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University of Nottingham Communications Research Group

The Nottingham Group we visited is based in the Department of Computer Science. (A separate group -- the AIMS Group -- exists in the Department of Mineral Resources Engineering.) The main focus of the group's work is Computer Supported Cooperative Working, and current research has grown out of earlier projects in this field, such as COMIC. They are partners in the VIRTUOSI project which is exploring the use of virtual reality environments for office work -- the `virtual office'. Other partners are the Swedish Institute of Computer Science (SICS -- originators of the DIVE system used in this work), Lancaster University, British Telecom and Division. This work is funded under the EPSRC/DTI CSCW Initiative.

Specific aspects of the group's work demonstrated to us included distributed processing between Sun and SGI workstations, multiple participants in a virtual environment, simple techniques for navigation, and methods for establishing effective control of communication between multiple participants. Their system features dynamic display of 3D environments and transmission of sound (voice) from one user to others. The notion of an aura is used to control the degree to which sounds made by objects in the environment can be heard by the participants. Thus, as a user approaches an object, the sound emitted by that object becomes audible. An interesting idea was that of a podium -- a space which a user could move to if they wished to address the other participants. The demonstration also included facilities for interacting via a simple alphanumeric screen, used to present a plan view of the world, as well as full 3D displays.

The group has a variety of software products (see listing in Appendix ), but the DIVE system is the basis of the VIRTUOSI work. Although they have a Division 3D mouse and an Eyegen-3 HMD, at the time of the visit little use had been made of these. The HMD was driven from an SG Indigo machine, but to provide the required NTSC signals necessitated losing the use of the main workstation screen whilst the HMD was in use. The output to the HMD in this mode was monoscopic, but the group anticipated buying a suitable stereoscopic output board. This illustrates the kind of difficulty faced by many groups in interfacing different peripherals and machines.

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