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VTK is an open-source, freely available software system for 3D computer graphics, image processing and visualization.

The Visualization Toolkit (VTK) is an open-source, freely available software system for 3D computer graphics, image processing and visualization. VTK consists of a C++ class library and several interpreted interface layers including Tcl/Tk, Java, and Python. Kitware, whose team created and continues to extend the toolkit, offers professional support and consulting services for VTK.

VTK supports a wide variety of visualization algorithms including: scalar, vector, tensor, texture, and volumetric methods; and advanced modeling techniques such as: implicit modeling, polygon reduction, mesh smoothing, cutting, contouring, and Delaunay triangulation. VTK has an extensive information visualization framework, has a suite of 3D interaction widgets, supports parallel processing, and integrates with various databases on GUI toolkits such as Qt and Tk.

VTK is cross-platform and runs on Linux, Windows, Mac and Unix platforms. VTK also includes ancillary support for 3D interaction widgets, two and three-dimensional annotation, and parallel computing. At its core VTK is implemented as a C++ toolkit, requiring users to build applications by combining various objects into an application. The system also supports automated wrapping of the C++ core into Python, Java and Tcl, so that VTK applications may also be written using these interpreted programming languages.

VTK employs Kitware’s Quality Software Process (CMake, CTest, CDash, and CPack) to build, test and package the system. Making VTK a cross-platform application dependant on test-driven development and extreme programming and enabling the application to produce high-quality, robust code. VTK is used world-wide in commercial applications, research and development, and is the basis of many advanced visualization applications such as: ParaView, VisIt, VisTrails, 3DSlicer, MayaVi, and OsiriX.

VTK is an open-source toolkit licensed under the BSD license.

VTK was initially created in 1993 as companion software to the book "The Visualization Toolkit: An Object-Oriented Approach to 3D Graphics" published by Prentice-Hall. The book and software were written by three researchers from GE Corporate R&D (Will Schroeder, Ken Martin and Bill Lorensen) on their own time and with permission from GE (thus the ownership of the software resided with, and continues to reside with, the authors). After the core of VTK was written, users and developers around the world began to improve and apply the system to real-world problems. In particular, GE Medical Systems and other GE businesses graciously contributed to the system. Some researchers, such as Dr. Penny Rheinghans began to teach with the book. Other early supporters included Jim Ahrens at Los Alamos National Labs, and unnamed, but generous oil and gas supporters. In recent years, Sandia National Labs have been strong supporters and co-developers with particular focus on adding information visualization to VTK.

To support what was becoming a large, active and world-wide VTK community Ken and Will, along with Lisa Avila, Charles Law and Bill Hoffman left GE Research to found Kitware Inc. in 1998. Since that time, hundreds of additional developers have created what is now the premier visualization system in the world today.

With the founding of Kitware, the VTK community grew rapidly, and toolkit usage expanded into academic, research and commercial applications. For example, VTK forms the core of the 3DSlicer biomedical computing application, and numerous research papers at IEEE Visualization and other conferences based on VTK have appeared. VTK has been used on a large 1024-processor computer at the Los Alamos National Laboratory to process nearly a Petabyte of data. In 2005, ParaView (based on VTK) was used for real-time rendering of a ZSU-23-4 Russian Anti-Aircraft vehicle being hit by a planar wave, with 2.5 billion cell calculation, in the United States Army Research Laboratory. VTK also forms the basis of several collaborations between Kitware and national organizations such as Sandia, Los Alamos, and Livermore National Labs, who are using VTK as the foundation for their large data visualization needs.

VTK is also one of the key computing tools for the recently established National Alliance for Medical Image Computing, NA-MIC (http://www.na-mic.org), part of NIH's roadmap initiative for future computing tools.

Recently work on VTK includes a significant expansion of the toolkit to support the ingestion, processing and display of informatics data. This work is supported by Sandia National Laboratories under the 'Titan' project and represents one of the first concentrated efforts to unify scientific visualization with informatics functionality. For more information please visit the Sandia Titan webpage http://www.sandia.gov/Titan.

Itk 3.18 Now Available for Ubuntu 10.04


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VTK is in use at universities, corporations, and research institutions throughout the world. Follow these links to find out how VTK has been used in diverse application areas such as acoustic field visualization, exploration of astonomical data in virtual reality, the Visible Human project, and Virtual Creatures for education.
Geocap GeoScience Environment: Geocap offers a rapid application development tool for geoscience research and development. The building blocks (data) and their logical interaction are available through 2D and 3D visualizations via a high-level scripting language.
Virtual Creatures: The virtual creatures project is a (NSF funded) project for viewing creatures using computerized, high resolution, digital representations. The plan is to create a library of virtual creatures designed for teaching. Students will be able to explore, visualize, touch, and change these creatures in ways that are impossible with real laboratory animals. Students will be able to learn about biology, physics mathematics, biomechanics, and biochemistry in a rich multidisciplinary learning environment.
MapInfo: MapInfo Corporation (NASDAQ: MAPS) provides location-based business intelligence solutions that enable customers to find, serve and grow their customers by establishing meaningful, long-term Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems. MapInfo is now adding 3D features to their software powered by VTK.
Simulating Acoustic Fields: The Center for New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT) at the University of California Berkeley has developed a system for real-time simulation and visualization of acoustic fields. The purpose of the software is to help design the placement of speakers and control sound processing to create as large a acoustic "sweet spot" as possible. VTK was used in a custom acoustic design application.
DuPont on X-Ray Tomography: Genetic modifications in plants can lead to structural modifications within a plants seeds. DuPont has been investigating changed in arabidopsis seeds since its genetic code is completely known. Wild type seeds with no genetic alterations are compared with seeds that have genetic alterations made. A three dimensional movie of three arabidopsis seeds mounted on a glass fiber is available for download. Download animation (2.2MB AVI)

Visualization of AFM Images of Nanoscale DNA Templates Used in Nanodevice Fabrication: The two pictures on this page are visualizations of the same Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) image done in different ways with VTK. The pictures show two short strands of DNA stretched across the gap between a pair of gold electrodes.The two strands of DNA are visible at the bottom the trench between the electrodes. Proteins can be synthesized that will bind to specific unique locations in the DNA template. The resulting DNA template structure enables researchers to assemble the components for a nanoscale device in the precise order or location needed. The DNA strands in the images are only1 nanometer tall and the seemingly enormous trench is only 400nm wide. By comparison, a human hair is 40,000 nm wide.

VTK has several valuable features which make it ideal for visualization of the 512x512 "range" images produced by AFM's. The availability of spot lights in VTK has been essential for displaying fine surface detail in AFM images. The use of 2 spotlights to make the 1 nm tall strands of DNA stand out may not be readily apparent when gold spotlights are used but is easy to see with the orange spot lights. The ability to make arbitrarily large image files with vtkRenderLarge makes it extremely easy to generate images for publication. For example, the images on this page were originally 2400x2400 resolution before downsizing. Some of the other useful features of VTK for AFM image visualization are available in the object classes vtkImageGaussian for smoothing, vtkImageWarp to create a polygonal surface from an image and several object classes for polygonal surface decimation.

Parallel Rendering at Los Alamos National Lab: The purpose of The Parallel and Distributed Visualization Framework (PDVF) is to create a reusable infrastructure for parallel and distributed visualization components which can be composed to solve terascale visualization problems. The ability to prototype solutions quickly will allow us to experiment with different approaches to compare their relative efficiencies. James Ahrens at LANL has been experimenting with VTK as a parallel rendering engine.

View a pdf technical paper on parallel visualization and processing with VTK.

NCSA Cave Visualization: The Visualization and Virtual Environments at NCSA use VTK in their Cave system for viewing isosurfaces and astronomical datasets. The Cave is a fully immersive room with head tracking and 3D manipulation. VTK is also used in a variety of other application such as resource/pollution visualization in the Chesapeake Bay, and tele-immersive visualization and collaboration.
CustusX from SINTEF Unimed Ultrasound: We have developed an 3D navigation system for intraoperative use during minimally invasive surgical procedures. The system can also be used for planning the surgical procedure. This navigations system is called CustusX. CustusX's main features is to visualize 3D ultrasound data integrated with preoperative acquired CT (computed tomography or X-ray) or MR (magnetic resonance) images. With a positioning sensor attached to the surgical tools it is possible to track the position and orientation of the tools and let the tools control the visualizations. This means that e.g. corresponding CT and ultrasound slices are shown according to the position of the surgical tool. The 3D visualization is based on VTK. The registration and segmentation routines implemented is based on ITK.

Visualization of Diffpack Simulations: Diffpack has been extended with VTK to yield a new and powerful simulation and analysis tool. It demonstrates how to filter general Diffpack data into specific VTK data formats (vtkStructuredGrid and vtkUnstructuredGrid). The same object-oriented software design philosophy used in both Diffpack and VTK enables straightforward coupling (on the source code level) to achieve interactive simulation and visualization.

Visbox: The VisBox is an affordable yet complete projection-based VR system. It is a general purpose VR system that can be used for a variety of applications. VTK applications run on the VisBox with the added benefits of life-size stereo graphics, head tracking, and direct manipulation. Shown here is a simple VTK application that runs on the system. It allows the user to view isosurfaces for volume datasets in stereo with head-tracking. Correct off-axis projections are displayed when head movements are made, allowing the user to intuitively examine and comprehend complicated structures.


PV-WAVE from Visual Numerics, Inc.: PV-WAVE, from Visual Numerics, Inc., is an array oriented fourth generation programming language used by engineers, scientists, researchers and business analysts to build and deploy visual data analysis applications. These applications let users manipulate and visualize complex or extremely large technical datasets to detect and display patterns, trends and anomalies along with other vital information. In the latest release of PV-WAVE, the VTK toolkit has been integrated to make all of its functionality available to PV-WAVE users. The two products complement each other exceptionally well. PV-WAVE excels at data access, data manipulation, numerical algorithms, data filtering, user interface development and many interactive 2D graphical tasks while the Visualization toolkit provides the tool for creating complex, powerful 3D visualizations. Together they provide a simple and fast way to build tools for Visual Data Analysis.

National Library of Medicine Visible Human:The Visible Human project provides computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and physically imaged cross sections of human data. VTK is used to generated the isosurfaces and volume renderings of the data (this image courtesy of Bill Lorensen at General Electric Corporate Research and Development in Niskayuna, NY).

Principia Mathematica Limited: The goal of Principia Mathematica is to make the benefits of advanced data visualization software available to a much wider audience. The approach has been to encapsulate existing, state-of-the-art, generally accepted algorithms and to make their application and deployment much simpler.

PM-Visualization Studio, provides a graphical, fully featured and extendable environment for the development of Visualization Toolkit projects.

Visualization Framework: The product Visualization Framework is discontinued as Engima Inc. no longer exists. Engima Technologies Corp. has created a new product known as StudioCaster that is better suited to institutional use. It also incorporates VTK.


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About Hugo Repetto

Ubuntu is a Linux distribution that offers an operating system predominantly focused on desktop computers but also provides support for servers. Based on Debian GNU / Linux, Ubuntu focuses on ease of use, freedom in usage restriction, regular releases (every 6 months) and ease of installation.
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