X-rite/Pantone, Inc.

X-Rite Pantone Deploys Its Ambitions of Creating an Eco-system for "Digital Appearance" by Significant Investments in Science

X-Rite Incorporated has forged a long-term relationship with the University of Bonn and acquired Sensible Graphics GmbH to take a leadership role in the promising science of digital appearance and the creation of a digital appearance “ecosystem”.

Sensible Graphics, a company providing digital appearance solutions, has gained a reputation for its unprecedentedly realistic virtual renderings of vehicle bodies coated with pearlescent paints, upholstery made from patterned textiles and leathers and other products with complex textures. The technology developed during the past few years by the founders of Sensible Graphics gives a significant competitive advantage to designers who need high-quality surface rendering information to produce photo-realistic virtual prototypes of products for the automotive, fashion, advertising and other industries. Terms of the investment were not disclosed.

X-Rite has also signed a long-term research agreement with the University of Bonn and agreed to establish a graduate school in the field of digital appearance to be led by Dr. Reinhard Klein, head of Computer Graphics Group at the university's Institute of Computer Science II. Professor Klein and his group have played a key role as thought leaders in the field of computer graphics during the past 10 years, developing methods of modeling, rendering and compression for data-driven digital material appearance.

"With these investments, X-Rite will extend its current leadership in the business of color into the field of appearance," said X-Rite Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Dr. Francis Lamy. "X-Rite Pantone dealt with aspects of appearance such as gloss and texture for years, but the work being done at the University of Bonn and at Sensible Graphics takes this to a whole new level of sophistication. The partnership with the Bonn team will enable X-Rite to develop a new core of technology that will enable the company to tackle high-value problems and serve markets a few orders of magnitude larger than current.”

Fundamentally, the new science and technology of modeling the physics of light-matter interaction enables the development of new types of instrumentation to holistically capture all appearance attributes, new technologies to formulate complex effect materials such as automotive paint, effect plastics or even contemporary complex (multi-layered and scattering) building materials and human skin, new accuracy and realism in rendering within the computing power (GPU) reach of mobile devices, and a categorization and classification system for materials based on their appearance attributes to enable search, retrieval and semantic referencing. All of this will lead to simplification of product design processes when dealing with complex materials.

"X-Rite will repurpose technologies developed over the last 2 decades by the computer graphics, entertainment and gaming industries for the benefit of its customers, with the aim to produce measurement-based accurate, physically correct simulation of real-world materials," Lamy added.

“We strongly believe that the post-PC computing devices – tablets, mobile platforms, and smart phones – will lead the redefinition of man-machine interaction and call for the digitalization of ‘sensorial’ experience (e.g. new and alternate forms of input devices, haptic devices, autostereoscopic displays). This creates a great opportunity for our initiative. Our ambition with the digitalization of appearance is to ride that mega-trend by offering true electronic metaphors to ‘real world’ materials.”

Central to this, X-Rite plans to expand the reach of the Pantone brand beyond its traditional relevance of communicating and specifying flat color into serving as a key standard for definition and categorization of complex digital materials. The PantoneLIVE digital color standards Digital Rights Management (DRM), which already delivers cloud-based color data, will be expanded in the coming years to manage and deliver appearance data.

 “After a multi-year search across three continents to upgrade our platform of capabilities, we have found a rare, world-class team at the University of Bonn who demonstrates thought leadership, technical sophistication and formal rigor, alongside an eagerness and passion for the challenge that mirror our own,” said Lamy. “We believe the partnership with Prof. Reinhard Klein and his team will enrich the skills and experience of both sides and we are excited at the prospect of walking this path together.”

"We are very pleased to have forged this partnership with X-Rite to promote further research into this exciting branch of computer science," Klein said. "We are very satisfied to see that our fundamental research is applied to commercially relevant problems.”

Led by Dr. Gero Mueller, Sensible Graphics has developed technology to process and compress data captured by a hemispherical array of digital cameras and light sources to create virtual prototypes with a remarkably realistic look nearly indistinguishable from that of the real object. “Since this is a measurement-based process, designers and 3D artists can now use physically correct and highly realistic virtual materials without time-consuming tweaking in material editors,” Mueller said.

The automotive industry has been an early adopter of Sensible Graphics’ appearance process for realistic digital renderings that show designers and customers how vehicles look when coated with pearlescent or iridescent paints and how upholstery looks when fashioned from textured woven cloths or leathers. Other industries that may find applications for the new technology include industrial design, fashion, cosmetics, advertising, and the entertainment industry.

 “Building from the solid technological framework established by Sensible Graphics and the University of Bonn, we anticipate this ecosystem of digital materials will revolutionize how our customers create and communicate appearance,” said Dr. Adrian Kohlbrenner, Director of Advanced Programs at X-Rite. “We are looking forward to taking Sensible Graphics’ extraordinary technology to the next level.”

X-Rite will give a sneak preview of Sensible Graphics' technology on Nov. 29th during its Automotive Innovation Day to be held at the ADAC Fahrsicherheitszentrum Nordbayern, near Nuremberg, Germany.

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