NASA has published a report from the workshop on virtual worlds and immersive environments held in 2008 at Ames Research Center. The report, created by workshop organizers and participants, summarizes the presentations and discussions at the workshop, which was attended by a diverse group of people from the research, commercial, education, and gaming sectors. Key themes include remote exploration, global participation paradigms, and the narrowing boundaries between physical and virtual experience. For training simulations and outreach purposes, NASA continues to use virtual worlds. Check out the STS-125 Hubble servicing spacewalk simulation and stay tuned for more interactive virtual worlds about future moon missions. I don’t have a current update on where NASA is with it’s RFP for a MMOG platform but will be keeping my eye out for the latest on that.
Archive for the ‘Simulations’
For those not familiar with the VHOS project, it is essentially a virtual space within the Active Worlds Universe in which the New York Hall of Science intends to create explorable/interactive exhibits through a collaborative process involving the contributions of Hall staff, Hall Explainers, participants of the Hall’s camp programs and finally (and ideally) casual visitors. The first phase of the VHOS project was simple enough– train a group of 18-23 year olds to use Active Worlds to a point in which they are comfortable creating things as well as showing others how to create things in-world. The second phase was a reminder that no design can be efficient without prototyping; middle schoolers have knack for showing you that the way you think they think is wrong and so anything designed for them will likely have to be revised on the fly. The third phase of the VHOS project was an interesting reminder for myself about how the process of designing something that actually meets needs is iterative. So while I was thinking that I could have veteran participants take a hand in delivering basic skills to newer participants, they just weren’t interested in being teachers. As a solution to this we introduced the “Easter Egg“. As new participants acquainted themselves with the basic navigation and building skills, veteran participants were given a “mission”; first, create an easter egg containing some scripting skills considered advanced for the newbies, then secretly place that egg somewhere on a newbies virtual property. So here we have veterans showing off there skill in a way that newbies can glean important skills from. Some veterans went as far as to create portals that will take you to a secret location containing your personalized easter egg.
Unlike the second phase, the third phase was focused on one content area. Participants designed and developed virtual exhibits dealing only with the phases of matter. During phase two of the VHOS project it appears that participants were a bit overwhelmed by the option of selecting any STEM topic of their choice. Too much time was spent narrowing down the focus of their designs and not enough designing. The effects of this can be seen when contrasting a phase two exhibit, which often illustrates a broad concept, with a phase three exhibit illustrating some characteristic feature of a substance transitioning from one phase of matter to another.
As we continue to run camps the VHOS becomes richer with educational experiences which will inevitably lead to the issue of categorizing the exhibits and directing the user/casual visitor in a way that facilitates learning. I’m excited to see where this is leading as there is already a feel of being in a place where someone has been before you, giving the space and how you experience that space siginificant thought.
To create immersive experiences in 3D virtual worlds, developers craft objects and scenes that offer compelling visuals and interactions. These elements, along with sounds, lighting design, animated objects, and avatars can all work together to stimulate senses and allow people to control aspects of the virtual environment. We naturally want to use more of our senses to experience and manipulate these digital worlds though, which is where stereoscopic displays, motion tracking, and haptics comes in. Interfaces like these are important to exhibit designers in museums. They allow us to to create physically engaging experiences with minimal technical interface barriers for visitors to use them.
From time to time, we see some great prototype technologies in each of these areas as they apply to virtual worlds (remember the data glove?) and occasionally new research emerges that seems like we can begin to distance ourselves from the keyboards, mice, and flat screen devices that are not the best interfaces for being seamlessly immersed.
With their Hands Free 3D r&d project, veteran technologist Mitch Kapor and Phillippe Bossut are developing a new way to interact with worlds like Second Life. Using a 3D camera designed by 3DV Systems, they’ve developed a custom SL client that allows users to operate SL without using a mouse or a keyboard. The system uses a webcam-like camera that captures the depth of objects in front of it (including a person) and using the modified client translates the person’s actual motion to the motion of an avatar to allow the person to walk or fly through SL by literally walking in front of the camera. Their goal is to make the interface to virtual worlds more natural and they expect this ease of use to make virtual worlds more appealing. Check out this video.
NASA has had a long time interest in the application of virtual worlds technologies for space exploration research and mission planning. Over the past ten years, there have been many wonderful simulations and 3D virtual worlds which have been created by NASA and NASA partners and made publicly accessible via the Internet.
Recently, the NASA Learning Technologies Project office submitted an RFI for the creation of a Massively Multiplayer Online Learning Game (MMOG). This has stimulated a lot of interest in the commercial and education worlds. It will be interesting to watch this MMOG exploration and development process and see what kind of game engine and content platform NASA will get behind. However it works out, it may prove that a viable and scalable virtual world / game engine platform will emerge –one that the museums and educators can benefit from.
In late January 2008, a group of scientists at NASA Ames Research Center, along with 3D simulation industry visionaries, organized a weekend workshop called Virtual Worlds and Immersive Environments. Paul Doherty and I participated and I was invited to give a presentation about the Exploratorium’s recent work in Second Life. It was a really interesting workshop. There were great presentations by NASA, innovative technology companies, game content developers, educators, and researchers. The major themes of the workshop and discussions were “We all get to go,” “Remote Exploration,” and “Become the data.” We saw several new 3D game engines, got a good update on the state of open source platforms and applications, and saw Will Wright demo the latest developments for Spore, the much anticipated MMOG about the evolution of species.
One of the take-away points of the event was for the virtual worlds community to develop greater awareness of and partnerships with NASA CoLAB, a NASA program which supports online and offline communities collaborating with NASA. NASA CoLAB has a great presence in Second Life.
Presentations from the workshop are in the process of being archived on the NASA Virtual Worlds Workshop Wiki site that NASA Ames has developed.