Three-dimensional PDFs for Adobe Acrobat 8.0 and above

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Three-dimensional PDFs for Adobe Acrobat 8.0 and above

A new software technique has been developed to allow interactive, three-dimensional visualisations to be embedded into Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) files.

Developed by a pair of researchers from the Swinburne University of Technology’s Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing, the technology is expected to support a shift from paper-based scientific journals to fully digital publications.

Version 8.0 and above of Adobe Acrobat Readers currently support three-dimensional features via its Acrobat 3D software, which is designed to support CAD imaging for engineering operations. But scientific researchers have different requirements to engineers, explained Christopher Fluke, who developed the new technique at Swinburne.

“The way that researchers deal with data is very different to an engineering model,” he said. “We’ve made use of that [Acrobat 3D] framework, but what we’ve done that’s different is put more of the emphasis on getting data sets in.”

Using the newly-developed technique, there are two steps to embedding a three-dimensional model into a PDF document. The first step is based on a tool called the S2PLOT programming library, which has been built on top of OpenGL to simplify the creation of three-dimensional science visuals. Three-dimensional visuals are then exported and embedded into a PDF document.

S2PLOT has been two years in development, Fluke said, after which the technique to embed the tool’s three-dimensional product into the PDF format took the researchers a mere three weeks to create.

“We’d been working with 3D projection techniques at Swinburne for the last eight or nine years,” he said.

“Several years ago, we went back and looked at some of the reasons why researchers weren’t using 3D techniques in their work. This technique has been in part motivated by what the researchers want, which is a way to publish their three-dimensional data sets.”

“One of the biggest advantages is that as a reader of a document with interactive three-dimensional features in it, you can actually do science while reading the article. You could maybe even see things that the original author didn’t realise were there,” he said.

As yet, the researchers have neither plans to discuss the technique with Adobe, nor plans for commercialisation. While the technique is open for consumer use, Fluke said its main focus is the scientific community.

“As astrophysicists ourselves, [colleague and co-developer] David Barnes and myself are most in the short-term [outcomes]: doing better science, and helping our colleagues to do better science. But we can see that there are lots of other applications for this technology as well,” he said.

“We’re certainly interested if someone saw a [commercial] use for it. In the short term, we’re mostly interested in making sure this is a technique that researchers can use, and the easiest way to do that is not commercialise it.”
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