The SLENZ Update – No 50, March 3, 2009

Wonderland ‘wins’

Canuck Open Uni


Athabasca in Wonderland?

The  recently created Immersive Technologies for Education Centre of Excellence (COE) at Athabasca University, a Canadian online university,  has partnered with  Sun Microsystems of Canada to research virtual worlds built on Sun’s open-source Project Wonderland  virtual worlds’ toolkit with the aim of integrating them into curriculum for distance learning and so educators can share work with each other.

“Through the Immersive Technologies for Education Centre of Excellence, our researchers will be able to do things that were impossible before,” Rory McGreal, Associate Vice-president, Research, Athabasca University, said in a statement. “Their research will extend beyond the boundaries of formal education, from corporate uses of the technology to broader community initiatives that will make education accessible to everyone ( ).

“We are all lifelong learners, with many of us engaged in assorted learning communities in formal, informal and work settings,” he said. “Software that enhances our abilities to do this will be of benefit to all. Given our synergies in vision and our commitment to education Sun and Athabasca University have created a powerful partnership that will transform the way people learn and collaborate.”

The university would roll out the COE’s three-dimensional immersive technology research into the curriculum so teachers can create dynamic 3D learning environments and share experiences with colleagues while graduate students can acquire the knowledge and skills necessary for real-world applications, he said.

“Sun has a longstanding commitment to bridging the digital divide that prevents people from getting an education because they don’t have access to the right technology,” Kevin Roebuck, Market Development Manager, e-Learning, Sun Microsystems, Inc. “Immersive education combines 3D and virtual reality technology with digital media to immerse and engage students in the same way that today’s best video games grab and keep the attention of players. The new Immersive Technologies for Education Centre of Excellence (COE) at Athabasca University will not only improve existing educational environments but will also widen access to education for the disadvantaged, particularly those living in remote and rural communities and the disabled.”

Athabasca University is the first Canadian university to establish a COE based on immersive technologies. Research produced at the COE  will be designed to  lay the foundation for the creation of rich immersive educational environments on a broader scale, enabling students no matter where they are to work and play together, for outlying isolated communities to engage with others within and outside Canada, and for the development of richer ties between any arbitrary set of communities around the world.darkstarlogo

The immersive environments will be built on Project Wonderland ( ),  and on Sun’s Project Darkstar platform ( Within those worlds, users can communicate with high-fidelity, immersive audio, and can share live applications such as web browsers, open office documents, social applications and games. Sun will support and coordinate collaboration with its researchers in areas of high performance and grid technologies, security and software/environment design.

Sun will also provide Athabasca University with access to the Sun Immersion Special Interest Group, a Sun-sponsored community dedicated to advancing the state of open-source technology and open content for virtual worlds, games, and new media in education.

Another new kid …


JustLeapIn … another new kid on the virtual reality block

For those of you  who think that Second Life  is download heavy there’s a new kid on the block : an evolving 3D social applet with web integration  and a lightweight plug-in for Windows and Mac.

Canadian-based Leap In Entertainment ( ) thinks it can do what Google couldn’t, and has launched (Mid-January) a brand new virtual world that might actually stand a chance, according to Jason Kincaid at TechCrunch (

Noting that given the relatively dismal performance of Lively, Google’s short lived browser-based virtual world, smaller startups might be a little hesitant to jump into the space, but Kincaid  found the JLI beta  browser-based virtual world ” impressive, sporting 3D graphics and a semi-realistic physics engine (they may not be quite as good as modern 3D games, but for a browser-based world they more than suffice).”jli

The game, he noted, has strong support for multimedia, allowing users to drag and drop their own pictures; to create in-game art galleries; play live video from in-game screens;  stream their own music, and syndicate their in-game activities to news feeds around the web.

According to the company’s creative director, Michael Griffin, JLI is targeting the 18-34 audience – a group Griffin says has more early adopters, than the younger, virtual-world saturated demographic Google targeted.

Personally while I found the graphics good to excellent  I found the avatar choice/modelling,  and  walk around ability because of separate individual worlds, rather limiting, when compared to the one world of SL or OpenLife etc.  I often wanted to travel in-world but couldn’t. I could only look at the view through the windows. However, this is still  a beta which will be worth watching.

The SLENZ Update – No 27, November 20, 2008

Mercy killing gets Lively

Google has taken the hatchet to its  virtual world, Lively, after less than six months operation.

Initially damned with faint praise and sometimes ridicule the Lively virtual world was launched in July by Google Labs with much overhype “because we wanted users to be able to interact with their friends and express themselves online in new ways.”

Now its impending mercy killing at the end of December has been announced by Google  with little fanfare at the official Google blogspot (  under the simple livelyheading, Lively no more”.

Whether is was ever lively is debatable, although Google Labs admit “we’ve always accepted that when you take these kinds of risks not every bet is going to pay off”.

That’s why,” Google said, “despite all the virtual high fives and creative rooms everyone has enjoyed in the last four and a half months, we’ve decided to shut Lively down at the end of the year. It has been a tough decision, but we want to ensure that we prioritiise our resources and focus more on our core search, ads and apps business. will be discontinued at the end of December, and everyone who has worked on the project will then move on to other teams.

“We’d encourage all Lively users to capture your hard work by taking videos and screenshots of your rooms,” Google Labs said.

VW painkiller

Some of us outside the main centres of New Zealand who have often struggled with TelstraClear or Telecom’s woefully inadequate Broadband  services might not see virtual world technology as a painkiller. More like a constant pain in the butt.

But the University of Washington’ s HIT Lab created Snow World   as a virtual reality pain reduction program almost a decade ago, according to Second Life’s wellknown Dusan Writer (pictured) (RL: Doug Thompson, CEO of Remedy Communications) in his Metaverse blog (

Snow World has had remarkable results on burn patients, Dusan said. The  ‘distraction,’ as it is called, has been in frequent use at the University of Washington Harborview Burn Center, helping take the patient’s mind off of pain during the difficult wound care period.

Now, Dusan said, quoting  ScienCentral, the US military is going to study whether Snow World is applicable to soldiers who have been burned in combat.dusanwriter

Snow World is all about snow, the near-opposite of fire and heat. The world is snowy and cold and researchers say this is a great help to burn victims.

Meanwhile Dusan has also reported on the fact that paramedic students at two universities in London, UK, are using SL to aid in their learning, through allowing them to check a patient’s pulse, dress wounds and administer drugs is a similar way to what Auckland University’s Scott Diener (SL: Professor Noarlunga) [] is doing on Long White Cloud Island in SL.

“The most important thing is that they can afford to make mistakes online, which they could not afford to do in real life,” Dr. Ahmed Younis, the principle lecturer, said. “”When they make a mistake, they are always keen not to make this mistake again.”