Second Life demonstrates mingling of real and virtual worlds

Virtual worlds made popular by Second Life are showing new signs of life thanks to new prototyping tools. Some of those tools were on display at the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference in Orlando this week.

While the public version of the Second Life virtual world remains primarily a playground for self expression and social networking, military and government agencies are taking a more serious look at its practical applications now that its maker, Linden Lab, has created a version of the environment that can be run behind a firewall on private servers. But Second Life is only one of several environments for creating what are sometimes called 3-D Internet experiences. 

Like Virtual Battle Space 2, Second Life made cameo appearances at several booths around the show floor at the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference in Orlando, Fla., this week.

While Second Life is not as tailored to simulating military operations, “there are few things better for rapid prototyping,” said Dana Moore of BBN Technologies, co-author of “Scripting Your World,” a book on customizing the Second Life experience.

Moore was demonstrating the ability for the Second Life environment to incorporate information from the outside world (he was feeding data from a Boston weather station into his mockup city) and also communicate out (in his case, a Twitter feed of activities from the virtual world). BBN has been investigating the possibility of using Second Life environments that could be rapidly reconfigured to mirror “geo-typical terrain” in Afghanistan for planning or practicing operations there in the virtual world.

In a tutorial on the 3-D Internet, Michael Macedonia, vice president and general manager for federal systems at Forterra Systems, said alternatives include his own firm’s Olive software, Metaverse, OpenSim, and Croquet, each of which provides capabilities suited to different types of projects.

For some uses, it might be essential to represent real-world terrain or realistically represent ballistics and weapons effects, while those qualities might be irrelevant for other uses devoted to virtual meetings and visual collaboration.

Macedonia showed a video clip of a Homeland Security Department pilot project featuring hurricane preparation within a virtual world built in Olive, where participants from around the United States and Canada were able to collaborate and share data such as weather maps. “People can now operate in real time, in real situations, on real data, but do it in the virtual world,” he said.

 

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