The 2012 Laureates / Advanced Technology Category / Information Science

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Ivan Edward Sutherland

U.S.A. / May 16, 1938
Computer Scientist
Visiting Scientist, Portland State University

“Pioneering Achievements in the Development of Computer Graphics and Interactive Interfaces”
Dr. Sutherland has been responsible for many pioneering advances and fundamental contributions to the computer graphics technology used for information presentation, as well as the interactive interfaces that allow people to utilize computers without the need for programming.

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Pioneering Achievements in Computer Graphics and Interactive Interfaces

Contributions to computer graphics

Today, we often hear about computer graphics (CG). One application of this technology is computer-aided design (CAD), which is now widely used for the configuration design of mechanical parts across a wide range of industrial sectors, including automobiles, aviation and construction. CG is also used extensively in everyday entertainment, for film special effects, animations and television commercials. Simulations of space exploration or earthquakes and other natural phenomena are frequently utilized not only by researchers, but also as educational materials and in news programs.

Most of these technologies have origins in the “Sketchpad” system (program), which Dr. Sutherland published in 1963 as part of his doctoral dissertation. Users of “Sketchpad” were able to move, rotate and resize shapes drawn with lines on a computer CRT display by using a light pen as a pointing device. This system also allowed the user to store basic shapes such as circles and triangles in a library and then use them in combination. This invention essentially represented the birth of today’s interactive computer graphics that can now be used even without any programming knowledge.

Contributions to virtual reality and augmented reality

In recent years, 3D films and television programs have attracted a great deal of attention, but CG technology has already been used to create virtual reality (VR) by reproducing and simulating real environments. Applications for VR include flight simulators, which are used for pilot flight training, and architectural planning, which uses design drawings to create conceptual schematics in the form of 3D images so that the completed building environment may be viewed prior to construction. In a similar vein, augmented reality (AR) technology is now finding a wide range of applications including car navigation systems, which have recently been gaining in popularity. These navigation systems no longer merely display maps on a screen, but can now also show information about nearby shops and attractions superimposed over actual images of the landscape. Dr. Sutherland is the person who effectively opened the door to these new worlds of VR and AR.

In 1965, two years after the announcement of “Sketchpad,” Dr. Sutherland published a paper titled “The Ultimate Display,” in which he outlined the potential of “spaces” created using CG. Then, in 1968, he introduced a head-mounted 3D display system called “The Sword of Damocles” because of its unique design, suspended from the ceiling. This display system came with a small stereoscopic CRT display on which a 3D image made up of simple lines changed along with the user’s head movements.

Contributions to practical applications and industrial developments

Considering himself an engineer, Dr. Sutherland has not limited his work solely to research at universities but has also founded companies, making significant contributions to the advancement of computer graphics through the development of CG workstations and others. His research laboratories and companies have produced a number of talented individuals who are now contributing their services to the development of today’s computer industry, including Dr. Alan Curtis Kay (2004 Kyoto Prize laureate). Currently, Dr. Sutherland is also involved in research projects that are expected to contribute to the advancement of computer science as a whole, including a project for creating more efficient semiconductor integrated circuits using asynchronous logic.

For more details, see the Achievements.

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