Virtual Reality tools will allow integrating the 3D models of the geology, of the environment and of the fossils in the same framework which will be a virtual representation of the excavation site.
A global 3D visualization
The virtual site will have a very complex geometry and only a powerful Virtual Reality platform will allow the user to visualize it in totality and in real time. The FOVEA Project will have access to the IRIT Virtual Reality platform. In particular, the stereoscopic glasses will give a better perception of the depth. The paleo-anthropologist will be also able to easily "fly" in the site thanks to 6 degrees of freedom interfaces (joystick, glove, mouse, etc.). Computer graphics procedures allow tuning the display according to the research goals: for example, the paleo-anthropologist will be able to display in solid the objects and the fossils corresponding to a given time period whereas he will see in transparency, the neighbouring geometrical layers.
A new approach: the 4D excavation
The conjoint visualization of the 3D models of the geology, of the environment and of the fossils will allow understanding their relationship: for example, a fossil found among numerous stone tools which are in the same geological layer will allow to correlate the physical features of the Prehistoric Man with his cognitive abilities and to date this evolution stage. Moreover, if we are able to model the physical properties of the geological layers, the paleo-anthropologist will be able to deform the layers to study the subsoil at a given date. He will see then the modification on the localization of the artifacts and the influence on the shape of the fossils. The 3D model of the excavation site will then become a 4D model (i.e., 3D + time).
An innovative interface mode: the haptic feedback
We have seen above that it is very important to have a 3D interface mode. Nevertheless, a 6D mouse or a data-glove can only give a visual feedback that is limited for some operations as precisely grasping an object. We plan to study the utility of the haptic feedback for virtual excavation. For example, the paleo-anthropologist could "feel" the resistance of the geological layers when he tries to deform them. He could also probe the site by feeling a force proportional to the density or to the properties of some objects. At last, the possibility to "touch" the surfaces of the fossil models could allow the user to better understand the shape of some complex anatomical structures. Haptic feedback devices are available in the IRIT Virtual Reality platform.
Towards a distributed paleo-anthropological research?
All the FOVEA data and results will be made available on Internet via a Web site. This should catalyze multidisciplinary research as geologists, specialists of the fauna, stone tools typologists or paleo-anthropologists will be able to work with the same data and to make more easily correlations between their respective works. Moreover, we will introduce in the Virtual Reality platform functionalities for collaborative work that were developed at IRIT. Simplified versions of the data and results could also be presented to the general public via videos or interactive consoles.