“Inspire the Future” was the 2012 theme of The Federal Consortium for Virtual Worlds conference that convened this past week in Washington, D.C. at the National Defense University’s iCollege, and it drew about about 300 physical world and an estimated 3,000 virtual world attendees.
Several virtual worlds were demonstrated at the conference, including virtual simulations created by the National Training Education Resource, an open source ecosystem for online training and education. It’s an inter-agency effort to fundamentally improve the way online learning is created, improved and distributed across the federal, commercial and academic space.
The project seeks to address the integration of games and virtual worlds with learning management systems. The results include a robust hub for the creation of highly interactive and immersive courses without incurring the traditional costs, search and discovery of content across organizational boundaries without a traditional repository model or restrictive standards. It also includes tools to encourage continuous improvement of courseware.
Several companies used the conference as an opportunity to make announcements such as name changes, new products, and new uses for virtual environments.
SpotOn3D announced a name change to WorldWorks. “The name change was to stop name confusion and better identify the grid,” said co-owner Stevan Lieberman. SpotOn3D is an OpenSim grid and hosting company known for embedding the OpenSim viewer into a Webpage, making it easier for newcomers to access the virtual world — and for significant controversy last year for filing patents on what critics said were obvious functionality, such as embedding the viewer into a webpage.
Eric Hackathorn, 3D Web designer for NOAA, told the attendees that the agency downsized its presence in Second Life last year, and Hackathorn migrated to building content with Unity 3D behind NOAA’s firewall. “Since we work at NOAA where literally hundreds of thousands of gigabytes of data are produced daily, we decided to undertake an experiment — to see if we could us a traditional game engine like Unity 3D for serious data visualizations,” said Hackathorn. “The results have been outstanding. Our 3D creations will have serious applications to the scientific community and to academia.”
Law firm Pillsbury announced that it is the first major law firm to establish a team dedicated to virtual worlds and video games. In addition to 30 professionals specializing in various areas of law related to this subject, Pillsbury also produces the Pillsbury Virtual World Law Blog. Their 10 Frequently Asked Questions About Virtual Worlds primer answers basic questions about how businesses use virtual worlds and what legal issues may arise.
Green Phosphor LLC — recently renamed 3D Data — demonstrated its Glasshouse product, which uses 3D environments for interactive representations of data. It currently works with Second Life and the Open Wonderland Java-based open source virtual world platform.
ProtonMedia demonstrated the latest release of its enterprise-friendly, proprietary virtual world platform, ProtoSphere 2.0. “This is to increase the speed and effectiveness of knowledge transfer, learning, collaboration and retention of business critical information,” the company said. It is based on Microsoft technology and includes full integration with Microsoft Lync and SharePoint 2012.
MillieModels demonstrated its 3D model creation services — including one where you could get your head scanned to create an avatar of your real self.
Elsewhere at the conference
Conference sessions spanned two days and included eight keynote addresses and panel discussions about virtual world projects and topics.
In addition to the keynotes, panels, and vendor announcements, there were also nineteen pre-conference workshops showcasing a variety of virtual world projects and technologies.
Jesse Schell of Carnegie Melon University said that ten technologies will shape the future of virtual characters — animation, persistence databases, speech recognition, natural language understanding, emotion sensing, integrated multiplatform games, interface to everything, digital tutors, intelligent action and augmented reality. Schell is the author of The Art of Game Design.
James Blascovich of the University of California, Santa Barbara said that virtual reality is nothing new. Cave drawings, theater and books are all examples of virtual reality. But new technologies allow for the simulation of “face-to-face” social interactions, he said. The five key factors involved are human agency, communicative realism, self relevance, response system level, and context. He is the author of Infinite Reality.