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The Potential of VR for UK Higher Education

Group Report: Software

Introduction to the Group Work

The emerging use of VR systems in a number of application domains is supported by the falling costs associated with the required VR peripherals and high performance interactive graphics platforms. However, the penetration of VR systems is hampered by the time consuming process of constructing interactive synthetic worlds. This activity can be supported by the provision of effective software tools to aid the construction of these worlds and a number of commercial VR toolkits currently exist on the market. The presently available software tools differ in the functionality they offer, the degree of programming competence required etc. The findings of an initial study to compare different VR toolkits will be presented at the workshop. Many attributes of existing VR toolkits exist in an attempt to overcome some of the performance limitations of currently available hardware. However, as a catalyst to this group's initial discussions I would like to focus attention on not what is currently available but rather on what is required. To this end I propose the hypothetical 'Ideal VR' software system which when run on the 'Ideal VR' platform gives rise to the following:




Synthetic worlds supported

Synthetic world creation

User interaction



The above system would certainly allow the creation of compelling synthetic worlds, but would it fulfil all our pedagogic requirements? Furthermore, what are the implications of relaxing the above attributes and what impact will this have on resulting systems, their utility in higher education, etc. I would like to take the opportunity of the forthcoming workshop to address these issues, assess trade-offs and focus on future developments which may include issues associated with:

Nick Avis, University of Hull

Group Discussions

Terry Hewitt reported back on the discussions of the group. He started by noting the need for the community to manage change as we take on areas of new technology. There is a need for:


Following further discussion within the group, the following recommendations were made.

These first six recommendations reflect a need for a common software base.

1. Produce guidelines / recommendations on what software might form a common kernel for VR applications (this should be based on the AGOCG funded work being carried out by Nick Avis)

2. Should this software be commercially available, we need to encourage a CHEST agreement

3. Should this require major software developments, encourage Research Council, etc to fund it.

4. Recognising widespread use of DVS and SuperScape and that they are produced by UK companies, encourage a CHEST agreement (no upfront money) with the target price being less than 1000 for a research group purchase

5. Promote efforts to standardise (ISO and de facto) - in particular VRML and PREMO and its VR component

6. Provide guidelines for integrating existing components, e.g. Multimedia, Visualization, animation with VR systems

There is a need for consideration of authoring tools:

7. Develop a number of substantive application case studies that are freely available (architecture, visualization, CSCW, sound, MultiMedia)

8. Report on availability / requirements of "authoring" tools

We need to consider modelling and model databases as well:

9. Commission a report of tools for creating, modifying, interchanging (large) geometric (and audio and video) models (hierarchies, LoD). This should focus on:

We also need to consider recommendations regarding infrastructure

10. There should be better promotion through the existing channels (agocg, web, midas, ukvrsig, essex etc etc) of:

We need to raise awareness through seminars and workshops and to promote use of the products selected by any evaluation. If needed training materials should be made available for the selected products.

A research/discussion forum needs to be set up to work towards common software (something like GNUVRxxxx) with subsequent dissemination of reports produced.

The group suggested a timetable for the recommendations made:

Short term: Medium term: Long term:
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