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factfile1.18 Virtual Reality

Virtual Worlds

A virtual world is a 3-dimensional space which exists online and allows users to travel around and interact with it. It is sometimes also called Virtual Reality. Users create a digital representation of themselves known as an avatar. Some worlds may appear similar to the real world whilst others may depict fantasy environments. Virtual worlds can have many thousands of avatars sharing the same space. These are known as Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMOs). The most popular MMO is World of Warcraft which had over 11 million subscribers in June 2011.

Virtual Tours

Some museums and galleries offer virtual reality tours of their collections via their websites which give the impression of walking through the museum and viewing virtual representations of the exhibits. Usually these tours are for a single user, you cannot interact with other people.

Second Life

One of the biggest virtual worlds is called Second Life: The world of Second Life is populated by millions of people who can interact with each other, talk, play games and create items and buildings online. Any player can use the built-in 3D design tools to create virtual buildings and other structures.

second life tutorial
Image courtesy of Leeds School of Art, Architecture and Design

Second Life is more than just a game, and has many educational uses. Some universities have built online versions of their campuses online and hold lectures and other events inside a virtual space: the llustration shows design students having an online tutorial with their lecturer. The students are in different locations, but they can meet up inside a virtual world. They can chat to each other using a chat window or a microphone.

It is possible to import images, video and audio into these worlds and share them with other users. This has allowed bands to give concerts, artists to show off their artwork and film makers to present their movies inside Second Life.

Virtual Worlds are also being used by commercial organisations. Media companies use it to promote their latest bands and movies, and advertisers sell"virtual" advertising space for real money inside these worlds.

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality apps such as Aurasma and Layar use the camera and GPS systems in a smartphone to overlay multimedia information over the top of a live real world image. For example you could use it to get tourist information when you look at a famous landmark or view a movie trailer when you look at a poster.

Websites such as Scimorph use a webcam and a special printed marker to superimpose a computer generated object over the top of a real image. By moving the marker, the user is able to move and view the object from different angles and even interact with it. The augmented reality model of a wind turbine at Smart Grid even uses the webcam microphone to detect when you are blowing on it and makes the turbine blades move!

Scimorph - augmented reality

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