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News Release 97-012

Making the 'Multimedia Future' a Reality: NSF Center Links Hollywood With Silicon Valley

Cutting edge projects in scientific inquiry leading to new interactive media

February 13, 1997

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

In the next century, a personal computer could know from the inflection in your voice--or by a smile or frown--what you want it to do. Basic research in multimedia technology funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) is moving us much closer to that reality.

At NSF's engineering research center at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, a team of university researchers is investigating more natural ways to interact with computers than through a mouse or keyboard. The scientists have several partners in the effort, including the film and computer industries, along with federal, state, and local governments.

NSF has committed $12 million over the next five years to the Integrated Media Systems Center (IMSC) to overcome numerous engineering, technological, and even psychological barriers that currently prevent "blue sky" visions of multimedia computing from appearing on the nation's desktops.

The psychology of human-computer "interfaces" is just one thorny problem the center faces as researchers attempt to devise better ways to deliver sophisticated electronic presentations that combine text, still images, video, animation, and graphic elements to the desktop computer or the home.

As evidenced by much of the content available on the Internet's World Wide Web and in CD-ROM software, multimedia, although a powerful communications tool, still is in its infancy. Delivering large amounts of video and graphics in "real time," in other words, without lengthy delays in processing and transmission, is a complex problem.

But Deborah Crawford, of NSF's division of electrical and communications systems, notes that "we now are at a point in history when we really want to harness these capabilities to improve our quality of life. This center offers us a glimpse of our multimedia future."

During a recent media briefing at NSF's Arlington headquarters Chrysostomos L. Nikias, the associate dean of USC's engineering school and the center's director, discussed the multi-faceted technical problems the center hopes to solve. He pointed out, for example, that although it is relatively easy to search large amounts of computerized text to find key words, it is much more difficult to search a segment of digitized video for a single image. Storing and delivering video, each frame of which contains huge amounts of data, also is a tough technical challenge.

Yet breakthroughs in these areas could produce sweeping changes in fields as wide-ranging as medicine, film, manufacturing, and education. The center's research may one day make it possible for high-school students to conduct "virtual experiments" in chemistry or biology on home computers before coming to class. Or for film editors to combine hundreds of digitally stored sounds instantly on a movie soundtrack. Or for doctors to share three-dimensional data from distant operating rooms. Or even for aerospace workers to don special glasses that superimpose electronic blueprints or X-ray video on a aircraft body to guide them in assembly work.

Nikias added that it may take years of investigation to solve these problems, and that part of the work may not have an immediate commercial benefit. "Basic engineering research needs to be done in order to make all of these advances," he noted.


Editors: For more information about the center, see:

IMSC's Partners and Collaborating Entities
  • National Science Foundation
  • USC Annenberg Center for Communication
  • USC School of Engineering
  • City of Los Angeles
  • County of Los Angeles
  • California Trade and Commerce Agency, State of California
  • Employment Training Panel, State of California
  • Los Angeles Regional Technology Alliance
  • NASA Ames

Senior Partners

  • Advanced Micro Devices Inc.
  • Apple Computer Inc.
  • Avid Technology Inc.
  • Boss Film Studios
  • Computing Devices International
  • Digital Equipment Corp.
  • Fuji Xerox Palo Alto Laboratory Inc.
  • Goldstar (LG Electronics)
  • Hewlett-Packard
  • Hughes
  • IBM
  • Intel Corp.
  • Lockheed Martin
  • Pacific Bell
  • Philips Multimedia Center
  • Segasoft
  • Sierra Semiconductor
  • Silicon Graphics
  • Sybase Inc.
  • TRW
  • Whittaker Corp.

Junior Partners

  • Analog Devices
  • EDS
  • National Semiconductor
  • Natural MicroSystems Corp.
  • NCR
  • Northrop Grumman
  • TMH Corp.

Small Company - Special Agreements

  • Half City Productions
  • Panoram Technologies
  • Physical Optics Corp.
  • Pulson Communications
  • Sierra Monolithics Inc.
  • Standard Telecom Co. Ltd.
  • Visual Communications


  • American Roentgen Ray Society
  • Compression Labs Inc.
  • Dolby Laboratories Inc.
  • Hitachi America Ltd.
  • IIlustra Information Technologies Inc.
  • Kaiser Electronics
  • McDonnell Douglas Aerospace
  • Motorola
  • Rockwell International
  • Teledyne


  • California Museum of Science and Industry
  • Chicago Pacific Entertainment
  • Martha Coolidge Productions
  • Economics America of California
  • Ford Motor Company
  • International Interactive Communications Society
  • Knutsen-Rowell Inc.
  • Paramount Pictures
  • Record Factory
  • Rocket Science Games
  • Sound Solutions
  • Two Oceans Entertainment Group
  • William Atherton (Actor)

Media Contacts
George Chartier, NSF, (703) 292-8070, email:

Program Contacts
Deborah L. Crawford, NSF, (703) 292-8900, email:

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2018, its budget is $7.8 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 50,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.

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