Skeleton-based visualization of massive voxel objects with network-like architecture

This work introduces novel internal and external memory algorithms for computing voxel skeletons of massive voxel objects with complex network-like architecture and for converting these voxel skeletons to piecewise linear geometry, that is triangle meshes and piecewise straight lines. The presented techniques help to tackle the challenge of visualizing and analyzing 3d images of increasing size and complexity, which are becoming more and more important in, for example, biological and medical research.

Section 2.3.1 contributes to the theoretical foundations of thinning algorithms with a discussion of homotopic thinning in the grid cell model. The grid cell model explicitly represents a cell complex built of faces, edges, and vertices shared between voxels. A characterization of pairs of cells to be deleted is much simpler than characterizations of simple voxels were before. The grid cell model resolves topologically unclear voxel configurations at junctions and locked voxel configurations causing, for example, interior voxels in sets of non-simple voxels. A general conclusion is that the grid cell model is superior to indecomposable voxels for algorithms that need detailed control of topology.

Section 2.3.2 introduces a noise-insensitive measure based on the geodesic distance along the boundary to compute two-dimensional skeletons. The measure is able to retain thin object structures if they are geometrically important while ignoring noise on the object's boundary. This combination of properties is not known of other measures. The measure is also used to guide erosion in a thinning process from the boundary towards lines centered within plate-like structures. Geodesic distance based quantities seem to be well suited to robustly identify one- and two-dimensional skeletons. Chapter 6 applies the method to visualization of bone micro-architecture.

Chapter 3 describes a novel geometry generation scheme for representing voxel skeletons, which retracts voxel skeletons to piecewise linear geometry per dual cube. The generated triangle meshes and graphs provide a link to geometry processing and efficient rendering of voxel skeletons. The scheme creates non-closed surfaces with boundaries, which contain fewer triangles than a representation of voxel skeletons using closed surfaces like small cubes or iso-surfaces. A conclusion is that thinking specifically about voxel skeleton configurations instead of generic voxel configurations helps to deal with the topological implications. The geometry generation is one foundation of the applications presented in Chapter 6.

Chapter 5 presents a novel external memory algorithm for distance ordered homotopic thinning. The presented method extends known algorithms for computing chamfer distance transformations and thinning to execute I/O-efficiently when input is larger than the available main memory. The applied block-wise decomposition schemes are quite simple. Yet it was necessary to carefully analyze effects of block boundaries to devise globally correct external memory variants of known algorithms. In general, doing so is superior to naive block-wise processing ignoring boundary effects. Chapter 6 applies the algorithms in a novel method based on confocal microscopy for quantitative study of micro-vascular networks in the field of microcirculation.

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