Virtual Worlds, Really

Dateline: 1/12/98

One of the most intriguing applications for VRML, and virtual environments in general, are the representations of real places, the earth, cities, buildings. These places can be used as a natural, intuitive user interface a front-end for information access about those worlds. The earth makes a natural user interface to find out information about any place. With a virtual earth you just spin the world and select the point of interest.

An ambitious project to create just such an earth interface is called the World of Worlds (WOW). Brought to us by Richard Tilmann of Mesh Mart this project was truly visionary. As you zoom into a particular portion of the globe spotlights mark areas with more information. Zoom in further and more detail, via the Level Of Detail (LOD), capability of VRML,  presents more detailed representations of the land. The WOW reference globe is organized into three levels of detail, the entire globe, patches of land with markers and finally topological models of 5 degree sections of the earth. At the most detailed level of the globe there are Red markers to indicate registered sites. A registered site is a VRML model of some physical structure of place created by anyone.

Setting up a methodology to enable site registration is another brilliant aspect of WOW. It can grow and evolve with free labor! In addition to the information entered by site creators other reference sources are used to enhance the WOW registered sites. To quote from the WOW introduction page:

One VRML company in particular Planet 9 Studios  specializes in the creation of virtual cities. They've created over 100! Some other VRML concepts that I'll cover in future features are demos giving users access to the news around the world and almost live satellite images over the globe. All of these extend the same idea of using virtual representations of real physical places to access information.

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