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7 Future Development of VRML
The Virtual Reality Modelling Language is still being developed and refined. The first version of VRML describes static worlds, you can move around them, but other than following the hyperlinks, nothing happens. However, there is a demand for fully interactive, multi-participant 3D environments. It is intended that with the next version of VRML it will be possible to create and view such worlds.
Features of VRML 2.0 will include:
- Improved or new ways of describing the static 3D scene. For example, to include nodes for defining terrain or backdrops and enable the use of URNs (Uniform Resource Names) as well as URLs for locating Web resources. Identifying inline objects by a unique name rather than via a location on a particular server, will allow local mirroring of commonly used objects and so speed up the loading of the scenes. At one time it was intended that these refinements were to be included in a VRML 1.1 specification, but it now looks as though this version will not be released, and the VRML 1.1 features incorporated into VRML 2.0.
- Scalability. In the future VRML browsers will need to be able to handle very large worlds composed of many VRML models. Currently all the VRML objects on the Web exist within their own discrete space, it would be better if they could be part of one continuous world, allowing the user to move between them spatially rather than via their URL reference. For this to be practical the VRML browser will need to implement on-demand loading and culling, which is already carried out to some extent by a few applications. The VRML 2.0 specification should be able to help the browser with this process.
- Behaviours and Interactions. In VRML 2.0 objects will be able to move and react when things happen to them. This implies a concept of time. In computer graphics objects are animated by scripts or programs, using iterative loops and 'if something happens do something else' statements. Different scenarios will require different programs or scripts. Therefore, VRML 2.0 will allow world builders to create their own interaction and behaviour scripts. These could be written in C, PERL or more probably Sun Microsystem's Java programming language. VRML will provide the Application Program Interface (API), the basic library of commands through which the interactivity takes place.
- Multi-user Environments. The scripting feature of VRML 2.0 will need to be able to support network operations, connecting various computers and users, in order to create interactive multi-participant worlds.
- Extensibility. Individuals or companies will be able to define their own prototype VRML objects or nodes.
The process of drawing up the VRML 2.0 specification is now under way. Interested parties, which now includes most of the major computer companies like Microsoft, Apple, Sun, as well as SGI, have been invited to submit their proposals for the standard. The relative merits of each of the proposals will be discussed on www-vrml mailing list. After a set period one of the candidates will be chosen as the basis of the specification through reaching a consensus or by taking a vote. The first draft of the VRML 2.0 specification should be published by the spring of 1996. The VRML Architecture Group (VAG) will act as the focus during the debate. The role of the VAG as the standards body, may soon be replaced by the establishment of a more formal VRML Consortium.
If you are interested in the development of VRML then the main forum for debate and information is the www-vrml mailing list. To subscribe, email email@example.com. In the message body write:
subscribe www-vrml your-email-address
This is a heavily used mailing list, with sometimes many hundreds of messages a week, so the digest version may be more suitable. Instructions on how to receive the digest version and to unsubscribe from the list are sent when you join.
For more information about www-vrml go to http://vrml.wired.com/
Hyper-archives of the mailing list can be found at the following locations:
Whatever the outcome of the VRML 2.0 specification process, VRML 1.0 provides a solid foundation for creating and viewing three-dimensional worlds on the WWW. Although the number of VRML sites is increasing rapidly, people have only just started to discover what is possible. The infrastructure and tools are in place, now it's really up to the world builders to use their imagination and create. This report has provided a few examples of how VRML can be used in art and design higher education, but VRML has many more potential applications: as a method for the public exhibition of work, or in teaching and research, or as an art-media in itself. There are numerous possibilities.
Of course there are problems, such as the slowness of downloading some models, particularly from across the Atlantic, or the difficulties some VRML browsers have in viewing complex worlds and the fact that not all are fully compliant with the VRML 1.0 specification. But it does work, three-dimensional cyberspace is becoming a reality.
Virtual Environments Visualisation