Not only are we investigating novel ways to develop technologies (particularly in the software sector) that are transfer-friendly, but we're investigating how we can be a catalyst for the incubation and eventual transfer of technologies developed by the government both to government acquisition programs and to industry.