Faculty of Science - Leading creativity and innovation in the sciences

Take 10 with... Dr Chia-Yen Chen

Dr Chia-Yen Chen, Department of Computer Science
Dr Chia-Yen Chen

Dr Chia-Yen Chen (or Yen) is an alumna of the Department of Computer Science at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. She lectured in the department between 2002 and 2006, before moving overseas to pursue teaching and research roles. Yen rejoined the department this year as a lecturer.  She gives us 10 minutes of her time to discuss 3D reconstructions, computer vision, and augmented reality.


1.     Describe your research topic to us in 10 words or less.

I create three-dimensional (3D) models of interesting things on computers.

2.     Now explain it in ‘layman’s’ terms!

I investigate ways to reconstruct 3D models of physical objects or structures. A common approach is to use digital images acquired by cameras as input. The images are analysed for the locations of points in 3D space can be calculated. The collection of 3D points provides the 3D model of the object or of the scenery within the images.

These 3D models can then be used in many interesting and useful applications, such as computer graphics, augmented reality, terrain reconstruction, digital archiving of important historical objects or sites, and much more.

3.     Describe some of your day-to-day research activities.

Since I use images for reconstruction, I look forward to field trips where I can collect interesting footage and then reconstruct 3D models from what I've collected.

At the moment, we're planning to fly an UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone) equipped with a 4K camera over the beautiful rural New Zealand landscape to collect aerial videos of the countryside. The aerial images will then be processed to reconstruct a 3D model of these landscapes for related studies or further analysis. I hope to be able to apply UAV technology and 3D modelling to areas such as agriculture and conservation, which are also topics of personal interest to me.

4.     What do you enjoy most about your research?

I have been a sci-fi fan since… never mind. Now, 3D visualisation technologies are no longer just in stories or movies, and the research that I am doing is directly related to what future technology might look like. To be a part of the development process is extremely exciting.

3D research also has really practical applications in real life. For example, many ancient historical sites are slowly crumbling to the ground each day and it will not be long before they are all gone. If we can reconstruct 3D models of the historical sites in time, at least our descendants will be able to see them rendered in 3D and may be able to virtually walk through and explore the sites. The endless possibilities for the applications of 3D research are very motivating and I enjoy making these possibilities come true (or attempting to).

5.     Tell us something that has surprised you in the course of your research.

I am surprised at how fast the technology has improved over the years for vision or depth-sensing related hardware. The improvement in hardware has a great impact on the advancement of 3D reconstruction research. One or two decades ago, 3D reconstruction was usually performed offline under controlled conditions. Now, with the hardware equipped on a mobile device, it is possible to perform 3D reconstruction in real-time on a mobile phone.

6.     How have you approached any challenges you’ve faced in your research?

I do my research and try to find a good way to handle it. Generally, challenges are just a part of the research process. So I investigate the background of the challenge, design and implement a solution, then test it tosee if it works. If it doesn’t, I try again with different parameters. I know this sounds cliché, but it works (and I am in Computer Science, this is what we do).

On a personal note, I think it is crucial to be well prepared mentally and physically, so that one is ready to deal with possible challenges. Good food, exercise, sufficient rest...images of kittens and puppies help too!

7.     What questions have emerged as a result?

During the last few decades, there has been significant increase in 3D related research. Nevertheless, there are still many aspects that can be investigated and improved. A question that has often motivated me is how to further improve the accuracy or efficiency of reconstruction based on existing sensor technology?

Although there is already a myriad of various reconstruction approaches, which are applicable to different scenarios and purposes, the speed and accuracy at which reconstructions are performed can be further improved with the ever-updating hardware technology. I am constantly striving to keep up-to-date with the most novel hardware and investigating possible means of improving reconstruction accuracy and efficiency.

8.     What kind of impact do you hope your research will have?

Over the past few years, there has been an increase in 3D content in our lives. From walk-through 3D building models in architecture, to 3D games that provide more stimulating exercises for patients in physiotherapy, 3D content is helping people understand the world much more efficiently and providing more interesting ways of interacting. I hope my research will help improve the quality of 3D reconstruction and contribute towards the growing need for 3D models in different applications in the future.  

9.     If you collaborate across the faculty or University, who do you work with and how does it benefit your research?

I have just arrived back at the University this year and have not collaborated with that many people here yet. Nevertheless, I think it will be beneficial to work with people who use 3D models in their research. By working across disciplines, we may be able to discover new applications or improvements that can be made using 3D models.

10.  What one piece of advice would you give your younger, less experienced research self?

For people who want to work in 3D, it is a very interesting and worthwhile topic. Creating a 3D model from a bunch of photos or numbers is very exciting. You have to be systematic and well-organised, as well keeping up with the technology and being creative about possible new approaches and applications too!


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