Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Another Virtual Reality System

Bruce Sommerville, a member of SLED had been exploring a very different Virtual Reality system (really a plugin for your browser) called ExitReality. This system is quite different than Second Life as it is based on VRML (virtual reality modelling language), or rather its descendant X3D. As the name suggests this is meant to be a 3D extension to HTML in the web. VRML has apparently been around for awhile but has not become popular. Maybe though it is worth a look.



Bruce gives a pretty good rundown on ExitReality and he has graciously given me permission to quote from his SLED report. I will intersperse pictures from his site amongst his commentary and follow that with a few additional comments and pictures.

Bruce writes:

"Over the last few months, I have been experimenting with the new
ExitReality browser plug-in, which allows any web page to be viewed in 3D,
and used as an immersive and communicative space.

Although I have not used it in teaching yet, I have constructed a series
of activities, constituting a lesson, which utilises 3D animated models, a
variety of different audio-visual media, and lesson materials in the form of
texts (Word docs), in order to explore the affordances of ExitReality in
education. Since most of my students are international Science and
Engineering students studying in Australia, the lesson materials have a
certain ESL/Literacy flavour. The site may be viewed here:

http://www.users.bigpond.net.au/academic/X3D/EngineeringRoom/index.htm

*Please note that I did not build the bicycle, welding robot, or crane that
are used in the site, but have linked to the two latter at their original
sites on the net, and have given acknowledgements. The bicycle was freebie
from Google Warehouse. The lesson materials (obtained by clicking on the
large books) were written by me. The lesson is based on an RL lesson I have
used with my Foundation Studies students on 'Describing the Functioning of a
Machine'.



- Portal Crane is based on the work done by Mr. Martin Foltin and Mr. Samuel
Bartos, Department of Automatic Control Systems, Slovak Technical
University, Bratislava, Slovak Republic, Source: "Gallery", *Orbisnap*,
http://www.orbisnap.com/gallery.html


- Welding Robot created by University of Michigan Virtual Reality Laboratory
at the College of Engineering, http://www-vrl.engin.umich.edu/projects.html

Thanks Bruce for allowing me to post your comments.

While I was using the ExitReality plugin I decided to explore a bit. I found the interface a bit awkward to use. Avatar customization is extremely limited (Simone was not happy with that!) and there doesn't seem to be any way to fly or use camera features to zoom in close to something far away.

But I really was impressed with some of the places I visited and the ability to view just about any sort of web content in the plug in, something that is lacking in Second Life. You can store sites and inventory items and there is chat including voice. So here are some representative screen captures.

I recommend ExitReality plaza as a first stop to get your bearings. It's analogous to Second Life orientation and has VRML links to various goodies and companies with sites designed for VRML.










A forest site viewed with ExitReality showing some of the texturing potential.












Here some entrepreneurs are using x3d and
the plugin to sell "islands" for 3D conferencing and collaboration. These islands are again only analogous to Second Life Islands.














Simone needs to stop and get a quick drink. Non alcoholic, of course, on work time.














Finally, a quick visit to my college's web site (www.jccc.edu). This shows very nicely what the plug in does with a site NOT designed for X3D. The results are really quite interesting!

By the way the picture in front of me scrolls much as it does on the 2D website and all the links work, though it takes you out of the plugin's viewer in to the regular mundane 2D web.

I don't know how building in X3D compares with building in Second Life but I think that if integration with the web is critical than this sort of system merits a look. You are also necessarily dependent on a 3rd party server.

You can build animations that the user can interact with, there is chat and voice and you can stream other media apparently limited only by what the web supports. It also looks like you can do some limited 3D web editing with the ExitReality but I didn't explore that.

ExitReality doesn't have the same sort of immersive feel to me that SL has and the plugin seemed pretty buggy. But it is still in Beta, so I expect improvements. I'd be interested in what other people's experience with this sort of approach to virtual reality have been and any experences in using X3D in teaching.

1 comment:

Wes said...

It is important to delineate that ExitReality is a web browser for 3D, similar to IE or FF for 2D, not a destination like Second Life. Every webpage is now virtual world destination. Similar to 2D website optimisation, publishers should now optimise their 3D website to engage visitors. Collada (google 3D warehouse) is another 3D format that operates with ExitReality.
The ExitReality Plaza is the 3D version of www.exitreality.com. It is a great place to start a journey!
Great article and kudos to Bruce for allowing his thoughts to be shared.