The SLENZ Update – No 15, October 12, 2008

IBM tour de force!

IBM and and the Beijing Palace Museum’s recently opened Forbidden City Virtual World is nothing short of a technical tour de force even for one who has ceased to be surprised by achievements in Virtual Worlds.

This is despite the Windows download for this new Virtual World being a fairly massive 204MB and needing 2GB of free disk space for installation (The Mac OS X and Linux installers also probably have similar space needs.).

The VW, celebrating 600 Years of Chinese Culture, also requires a good graphics card and monitor with a minimum screen resolution of 1280 x 1024.

IBM, is believed to have invested more than three years and $US3 million in developing the similation of the 178-acre historical treasure.

Named the “The Forbidden City: Beyond Space & Time”(http://www.beyondspaceandtime.org/FCBSTWeb/web/index.html#link=) it is a meticulously built virtual recreation of the architecture and artifacts of the former palace grounds.

Announcing the VW opening, staged to coincide with the Palace Museum’s October 10 celebration of its 83rd anniversary, Henry Chow, chairman, Greater China Group, IBM, said, “The rich cultural heritage of China’s imperial past, embodied in the Forbidden City for over five centuries, is now brought to life and accessible to all through a virtual world created by IBM and the Palace Museum.This initiative takes the online experience to a new level of innovation with rich content, educational storytelling, community and social networking features that represent the next generation of 3D-Internet applications.

“What makes me proud is that IBM now has opened the door to a cultural treasure and rich heritage to everyone, everywhere which in the past was only available to relatively few.”

Users can register their own avatars, though selections are limited, go on guided tours with other users, and participate as well in a 2D social network-style community.

“Rather than being an isolating virtual experience, the Virtual Forbidden City allows visitors to see and interact with each other and with a wide range of volunteers, staff, and automated characters,”  the site says. “To welcome the broadest range of visitors, a simple, easy to use interface guides interactions with the Virtual Forbidden City.”

Originally, the Forbidden City was constructed to embody the idea of the emperor as the center of the universe with a series of dramatic courtyards and gates, buildings and landings underscoring a design built to reinforce security and power. This huge palace complex was completed in 1420, about twelve years after construction began, and contains hundreds of exquisite buildings and historic artifacts.

AFK in-class solution?

The question of whether an avatar/student is really paying attention, a problem or just “lurking” is one  Sabine Reljic/Willow Shenlin is attempting to answer within her Centre for Social  Presence. the answer, however, might  be provided by a number of unique products if not on the market just about to reach the market.

In a recent SLED communication  Reljic asked, “Are you annoyed at the afk around you when you teach? Ever wonder what ‘engagement’ really means? Do you know that an avatar-instructor’s behaviors influence students attention, motivation and learning? Want to learn some moves? Need colleagues to bounce ideas? Do you know why ‘bumping” is such a successful informative activity?” She was promoting her worthwhile centre’s first meeting “Introducing the Center for Social Presence” at 5-6pm SLTim,e Tuesday, October 14, at  Meadowbrook 48, 202, 22 (Center for Social Presence).

Coincidentally I’d just been flicking through an announcement of a brainwave-reading headset which might offer a possible solution to the AFK problem. In it California-based NeuroSky managing director Kikuo Ito told AFP that in distance learning courses teachers, using his Mindset headset, might be able to monitor whether students were attentive.http://www.smh.com.au/news/games/articles/new-game-reads-your-mind/2008/10/10/1223145601748.html

He made the comment at the Tokyo Game Show, the games industry’s biggest exhibition, after noting, “Once people get used to the idea of using brain waves for various applications, I hope we will see various products using this technology.”

The Mindset monitors whether the player is focused or relaxed and accordingly moves the character on a personal computer.

Meanwhile Emotiv Systems – a company founded by four Australian scientists in 2003 but now based in San Francisco – plans to market its $A300 wireless “neuroheadset” called EPOC to PC users late this year.

The device uses 16 sensors that press lightly against the scalp to monitor electrical activity from the brain and face. A built-in gyroscope tracks head movements to control a cursor or viewing angles.

Although the brain-sensing technology – electroencephalography or EEG – has been around for decades Steve Prentice, a vice-president at technology research firm Gartner says Emotiv has been smart to start with the video game market.

“In gaming, people are looking for any additional sort of edge or cool technological advantage,” he says. “It’s a short move from gaming to things such as virtual worlds and from there into the mainstream computing environment.”

Emotiv has already piqued the interest of IBM, which is testing how the headset may work with virtual environments. “As interactions in the virtual world are becoming more complex, mouse and keyboard alone could soon not be enough,” says IBM spokesman Steven Tomasco.

Emotiv’s headset can detect more than 30 expressions, emotions and mental “actions”. They include feelings, such as excitement and frustration, expressions, such as raised eyebrows and clenched teeth and thoughts about movement, such as pushing, pulling, lifting and dropping. Visualisation techniques also can make in-game objects vanish.

Another company, OCZ Technology Group, began offering its Neural Impulse Actuator for gamers earlier this year. The device, selling for about $160, is a headband with three sensors that rest on the forehead, detecting electrical signals from movements such as a furrowed brow or a blinking eye to control on-screen action in PC games.

It seems in future educators might have little trouble in, if not getting right into the minds of their students, at least knowing there is someone there on the other side of the screen and what they might or might not be doing.

http://www.smh.com.au/news/digital-life/games/articles/mind-over-splatter/2008/09/06/1220121584474.html?page=fullpage#contentSwap1

Emotiv: http://www.emotiv.com OCZ Technology: http://www.ocztechnology.com

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