While typical search engine technology is based on words, researchers are developing a system that can create catalogs of 3-D objects.
Search engines like Google and Yahoo are still working to create retrieval systems for 2-D images, the results of which are often random and not nearly as sophisticated as some of the 3-D research and development currently being done at universities like Purdue and Princeton.
According to experts, a 3-D search result can retrieve information based on a simple sketch of an object. At Princeton, researchers have created a 3-D search engine that lets anyone sketch an object using a computer mouse, they can add a textual description, and then search for similar models in design databases.
In some cases researchers can submit only partial samples of a desired form and still retrieve a collection of similar results from a search. Results can then be modified and submitted again for a more precise rendering.
There is also some 3-D technology in development that can learn habitual search patterns from queries and can eventually present additional search results based on previous search behavior.
According to researchers, 3-D technology is based on what are known as "voxels," similar to pixels, only they are an element of a 3-D object that is represented in a computer. Sketches submitted as search queries are translated into voxels and then voxel patterns are used to scour databases.
"The idea of information and knowledge, and retrieval of knowledge, has been something I've been intrigued with for a long time. This gives it a more solidified meaning," said Karthik Ramani, a Purdue University professor involved in the development of his own specialized type of 3-D search technology.
Ramani, who refers to the emergence of 3-D search technology as the beginning of the information age, predicts that 3-D search engines will be of enormous benefit to the industrial sector where time and money is frequently lost on man power for specialized designs.