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The -shape of a finite point set S is a polytope that is uniquely determined by S and a parameter . It expresses the intuitive notion of the ``shape'' of S, and controls the level of detail reflected by the polytope. The original paper on -shapes [6] defines the concept in . An extension to together with an implementation is reported in [8]. In both papers the relationship between -shapes and Delaunay triangulations [1] is described in detail and used as the basis of an algorithm for constructing alpha shapes.

These algorithms have been implemented and software for and , complete with graphics interface, is publically available. The respective packages can be obtained via ftp from:

The availability of these implementations, in particular the one in , has led to applications in various areas of science and engineering. Some of these applications are briefly described in [8].

A question that was repeatedly asked in the past is whether it is possible to construct a shape that represents different levels of detail in different parts of space. This is indeed possible by assigning a weight to each point. Intuitively, a large weight favors and a small weight discourages connections to neighboring points. We refer to the resulting concept as the weighted alpha shape. If all weights are zero, it is the same as the original, unweighted alpha shape. The available software is general enough to handle weights, and this document makes no distinction between weighted and unweighted alpha shapes, unless such a distinction is important.

What are the applications where weights can be beneficial?

A common computational task in biology is modeling molecular structures. It is natural to use -shapes for this purpose as they are precise duals of the popular sphere models obtained by taking unions of balls, see e.g. [13]. The weights are the radii (e.g. van der Waals radii) of the atoms.
In reconstructing a surface from scattered point data, it is rarely the case that the points are uniformly dense everywhere on the (unknown) surface. Indeed, the density often varies with the curvature. The assignment of large weights in sparse regions and of small weights in dense regions can be used to counteract the effects resulting from uneven density distributions.
Another goal that can be achieved by assigning weights is to enforce certain edges or faces. These might be given as part of the input, but they cannot be processed directly since alpha shapes are defined only for finite point sets and not for other geometric objects.

Outline. Section 2 introduces complexes and shapes via Voronoi decompositions of spherical ball unions. Section 3 defines alpha shapes and their relationship to the (weighted) Delaunay triangulation. Section 4 discusses metric, combinatorial, and topological properties computed by the software. Section 5 reviews some of the essential design decisions in the implementations.

next up previous
Next: Complex and Shape Up: Alpha Shapes: Definition and Previous: Note...

<> 11-Sep-95