If you’ve heard of ray tracing but not quite sure what it means to your business or the world outside of Gen Z gamers, huddled alone in dark basements; we’re here to give you the lowdown.

What exactly is ray tracing?

Ray tracing is the process of following the path of a ray of light as it travels and bounces off of surfaces.  This technology has seen a surge in popularity due to new gaming consoles and graphics cards able to perform real-time ray tracing. This gives users a more detailed and realistic image of their content. While you may have just recently heard about the wonders of ray tracing, it was actually first discovered in the 16th century, back when peak gaming consisted of chess, checkers and a rousing contest of backgammon. But there are more applications than meet the eye.

Engineers dig it.

As engineers, ray tracing is essential to us in developing all kinds of innovations in multiple fields; including optics, architecture, automotive, and many more. Ray tracing software provides realistic lighting scenarios by simulating the physical behavior of light and tracing the path the light would take when travelling. When we combine it with 3D design software, it kicks it up a notch and allows us to observe the effects of light on a prototype before the prototype is built. This helps to save time and money in the prototyping process.   

Ray tracing goes mainstream.

Ray tracing has real world uses, like when a designer is developing automotive headlights. Ray tracing software is essential in determining the overall light field, and the intensity at different degrees off of the main focus of the beam. The beams are at their brightest in the  midline of the car’s path and progressively get dimmer the further away from the center focus of the beam. This is an intentional design choice that stops the headlights from blinding oncoming traffic. If you look at your headlights there are reflectors and lenses that help shape the light. An engineer can build a prototype to test these patterns, however by using ray tracing technology an engineer can make adjustments and see the effects of those changes throughout the process. This saves time and money. Compare today’s car lights to those manufactured in the 90’s. While you were rocking out to Pearl Jam and driving to Blockbuster, you probably didn’t notice your car lights were much dimmer and not as effective at dispersing those light rays. You also may not have noticed that older lights have a softer progression from the brightest point to the outer diameter of the light. Newer cars have a much sharper contrast on the outer edge of the light cone so as not to blind oncoming traffic and to better focus the light. Credit the progress in ray tracing technology for allowing engineers to run tests before a prototype is ever built. Being able to narrow down design options makes our lives a little bit easier and saves time and money while getting products to market more quickly.

Ray tracing – fighting the good fight.

Today, industries all over the world are using ray tracing technology to create photo-realistic images of the heart, brain, and other vital organs in order to better target tumor growth and treat other medical defects. Ray tracing can also combat viruses such as SARS, H1N1, and COVID by helping to determine the light intensity and the effectiveness of UV light in eradicating airborne viruses. PWI’s sister company Aero Biotek used this very technology to create a revolutionary method of continually cleaning the air in aircraft. Check out how Aero Biotek neutralizes viruses with a little help from ray tracing, at www.aerobiotek.com . In short, ray tracing technology has progressed far beyond enhancing the gaming experience, to helping mankind fight real-world battles. Ray tracing – it’s not just for gamers anymore.