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  • Sun 31 Dec 2006

    Is NeuroNet, a potential Internet for VR, a scam?

    Published at 13:44   Category Metaverse, VR Applications  

    This article from Yahoo Biz talks about the creation of a global network dedicated to virtual worlds.

    Today, virtual worlds such as Second Life, The Sims, Everquest, and World of Warcraft continue to attract legions of followers while new game systems from Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft offer near life-like character renditions. In business, companies like IBM and Sun Microsystems are investing heavily in v-business applications. The Neuronet’s communication bandwidth and real-time VR and gaming data transfer protocols will enable these VR trailblazers to reach their full potential.

    (…)

    Competing networks have the potential to destabilize evolving virtual worlds and potentially compromise consumer safety. To that end, IAVRT was formed as an international not-for-profit organization that will, through its members, govern the Neuronet, foster its growth and ensure its safety, reliability, and functionality.

    Mark Wallace, a journalist who edits the 3PointD blog, thinks “it’s an interesting [idea]: to create a separate Internet-like network devoted to virtual worlds, virtual reality and gaming. But is this really something we need?

    This article at C|Net has more information :

    “The first-generation network is strictly an R&D network and will function as a sort of sandbox for virtual reality and gaming innovators around the world to develop new applications for a second generation network,” IAVRT co-founder Chistopher Scully said in an e-mail. No services yet are signed up to use the network, he added.

    Sven Johnson, who is working on “real product development and virtual development – including things such as experience design, market research and branding”, even thinks this is a scam.

    [Update: Removed quotes from this blog as I didn't verify its information. And my apologies to Susan Simmons and Eiler Pedersen, see comment below]

    The C|Net article states that

    Scully [co-founder] didn’t name any of the organization’s backers or members in his e-mail, but said Mychilo Cline, author of a virtual reality book, is on the group’s advisory board.

    Scully denied that position: “I can assure you the network is not a scam. Funds raised from the sale of network domain names will offset the considerable costs associated with the creation of the network.”

    There sure ain’t much information about this, so let’s be patient and see where this is going!

    Read more…

    Fri 29 Dec 2006

    VR for learning

    Published at 11:44   Category VR Applications  

    Fiacre. (C) SNCF

    As you may know I have been involved in the creation of two VR training simulators for the french railways.
    I think that learning is the most useful usage of VR. It’s not about money, it’s not about optimizing processes, it’s about empowering people.

    This article by Meredith Bricken from the Human Interface Technology Lab at Washington is about the use of Virtual Environments (VEs) as Learning Environments. It was published in 1991 but most of it is still relevant.

    For a more recent approach on Learning in VR, you can refer to Daniel Mellet d’Huart’s thesis.
    Here’s a summary of M. Bricken’s article :

    “I will describe several key attributes of VR environments and discuss them in relationship to educational theory and pedagogical practice. I will then identify three challenges that must be met before VR can be integrated into educational settings: cost, usability, and fear of the technology.

    VR provides a testbed for exploring the very foundations of education.
    (…)
    VR was successfully developed to facilitate learning and task performance for over 20 years in the U.S. Air Force [Furness 1978].

    • VR is experiential

    (…)
    Educational theorists have agreed on the fundamental importance of experiential learning for over a hundred years: “Learning is the development of experience into experience.” [James 1892] “Knowledge begins with enaction.” [Bruner 1962] “To learn is to make sense out of experience.” [Silberman 1970]

    (…)
    Text, oral, and screen-based presentations address subsets of human capacity. In contrast, the VR learning environment provides a context that includes the multiple nature of human intelligence: verbal/linguistic, logical/mathematical, auditory, spatial, kinesthetic, interpersonal and intrapersonal.

    • Affective learning

    The importance of affective learning has been carefully explored [Kohlberg 1968, Rogers 1969]. It is apparent that we must consider the whole learner in his or her effort to attain educational goals [Belkin 1977].
    (…)
    VR provides a context for both cognitive and affective learning by engaging us in a process that is rational and emotional, practical and whimsical, organized and spontaneous.
    (…)

    • The VR learning environment allows intuitive human-computer interaction

    (…) This method of representing and interacting with information is fundamentally different from the way we are now using computers. Novices require minimum accommodation time [M. Bricken 1990].
    (…)
    The motivation to learn hinges on interest, and most people find VR a very interesting experience.

    • The VR learning environment is a shared experience.

    Virtual worlds can be both individual and social contexts. (…) “The learner tends to be more productive in a group situation than working in isolation.(…) [Belkin 1977]

    • VR learning environments allow entirely new capabilities and experiences.

    This is a powerful context, in which you can control time, scale, and physical laws. Participants have unique capabilities, such as the ability to fly through the virtual world, to occupy any object as a virtual body, to observe the environment from many perspectives.
    (…)
    The virtual environment allows safe experiences of distant or dangerous locations and processes. We can tele-exist in a nuclear reactor or under the sea, experiment with virtual chemistry and biology and inhabit macro- and micro-cosmic systems scaled for human participation.

    Challenges To Be Met

    • Cost

    [VR is expensive, but should be used in schools to improve learning, because :]

    “Learning has become the single most critical determinant of national economic competitiveness” [Perelman 1990]

    • Usability

    [Building VEs is hard, creating interaction is hard.]

    • Fears

    (…) there is anxiety about the misuse of VR and fear that the technology may have some inherently negative attributes (see the collected abstracts of the Second International Conference on Cyberspace, Santa Cruz CA, 1991)

    Brenda Laurel addresses the fear of computer technology and identifies its components:

    - the archtypical taboo on presuming to imitate God
    - the fear of loosing identity, becoming dependent “slaves of cybernetic symbiosis”
    - fear of loosing control to unidentifiable others — invisible hackers, masked tricksters, faceless corporate/governmental manipulator
    - fear of abandonment: what if VR is so compelling that people donít want to come out, who will mind reality? If I don’t get virtual, will I be left all alone?

    (…)
    I will suggest three approaches to reducing VR technophobia:

    - Education: We need first to understand what VR is and is not.
    - Research and Co-development: By sharing experiences as we continue to explore, observe, evaluate and refine VR, we increase professional and public understanding of the technology.
    - Historical perspective: People, individually and collectively, learn from mistakes. The big lesson of the Twentieth Century is that careless implementation of technology can cause large-scale and lasting negative effects. It is difficult to reverse the momentum of old mistakes, but it is easier to avoid new ones.

    • Final word

    By making VR tools and environments available to educators, we may discover more about the very process of learning. By participating in the development of VR, educators can guide the growth of the technology, and perhaps influence the course of educational change. As we test and refine this unique learning environment together, we might even hope that VR really will help us to teach more effectively, and that we will see more often that bright light of understanding in our students’ eyes.

    Thu 28 Dec 2006

    SecondLife economy won’t collapse after all (and why I care)

    Published at 10:34   Category Metaverse  

    My interest in SecondLife (SL) is for the moment purely as an observer. I have had an account for nearly one year, but hardly log into it. I have yet to find an interest to participate in it, let alone time, so I find it much more exciting to observe from the outside. I particularly find it exciting that a new society is being created, with is own rules, trends, just like I always imagined the cyberworld would be.
    But for the moment, it seems all there is to SL is its economy, and it looks like it’s the reason for its success. I find it sad that even this world is driven by money, but if it’s the only way to bring metaverse awareness to the people, then let it be.

    But a couple of months ago, an earthquake hit SL:

    A program called Copybot was introduced; it allows any SL object to be copied regardless of its copy rights. A creator could decide that an object he’s creating is unique and sell it much more because of its uniqueness, just like real world objects. But the Copybot program can copy the physical appearance of any object displayed on a resident’s computer. This lack of scarcity would result in SL economy to collapse.
    The Guardian runs a story about it :

    “Fortunately, not all aspects of an object can be duplicated. To create complex items – such as a virtual car that can be driven – you use a special programming language to code their realistic behaviour. CopyBot cannot duplicate these programs because they are never passed to the user, but run on the Linden Lab’s computers.

    As for the elements that you can copy, such as shape and texture, Rosedale [Note: SL creator] explains: “What we’re going to do is add a lot of attribution. You’ll be able to easily see when an object or texture was first created,” – and hence if something is a later copy. This should be ready “within a couple of months”.

    Moreover, “copies of virtual objects in Second Life will be linked to the copier, and that link will be “immutable”. This is perhaps the biggest difference between Second Life and real life. In the real world, even the most efficient totalitarian regime has only an imperfect knowledge of its population’s activities. But the world of Second Life exists entirely within its computers. Linden Lab knows everything about everyone in its “world” – including who created copies. This makes policing abuse far easier in Second Life than in real life.”

    “Virtual retailers can help to address this problem, Rosedale suggests, through the establishment of trade groups committed to certain standards – such as never selling copies. This idea of self-governance is an important thread in Rosedale’s thinking about Second Life, particularly its future. “The overriding principle is that it should run itself,” he points out.”

    “It was never my fantasy to be the Dungeon Master of Second Life,” Rosedale insists – but needs to come from within the virtual world, as an evolution of the society there. (…) And in exploring and working through these issues, maybe Rosedale’s great Second Life experiment will have something to teach us in First Life, too.

    Thu 28 Dec 2006

    Virtools commercial

    Published at 10:07   Category Game development, VR Applications  

    Here’s a funky commercial presenting the range of applications you can create with Virtools.

    YouTube Preview Image
    Fri 22 Dec 2006

    Stereoscopic Game Development

    Published at 16:09   Category Game development, VR Applications, Virtual Reality DIY  

    This page moved here.

    Fri 22 Dec 2006

    ART FingerTracking

    Published at 11:04   Category VR Devices  

    FingerTracking

    A neat new optically tracked device by ART, the FingerTracking :

    The Fingertracking device is now fully integrated in the DTrack system, wireless and able to track two hands with three fingers each.

    The Fingertracking device is an add on to the A.R.T. tracking system, which allows to track the orientation of the hand and the position of three fingers. It is wireless and works for one as well as for both hands

    The output data consists of:

    • position and orientation of the back of the hand,
    • number of tracked fingers as well as a value to distinguish right and left hands,
    • position and orientation of the outermost phalanx, given in the hand coordinate system (see below); together with a radius, position and orientation of the finger tip can be estimated,
    • angles between the single phalanxes as well as their lengths; these values are estimated using tracked markers and empirical data.

    Cross Fingers

    - Hope it works ! -

    Wed 20 Dec 2006

    Le FN in Second Life

    Published at 14:23   Category Metaverse  

    This article [Fr] states that the extremist right wing french party Le Front National (FN), is the first european party to have a permanent presence, and the first and only official french organisation in Second Life.

    I find it suprising that they think they can recruit people in there. I would think that the vast majority of SL residents are hostile to such parties. The initiative comes from a local branch of the party, not from the official party. I think this is a bit of provocation and a way to get free publicity.

    It looks like the dozen of people they have recruited so far “are probably already real-world party members”, and that the party leader has no plan to do an appearance in this universe.
    The Second Life Herald reports that residents are outraged, but as the party tries to look smooth, Second Life leaders won’t ban them until there is a manifest expression of racism. Should they ?
    If you want to have some background infos on this ugly party, look here for some texts I gathered [Fr] showing their real face.

    Tue 19 Dec 2006

    IBM and the Metaverse

    Published at 12:29   Category Metaverse  

    For those of you who don’t know what the Metaverse is, I’ll post an article about that later. Briefly, SecondLife is one Metaverse, a “virtual reality-based Internet“.

    As you may know, more and more big companies start to embrace SecondLife, particularly IBM.

    This article at 3d-test interviews Ian Hughes, “Consulting IT Specialist, with about 16 years in IBM”, who “loves to enthuse and evangelize, and also is a part time futurologist”, about Second Life and 3D collaborative environments in general, with some insight about what enterprise wait from it :

    IBM Metaverse

    Second Life appears to have started a wave of interest possibly because it is more like a 3d wiki and less like a 3d game. Communities exist in 3d worlds and are often centered around game concepts, clans, etc. Second Life has changed by having simple content creation tools and a real economy with a real US Linden$ exchange rate that allows exchange of currency both ways. So in many ways it’s more of a country, with a freedom to create social groups, manufacture and sell virtual goods or just be an interested observer and consumer.

    (…)

    You buy and customise Reebok trainers in Second Life. You then wear those trainers on your avatar. So its clothing, seen to be clothing and you develop brand affinity. In the future there is no reason not to be able to purchase the real ones. So this is the same model as a 2d website, but with more relevance in a virtual world where avatar expression is part of the culture.

    (…)

    Are 3D environments appropriate for collaborative work?

    Yes. The entire reason 3d environments or metaverses as they are commonly known work is the presence of others. A web page is you and the page.
    Awareness of others sharing that information is generally weak. In a metaverse I can attend an event, see the others at the event and they can see me. The nature of the event can change. A pure consumer experience such as a concert is enhanced by the personal appearance in the virtual world of the ‘star’ so they can react to the crowd. In a more corporate meeting we have seen that the added presence of the avatar and proximity to others helps add to the flow of a meeting. e.g. people gather a few minutes before the meeting, as in real life. Then they form into the meeting, e.g. they all sit down whilst the meeting leader stands and runs the meeting. When the meeting finishes people tend to not just leave instantly but drift away over a few minutes. During those few minutes they interact in social groups (which again are very visual as you tend to go over and stand near the people you are talking too. This is analogous to a real world meeting where conversations happen on the way out. Standard phone meetings or even video conferences tend to end in a more instant and dead way. Finally being able to point, demonstrate, direct and help people in a more human fashion leads to the ability to have ‘staff’ in your ‘shop’ so that when a customer comes in they can browse, or they can ask for help and have an enhanced shopping experience. Where the shop can be anything, virtual clothing to real world services like insurance, which is less possible in a regular website interaction.

    (…)

    It is not just the 3D element that requires standards. How do I move between 3D environments? How do I maintain my reputation across many different worlds? How do I scale in a virtual world? Does it make sense to have 5,000 people in a small space?

    (…)

    Enterprise needs scalability, robustness, security and open standards. We need to be able to integrate with any other system (which to some extent we already do). Already customers are asking about what a presence in something like Second Life will mean to them and their business. So the business requires people like us to have both the social and technical skills to consult, build, test and run either within the environment or the environment itself.

    Do you think that virtual worlds like Second Life could reduce the business travels? Would doing meetings in VR be sufficient?
    Now I hope that those virtual worlds won’t be filled with advertisement. Oh well, I’ll just run my destroy-ad-o-matic script !

    Related article : The future of internet – the inter-virtual worlds

    Sun 17 Dec 2006

    Blog Update

    Published at 14:05   Category Tech  

    I have decided to change my blog from DotClear to WordPress.

    The change should be very smooth, but please tell me if you notice anything wrong.

    I’ll update the design later. [Note: I have updated the design, but it's not finalized yet.]
    I have also added a new poll on the sidebar to know where you live. Yes I’m curious =)

    Notes on migrating from DotClear to WordPress

    Importing posts and comments

    WordPress can import DotClear posts. I didn’t manage to import posts with french characters correctly because of some encoding hell.

    The DotClear importer didn’t like to have that much posts to import, and complained something like :

    Fatal error: Allowed memory size of 8388608 bytes exhausted (tried to allocate 327859 bytes) in …

    The only solution I found is to import posts little by little.

    There is certainly a much better way to handle this, especially if you’re a SQL export, but I’m not, so here’s the hard way :

    • Backup the dotclear database
    • Delete the posts you don’t want to import
    • Important if you want to keep your comments : also delete the comments that go with the posts you deleted
    • Use the WordPress importer.
    • Reload the entire dotclear database
    • Delete some other posts
    • Repeat …

    Keeping dotclear permalinks and rss/atom feeds
    My dotclear permalinks used the postId in the url, so I have to get rid of it to match the wordpress format.

    Dotclear :

    http://cb.nowan.net/blog/index.php/2006/12/16/280-my-wii-and-the-child-in-all-of-us

    WordPress :

    http://cb.nowan.net/wblog/2006/12/16/my-wii-and-the-child-in-all-of-us/

    If you want that the permalinks generated by dotclear be still valid, you have to use the mod_rewrite option of your apache server.

    Same goes for rss/atom posts and comments feeds.
    Check my .htaccess file.

    Sun 17 Dec 2006

    Sony to copy Wiimote ?

    Published at 10:59   Category Game development, VR Devices, Virtual Reality DIY  

    Sony is thinking about a “motion-sensitive controller”that would work like TrackIR and ART, that is with markers on the device and a camera to analyse their position.

    The Wii-mote has the camera inside the device and the markers on the TV, plus 3 accelerometers.

    The current PS3 controller, called SIXAXIS (notice the palindrome), has gyroscopes in it.
    From ArsTechnica :

    “Sony applied to the United States Patent Office (USPTO) for a patent on a “hand-held controller having detectable elements for tracking purposes.”

    (…)

    From the patent application :

    Because this data is gathered on an image frame-by-frame basis, the data can be used to calculate many physical aspects of the movement of the controller 110, such as for example its acceleration and velocity along any axis, its tilt, pitch, yaw, roll, as well as any telemetry points of the controller 110.

    (…)

    The controller uses four LEDs to capture this motion, but in a twist from Nintendo’s sensor bar configuration, the LEDs are mounted on the controller itself. A camera mounted next to the player’s television set takes many pictures of the four LEDs every second, and this data is used to calculate the position and velocity of the controller.

    (…)

    Will Microsoft retaliate with a motion-sensitive controller of its own?

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