Virtual Worlds

Voice Card  -  Volume 15  -  Paul Card Number 13  -  Wed, Jul 11, 1990 11:09 PM

This is a response to Vol 14 John 15 ("Artificial Life")...

Digital - $1.4 million Digital grant to Human Interface Technology Lab

Digital has announced a $1.4M equipment grant, over four years, to Washington's Human Interface Technology (HIT) Laboratory to advance research and development of virtual-worlds technology. The HIT Lab, a unit of the state-chartered Washington Technology Centers, is pioneering the development of virtual-worlds systems for professional, industrial, educational, and health-related applications.

For the next year, the HIT Lab is concentrating on developing an R&D infrastructure capable of building virtual-worlds prototypes. The HIT Lab's first acquisition under the million-dollar-plus Digital grant will be several new DECstation 5000 Series graphic workstations and software. These combined processing and graphics machines will be used to code the "mindware" necessary for constructing virtual-worlds and then to generate the actual virtual worlds.

Dr. Thomas Furness, Director of the HIT Lab, explained the technology as "a science-fiction dream come true. . . . Instead of just seeing images on a computer screen, the participant in a virtual world sees, hears, and feels an apparently real 'world' generated by the computer and experienced through stereoscopic 'spectacles' and a 3D sound headset, and operated using unique virtual tools".

Virtual-world technology will be applied in a number of fields, including engineering, design, and education. In one application, engineers in different locations would collaborate to build a new airliner in virtual space, even testing it in a "virtual wind tunnel."

In another, urban planners would examine a planned redevelopment scheme, seeing for themselves how traffic patterns might be affected, from a driver's point of view. Teachers and students would visit times and places that would otherwise be unreachable: for example, the planets - or Philadelphia Hall during the signing of the Constitution.

Researchers in Digital's Software Usability Engineering in Nashua, N.H., Southwest Engineering Research and Development in Albuquerque, N.M., and Software Services in Santa Clara, Calif., are focusing on bringing the senses of vision, touch, and hearing to the use of computers, using virtual-worlds technology. This collaboration of Digital researchers with common interests in exploring how virtual-worlds technologies could be used to create more usable, useful, and appropriate computer systems is called the Presence project.

The Human Interface Technology Lab was established within the Washington Technology Center (WTC) in September 1989. The WTC is chartered by the Washington State legislature to stimulate and assist technology transfer from the state's universities to the private sector and government.