Imagination Unleashed in Wonderland Challenge 2009

May 26, 2009

It’s always exciting to hear about people around the world using Wonderland, but I was particularly excited to learn about the Wonderland competition recently completed in Thailand. The image here is from a world created by one of the teams in the competition called "Blue Phoenix." 

In today’s guest blog, I have the pleasure of  introducing Professor Putchong Uthayopas from the Department of Computer Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, at Kasetsart University, Thailand. Putchong is not only interested in using virtual worlds to help get students excited about Computer Science, but he also has a vision for how virtual worlds can be used to better engage distance education students in a range of subjects including Math and Physics. 

Aside from his interest in virtual worlds, Putchong’s main research focus is on cluster, grid, and cloud computing. He received a national invention award from the National Research Council of Thailand for his cluster and HPC work in 2000.  And, like quite a few of you I’m sure, he is a big fan of sci-fi, especially Star Trek. 

In the following guest blog, Professor Putchong Uthayopas from Kasetsart University, Thailand describes the recently completed Wonderland Challenge 2009 competition.


Want your students to build their own virtual world? Your wish can now come true.

To stimulate the interest and imagination of young computer scientists in Thailand about 3D virtual worlds, we at Kasetsart University worked with Sun Microsystems to organize a competition called Wonderland Challenge 2009. We choose Project Wonderland because it allows anyone to easily learn how to build  a simple world and make it quickly come to life on-line. We have about 30 teams registered for the competition.  To help them, we held a 2-day workshop on how to build your own world in Wonderland.  It was a successful and fun workshop. Many teams were able to create their own working virtual world in only one night!

After a few weeks of development, 11 teams returned with imaginative and beautiful worlds. We really appreciate the time and effort they spent. The worlds they built ranged from a small zoo, to a virtual museum, to a train house, and a miniature world. The winning team, "Hyperion," actually created a 3-story space station for children to get a glimpse of life in space.

Hyperion planetarium Hyperion Cyber Gallery

Without technology like Wonderland, it would have been very difficult to set up a competition like this one. We are looking forward to a new, more powerful version of Wonderland, especially the feature that allows us to link  many worlds together. I personally am very impressed. I never imagined that I could easily build a whole new world of my own imagining.  But yes, I can, and so can you.

See some of the worlds our students created in the Wonderland Challenge 2009 competition here:

KUWLC2009′s Channel

Putchong Uthayopas
Kasetsart University, Thailand


3D Virtual Workspace for Business Communication and Collaboration

May 21, 2009

I recently received an intriguing message from Kenneth Merriman, an MBA student at Webster University at the Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, California telling me about a capstone project report he was working on to complete his masters in IT Management. In the report, he uses Wonderland as an example of virtual world technology that is poised to solve a variety of communication and coordination problems faced by large enterprises.

Kenneth MerrimanKen has a fascinating, eclectic background. Like many others interested in virtual worlds, Ken is an avid World of Warcraft player. He tells me he has reached the highest level (80) with one of his four toons. I’m not a gamer, but this sounded impressive! Ken started his career at the Jet Propulsion Laboratories working on spacecraft atomic generators. From there, he moved on to the motion picture industry where he directed a documentary on the 1976 Mars landing entitled “Mars Minus Myth (revised)” that won the Bronze Hugo Award at the 1977 Chicago Film Festival. After that, he did a stint working for the Department of Defense missile systems division as a production planner/analyst on the prototype navigational system for the stealth fighter. In the 1990s, Ken changed careers and became a graphic artist, studying Alias 3D design and animation at the Art Center, College of Design in Pasadena. This landed him a job at Mattel in the IT Infrastructure department supporting the teams of artists and designers developing toy products. Now, after completing his MBA, Ken is working on a proposal for a new business related to on-line games and virtual worlds.

In the guest blog that follows, Ken Merriman describes his capstone project.


Capstone Project

Nicole Yankelovich was very kind to invite me to contribute a blog to this Web site in order to share some of my findings on the final capstone project that I wrote for my MA‑IT Management degree at Webster University entitled 3D Virtual Workspace for Business Communication and Collaboration. The goal of the final capstone project was to determine a need that exists in a global organization with 250,000 employees and present an analysis of a business solution that would be beneficial to an organization of this scale. In my report, I used Project Wonderland an example to illustrate what I consider the next evolutionary development in corporate communication and collaboration tools: 3D virtual workspaces. I found Wonderland to be innovatively designed to bring distant people together in such a manner as to promote team involvement and personal bonding. As a former employee of Mattel, Inc., in El Segundo, California, I have experience with teams that are separated by large distances. I worked for 11 years in Mattel’s IT Infrastructure department, during which time I was involved in several global projects that required coordination of distributed IT support personnel. These collaborative efforts were successfully accomplished using a combination of voice communications, video communications, Net Meetings, e-mail, text messaging, and remote computer sharing/control. We were impressed with the benefits that these Internet tools offered. At one point, I was controlling computers in Germany and Hong Kong while still at my desk in Los Angeles.

Problems and Solutions

There were problems, however, with effectively orchestrating all these technologies. The logistics of tracking and storing data were difficult, due in part to the lack of centralization as well as the absence of consistent standards across locations. Planned meetings required advanced arrangements to assure team participation. It was not a simple task to make this happen. In addition, I noticed that there was a consistent disconnect between the team members. This appeared to be due to inadequate bonding during the team formation phase, which I attributed to team members’ limited exposure to one another. We did our best to compensate for the lack of face-to-face meetings, but these electronic meetings did not compare with the level of information exchange or personal bonding associated with in-person meetings. This led me to think that there might be a better solution.

In my research, I came across Project Wonderland being developed at Sun Microsystems. This matched perfectly with the situation and provided a possible solution that I felt would address these problems. The architecture of Wonderland appears to address the ability to rapidly connect people while also supporting casual meetings and impromptu discussions. The ability for the mind to momentarily suspend disbelief while immersed in a 3D virtual workspace can give the user a perception of presence. This dramatically enhances personal bonding and increases rapid information transference thereby improving team building as well as team coordination effectiveness. The ability of Wonderland to automatically establish audio links based on proximity of avatar relationship as well as the ability to share files and applications reveals the power that is achievable with this type of technological approach.

In the report, I also discussed the success of massively-multiplayer online games (MMOGs) such as Blizzard’s World of Warcraft (WoW). I used this as an example not only for the financial success of the product, approximately $2 billion per year, but also as an indication of how team building can be achieved in a virtual environment. If you remove the gaming aspect of the product, it becomes a coordination tool for teams of individuals brought together from global distances. There are arenas in World of Warcraft where as many as 200 players from around the world will work as teams at the same time to accomplish defined goals. 3D virtual world immersion, avatar proximity, audio communication, text messaging, and perception of presence are all established simultaneously within these massive events that occur in always-on real time. Many times, while playing WoW in Los Angeles, I will be on a team composed of people who at the same time are sitting in Australia, Japan, and New York.

I mentioned in the report that corporate management might not see that Wonderland has these powerful benefits. This could be a challenge for some to overcome. The perception of cyberslacking might be a factor on how quickly this technology is adopted. If management views 3D virtual workspace as a diversion, then management might push back, not supplying the opportunities that the technology needs to develop. Perhaps the trade-off will become clearer as the economy continues to flounder. The need to formulate teams, pull in distant resources, and develop team effectiveness through personal bonding while at the same time reducing travel costs might prove to be the tipping point for the future of virtual world technology. It is a powerful tool, and if thoughtfully introduced, could give organizations a distinct advantage over their competition.

I appreciate the information that was available through the Wonderland open source web site that contributed to my understanding of the progress of the technology. This proved to be a valuable resource for my report. I was excited to receive a grade of 100% for the report and my final course grade of an “A.”

Thank you, Nicole and the team that is working on this great application. I will be looking forward to your
future developments in the field.

Sincerely,
Kenneth D. Merriman, MBA, MA-Information Technology Management


Developer Release 5

May 14, 2009

Well, you know the saying, "Another month, another Wonderland 0.5 developer release". Ok, maybe it’s not really a saying; maybe I just made that part up. And it wasn’t true for last month. But it is time for another developer "release" of v0.5. Like always, these are just snapshots of the code base that have a fair bit of additional functionality since the last developer release and have gone through the most elemental testing to make sure all of the basics work. Not to say there aren’t bugs — there are, and I’ll provide a link to some of the one’s we feel are most likely to affect you below.

Disclaimer: Project Wonderland is experimental, open-source software. It is not a product. This is an early-access developer release which is missing features and has bugs.

How to Get It

This developer release is available as source-code in a subversion repository. Please read the Download, Configure, Build and Run from the Wonderland v0.5 Source tutorial for instructions.

As always, you can find links to all of our documentation from the Project Wonderland 0.5 web site.

What’s in it?

There have been tons of changes since our last developer release two months ago, with lots of new features. Here is an overview of the goodies in this developer release:

⁞⁞⁞⁞⁞⁞

  1. Federation: You can place portals in-world through which avatars can teleport to other worlds on other servers. Much like a web browser, you can also teleport to a new world without restarting the client by entering a URL in the Location bar.
  2. More Avatar System Implementation: The avatar system now allows you to (randomly) select the appearance of your avatar. Once you find an avatar you like, you can save it.
  3. Rewritten "AppBase" API: The API to support writing 2D applications has been entirely re-architected and simplified.
  4. Initial Security Infrastructure: The initial infrastructure to support cell-level security and authentication has been added.
  5. Initial X11 App Support: X11 application sharing makes its first appearance with server-launched app support on Linux (Ubuntu).
  6. Text Chat: Group text chat as well as person-to-person text chat are now available.
  7. Orientation World: A new default, "orientation" world is available as an add-on module and features some of the new graphics capabilities of Project Wonderland.
  8. WebDAV Content Repository: A WebDAV-based content repository is now integrated with the system, allowing you to upload and use assets in the repository. You can browse the contents of the WebDAV repository using a simple graphical UI.
  9. Drag and Drop Support: You can add certain content into the world by dragging-and-dropping it into a Wonderland window. So far, the following file types are supported: .kmz (3D models), .png and .jpg (2D images), and .svg (whiteboard documenets). When one of these types of files is dropped into the world, the application or cell that supports that content type is automatically launched, displaying the new content. You may define support for new file types in your custom Cell types too.
  10. Preliminary NPC Support: You can use the Cell Palette to add a non-player character (NPC) into the world. A simple dialog allows you to change the character and control its movement.
  11. Redesigned Menu System: The main menu system has been redesigned and simplified.

Watch the video above to see a glimpse of the new orientation world as well as demonstrations of drag-and-drop, federation, security, and NPCs. Note that the video also includes a segment on "High Definition Video." This application is not yet finished, and is therefore not included in this Dev5 release, but we thought you’d like to see a preview of it.

Java SE 5 Not Supported When Using Avatars

In this developer release, to use the new avatar system, please use Java SE 6. There is a bug (Issue #68: JDK 5 throws StreamCorruptionException) that prevents the use of Java SE 5 (aka JDK 5). If you would still like to use Java SE 5, then you can turn off the avatar system by setting the following in core/run-client.properties and use the lower quality ‘angel’ avatars instead:

avatar.detail=low

Information on Shared X11 Applications

The implementation of shared X11 apps in Dev5 is preliminary. So far, we have tested Gnome-terminal, Solitaire and Firefox, but not much else. If you manage to get different apps to work, please let us know by posting a message to the forum. And, of course, if an app doesn’t work, file a bug on it.

To run an X11 app, open the Cell Palette and select "Run X11 App" and then enter the command (e.g. firefox) into the command entry and click Run. Note that the app will be run on the same machine that is running the Darkstar server, so if you use an absolute path in this command, you must use a valid file system path on the server machine. If you use just the command name alone, you need to make sure that this command is in your execution path before starting the Wonderland web server.

Because the implementation is preliminary, there are some restrictions you must observe, as well as several bugs to be aware of. Please refer to this list of restrictions/limitations. One important limitation is that only one X11 application will currently run at a time.

Bugs

There are a number of bugs filed against Version 0.5. You can always see the complete bug list, and file a new bug, using the Issue Tracker. Here are the ones that we think are most important (P1):


Dev5 Testing

May 12, 2009

As those of you who follow Wonderblog know, release testing is one of the favorite parts of my job. Today we were doing a final test to decide if "Dev5" – the 5th developer release of Project Wonderland v0.5 – is ready to release. We were quite pleased with the results of the test. We ran through adding objects to the world using the cell palette and drag-and-drop. We manipulated the objects once in world and tested out object-level security. We randomly generated new avatars, and we tested a host of audio features including mute, reconnecting the softphone, and changing audio quality. Here we all are sitting around an audio recorder recording silly things. We played them back, and then got confused about which voices were in the recording and which voices were live. Then you can see us visiting an Egyptian temple (found in the Google 3D Warehouse).

Sitting around the audio recorder Exploring the temple

After convincing Deron to get out of the box of donuts Paul provided as a testing treat, he started up Firefox for us. We were all happy to see the return of shared X applications!

Deron in donut box Shared Applications

Jon also had a surprise for us. He added a nifty module for monitoring client memory usage and other important statistics. This should make it much easier to track down memory leaks and troubleshoot a host of other problems (I apologize for forgetting to take a screen shot).

We only found one show-stopper bug related to the security component. Fortunately Jon thinks the problem is easy to fix, so we’ll do a quick retest tomorrow to verify the fix and then you should be seeing a Dev5 release announcement in the next few days.  


Save the date! Wonderland at JavaOne

May 11, 2009

JavaOne 2009This year’s JavaOne conference is just around the corner!  Wonderland will be very well represented, with four related sessions on the program:

Creating Games with the Open-Source Multithreaded Game Engine (MTGame)
Tuesday – 3:20pm – Hall E 133

Doug and Deron will cover the details of MT-Game, the new graphics engine in Wonderland 0.5.  This session is for anyone who cares about building high-performance 3D graphics using Java.  Doug has already started building demos, and I can’t wait to see the eye candy!

A Virtual Multimedia Office
Wednesday – 1:30pm – Hall E 133

Our friends from Ericsson will be showing off some very cool features they have added to Wonderland as part of a mixed-reality office project.  They have implemented some incredible features like suport for navigating the world, hearing audio and using documents, all from a mobile phone. I don’t want to give too much away, but I’m looking forward to hearing what you get when you combine Wonderland, a television and a chumby.

Fusing 3-D Java™ Technologies to Create a Mirror World
Wednesday – 2:50pm – Hall E 133

The folks at SRA have been working on building mirror worlds using Java APIs.  This talk is all about how to use real-world data into a 3D environment, a subject near and dear to the Wonderland team’s heart.

Project Wonderland: Build 3-D Virtual Worlds with Java™ Technology
Wednesday – 6:45pm – Hall E 133

Last, but certainly not least, the Wonderland BOF will be an informal tour of everything Wonderland.  We’ll keep it light with plenty of demos and special guests.  A great chance to learn about Java for virtual worlds, meet your fellow Wonderland enthusiasts, and hang out with the Wonderland team.

There you have it – practically our own track in Hall E 133. Clearly, the place to be during the conference.  Make sure to check out the special deals – including free registration – for student and educators. We hope to see you there!


Immersive Education Initiative London Summit 2009

May 2, 2009

While Nicole and Jordan were in Washington DC, I was attending the Immersive Education Initiative London Summit at the London School of Economics here in the UK. Apparently the sessions were recorded so you’ll be able to catch up with them later. However, one of the sessions that probably won’t have recorded well is one that Dr Michael Gardner and I presented on "Using Project Wonderland in your Organisation". We ran this session more like a participative workshop (hence the lack of suitable recording) in which we asked the audience members to identify the current issues facing the deployment of Virtual Worlds in education (not just Wonderland).  

We broke the audience into three user categories: educators, developers and learning technologists and asked them to identify the issues particular to them. 

Here’s the Educators’ list of issues:

  • Cost–education has no resources, getting less. Needs to cost nothing, no time, no investment, no support.
  • Current technology in schools is inadequate to run these kinds of worlds. Need to consider lower quality or other kinds of clients.
  • Need to demonstrate impact on learning–where is the pedagogical link?
  • Help us figure out which platform to choose
  • Who is going to build the VW space and look after it. We don’t have the time (or resources). Make it easier/faster, provide templates.
  • We have no time to invest in this.
  • We don’t want to replicate existing content but repurpose.
  • Needs to be accessible, easy to use and intuitive.

 Here’s the list from the Developers:

  • Mesh animation in avatars
  • Track activities of users
  • 3D Recorder
  • DB access–can we use JDBC?
  • Customisability via plugins

 And finally, the list from Learning Technologists:

  • Installability/deployability. Need to challenge the current "open source" culture whereby it’s assumed that all users are geeks. Need more tutorials and videos.
  • Multidisciplanary groups to take advantage of existing eLearning expertise. Don’t re-invent the wheel.
  • Recognise different user roles: educator, admin, learning technologist, instructional designer and provide tools for them.
  • Simulation tool for labs.

 Two outcomes of the session were:

  • the desire to find or form some kind of multidisciplinary working group to bring together developers, educators and learning designers
  • a clearing house for tested models or approved worlds that had been used in other teaching situations. Compared to the sitiuation of "rather than writing one’s own textbook, want to find one that’s been written by an expert"

 Michael Gardner offered to take a look at the various agencies in the UK to see which ones would be an appropriate umbrella for such a group.

 

I’ve attended several VW conferences over the past year, and this was by far the most enjoyable. It struck the right note about relating pedagogy to technology, rather then being driven by "cools tools". 

Participants at the "Using Wonderland" session 

 


Back-to-Back Virtual World Conferences

May 1, 2009

Last week, Jordan and I were in Washington, DC to attend the 3D Training, Learning and Collaboration (3D TLC) conference and demo Wonderland v0.5 at the Federal Consortium for Virtual Worlds Conference vendor day. We stayed at the Kellogg Conference Hotel on the campus of Gallaudet University, a world renowned school for students who are deaf. I also arrived in DC early enough before the conference to catch one of two weekends a year that the White House grounds are open to the public. Along with thousands of others, I was able to get a glimpse of the back of the White House and take a peak at the Rose Garden.

Whitehouse Rose Garden

3D TLC Highlights

Lots of other people have blogged about the 3D TLC conference, so check the list I’ve included if you’d like to learn more details about the overall conference. In this post, I’m just going to focus on the bits I thought were particularly relevant to Wonderland.

The highlight of the conference for me was the presentation by Mitzi Montoya, a professor of marketing innovation at North Carolina State University. Mitzi, and her collaborator, Indiana University Professor Anne Massey, are working on developing a measurement tool to assess "perceived virtual presence." This tool includes 8-10 measures and touches on how people relate to objects and other people in the virtual world. This article, "Divining Value: Dr. Mitzi Montoya measures the perceived value of virtual reality," provides a bit more detail. Their preliminary study results show that in both training and collaboration tasks, presence does have an impact on performance. Mitzi then went on to describe her current work. She is in the process of conducting a controlled study of students learning MATLAB in a Wonderland world. In talking with her after her presentation, Mitzi explained that she had done most of her work in Second Life, but Wonderland allows her to run MATLAB inside the virtual world using their own "virtual lab" VNC-like software. Since the MATLAB exercises have correct answers, she will be able to assess which student teams are most successful in completing the experimental tasks under different conditions. She is also considering running another study using Wonderland that involves a virtual maze. In this setup, one collaborator is inside the maze, and the other collaborator is on top of the maze. The person on top needs to direct the person in the maze to the exit.

In addition to Mitzi’s mention of Wonderland, both Sun presenters – Mary Smaragdis and Robin Williams – showed some video clips of Wonderland v0.5. In addition to talking about Sun’s use of Second Life for internal training and external events, they emphasized Wonderland’s extensibility, the ability to drag and drop content into the world, the ability to connect to enterprise resources, and object-level security. 

Here are some other blogs about the conference for more information:

A Few Interesting Technologies

A company called The Venue Network was demo’ing a web-based 3D environment called VenueGen. The functionality was quite limited, but it seemed like it could be quite effective for large presentations that require a low barrier to entry for new users. What particularly interested me, however, was the research they had done on gestures. They came up with the concept of gesture archetypes, described in detail in their Gestures Whitepaper. The concept is fairly simple. Each time you click on the wave icon, for example, your avatar waves slightly differently. If you double-click on any of the gesture icons, the gesture is exaggerated, so you get a big wave instead of an ordinary wave. And if you click and hold on the icon, the gesture continues until you release the mouse button. I’m not sure this user interface is ideal, but The Venue Network designers’ emphasis on gestures is right on target. Varying the way gestures are animated and enabling gestures of different magnitudes is likely to add a significant amount of realism to the environment.

Another product that caught my attention was PowerU demoed at the Federal Consortium event. Until I reviewed my notes, I didn’t realize that this product is related to VenueGen in that both products are based on Icarus Studios game technology. PowerU is a collaboration between Icarus Studios and the American Research Institute, a training services provider. Check out the "PowerU Tools Suite" and the "In World Motion Capture" videos available on the PowerU home page (click the "Next >>" link under the video thumbnail to find the different videos). The software runs on a Linux server, but the client-side software is Windows-only. The tools are all Collada-based, so it certainly would be interesting to see if there was a way to use the output of their world builder or terrain generator in Wonderland. Maybe some day! An interesting bit of gossip that came from this session is that the new movie called "Avatar," directed by James Cameron, was filmed largely using this technology.

One more technology I want to highlight is Vastpark, also demoed at the Federal Consortium event. Vastpark has an architectural model that has some similarities to Wonderland. Their Immersive Media Markup Language (IMML) is akin to our Wonderland File System (WFS). Both are based on XML.  They also have a plugin system for extensibility. That said, Vastpark is not platform-independent. It currently runs on Windows and they have plans to create a Mac client. One cool feature is their Continuum event recorder mechanism. It looked fairly easy to capture 3D content and share the recording with others.

Our Project Wonderland v0.5 Demo

We conducted two hour-long sessions on Wonderland at the Federal Consortium Vendor Day pre-conference event. We showed lots of video of v0.4 to give the audience a sense of Wonderland’s features and what people in the open source community have been doing with the toolkit. We then did a live demo of v0.5. Despite not successfully running through the demo the night before without a major failure, the de
mo worked extremely well in both sessions. Jordan was able to get drag and drop of .kmz 3D models working just in time, so we were able to demo that, as well as drag and drop of images and an .svg whiteboard document. We showed how multiple users can edit the whiteboard at the same time, how the tool palette can be used to add interactive components to the world such as the cool new video player, and how the in-world tools can be used to manipulate 3D objects.

This audience was particularly interested in the new security features. We showed how you can add a security component to any object in the world by right-clicking on an object, selecting "Properties" from the context menu, and then clicking on the "+" below the Capabilities list in the Cell Property Editor window. This brings up the Capabilities dialog with the Cell Security Component option:

Adding the security component

We then selected the group called "users," which is a default group set up to encompass all users of the system other than the owner of the object. We then clicked "Edit…" and changed the View permission setting from "Granted" to "Denied":

Object-level security

Doing this caused the object to immediately disappear on the second client we were using. We also showed how the group feature could be used to set up access control groups so that security permissions can be set differently for different groups of users. To create a user group, select "Groups…" from the Wonderland Edit menu and then click the "Add…" button in the Edit Groups window. This allows you to enter a name for the group and add users:

Groups dialog

This group will then show up in the Permissions list on Cell Security Component property sheet.


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