Inventors have their own Oscars: The Sci-Tech Awards

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In this still image from a video posted on YouTube, an engineer demonstrates how an innovation called Stop Motion Animator can be used in filmmaking. (Oscars.Org video via YouTube)
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In this still image from a video posted on YouTube, an engineer demonstrates how an innovation called Stop Motion Animator can be used in filmmaking. (Oscars.Org video via YouTube)
Updated 08 February 2018
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Inventors have their own Oscars: The Sci-Tech Awards

LOS ANGELES: Engineers and inventors who create innovations for the movie business have their own Academy Awards.
Presented since 1931, the film academy’s Scientific and Technical Awards recognize engineering and design achievements that have had a lasting influence on the art of filmmaking, from newfangled camera rigs to advanced computer software that makes animated renderings more precise.
“The academy tries to recognize cleverness and the things that change the movies,” said Doug Roble, creative director of software at Digital Domain and vice-chair of the academy’s Scientific and Technical Awards committee.
Since 1977, these prizes have been awarded at a dinner ceremony ahead of the Academy Awards. The private, untelevised event is generally hosted by a celebrity or two, who often struggle to explain the inventions being honored.
This year’s ceremony, set for Saturday, will be hosted by Patrick Stewart.
The Sci-Tech Awards, as they are colloquially known, comprise certificates, plaques and Oscar statuettes. Unlike the Academy Awards, Sci-Tech prizes aren’t for the previous year’s work. Inventions aren’t generally considered for Sci-Tech Awards until they’ve been used in various productions, Roble said.
“We take the long view,” he said. “We are awarding software or hardware or engineering that has stood the test of time... One of the things we look for is adoption of the technology beyond just the people who created it.”
All kinds of game-changing inventions are eligible for consideration.
“Last year we gave a mechanical horse puppet a Sci-Tech Award,” Roble said.
The creation makes it easier to film scenes on “horseback,” for both the performer and director. But it’s not just a hydraulic marvel.
“It had to be horsey enough that the horses around the actor will accept it,” Roble said, adding that the puppet has a tail that swishes back and forth. It was used in 2015’s “The Revenant,” among other films.
Other inventions that have been recognized include a pump device that helps flip cars in action films and software (created by Roble) that digitized certain shots of food that were previously done with practical effects.
This year’s awardees include an advanced camera rig mount that makes aerial shots easier and several software developments critical to modern animated movies.
The Presto and Premo character animation systems allow artists to see their fully rendered characters interact with other characters in real time. The old process was far less detailed and way more time consuming, Roble said.
“The technology these guys built is just beautiful, and it’s optimized to take full advantage of the latest hardware,” he said, adding that it’s been used in Pixar and DreamWorks Animation productions.
Three Oscar statuettes will be presented Saturday as well, with two of them recognizing the Houdini visual effects and animation system.
“It has become the de-facto standard for doing visual effects at studios,” Roble said. “It’s like a Photoshop for destruction.”
Where Photoshop allows users to manipulate images, Houdini allows them to manipulate three-dimensional objects. Artists can program specific details that are then extrapolated out to entire structures or scenes.
It’s this technology that created the warped buildings in Marvel’s “Doctor Strange” and galactic destruction in “Rogue One.”
The program’s pioneer, Mark Elendt, and the company he works for, Side Effects Software, will each receive the Academy Award of Merit, an Oscar statuette. Visual effects artist Jonathan Erland will receive the Gordon E. Sawyer Award, an Oscar statuette for his career contributions that include pioneering effects for “Star Wars” in 1977 and “Star Trek” two years later.
Roble noted that the innovations recognized with the film academy’s Sci-Tech Awards all share one thing in common: “This is all in service of art.”


Tesla in Autopilot sped up before Utah crash

Updated 25 May 2018
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Tesla in Autopilot sped up before Utah crash

  • Heather Lommatzsch, the driver of the vehicle, told police she thought the vehicle’s automatic emergency braking system would detect traffic and stop before the car hit another vehicle.
  • Police say car data show Lommatzsch did not touch the steering wheel for 80 seconds before the crash. She told police she was looking at her phone at the time and comparing different routes to her des
SALT LAKE CITY, US: A Tesla that crashed while in Autopilot mode in Utah this month accelerated in the seconds before it smashed into a stopped firetruck, according to a police report obtained by The Associated Press Thursday. Two people were injured.
Data from the Model S electric vehicle show it picked up speed for 3.5 seconds shortly before crashing into a stopped firetruck in suburban Salt Lake City, the report said. The driver manually hit the brakes a fraction of a second before impact.
Police suggested that the car was following another vehicle and dropped its speed to 55 mph to match the leading vehicle. They say the leading vehicle then likely changed lanes and the Tesla automatically sped up to its preset of 60 mph (97 kph) without noticing the stopped cars ahead of it.
The police report, which was obtained through an open records request, provides detail about the vehicle’s actions immediately before the May 11 crash and the driver’s familiarity with its system.
The driver of the vehicle, Heather Lommatzsch, 29, told police she thought the vehicle’s automatic emergency braking system would detect traffic and stop before the car hit another vehicle.
She said she had owned the car for two years and used the semi-autonomous Autopilot feature on all sorts of roadways, including on the Utah highway where she crashed, according to the report.
Lommatzsch said the car did not provide any audio or visual warnings before the crash. A witness told police she did not see signs the car illuminate its brake lights or swerve to avoid the truck ahead of it.
Lommatzsch did not return a voicemail Thursday. A Tesla spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
The car company has said it repeatedly warns drivers to stay alert, keep their hands on the wheel and maintain control of their vehicle at all times while using the Autopilot system.
Police say car data show Lommatzsch did not touch the steering wheel for 80 seconds before the crash. She told police she was looking at her phone at the time and comparing different routes to her destination.
She broke her foot in the crash and this week was charged with a misdemeanor traffic citation. Online court records do not show an attorney listed for her.
The driver of the firetruck told police he had injuries consistent with whiplash but did not go to a hospital.
Tesla’s Autopilot system uses cameras, ultrasonic sensors and radar to sense the vehicle’s surrounding environment and perform basic functions automatically.
Among those functions is automatic emergency braking, which the company says on its website is designed “to detect objects that the car may impact and applies the brakes accordingly.” Tesla says the system is not designed to avoid a collision and warns drivers not to rely on it entirely.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has said it is investigating the May 11 crash.
Tesla’s Autopilot has been the subject of previous scrutiny following other crashes involving the vehicles.
In March, a driver was killed when a Model X with Autopilot engaged hit a barrier while traveling at “freeway speed” in California. NHTSA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating that case.
This week, Tesla said Autopilot was not engaged when a Model S veered off a road and plunged into a pond outside San Francisco, killing the driver.
Earlier in May, the NTSB opened a probe into an accident in which a Model S caught fire after crashing into a wall at a high speed in Florida. Two 18-year-olds were trapped and died in the blaze. The agency has said it does not expect Autopilot to be a focus in that investigation.