ScienceSim — what could you do with a 3D internet?

Today, we are launching a new world for immersive science.. and perhaps part of the path to a 3D internet.

First, by way of explanation. I’ve been doing fun and wild things with computers since 1977 when I was a freshman at MIT. From the first “a hollow voice says “PLUGH” to maze games, first person shooters, duke nukem, online bridge, poker, chat, et al. So about 18 months ago, prompted by a news piece I saw at Intel, I started to explore virtual worlds and how they will build into the 3D internet.. and how might Intel help make that happen.

The first virtual world I played with was Second Life. Tweaked my avatar to look more like me (see picture). Met some verrrry.. um.. odd beings, but also some wonderful/fascinating/scary beings that I assume were really people. I loved the visual experiences that people had made. I loved the connections that I made with kindred spirits, and I admit — it was seductive and immersive.



But I found it strangely unsatisfying. I kept running into artificial barriers limiting how immersive this experience could be. Only a certain number of people in an area at a time.. or lagatosis.. physics that wasn’t, etc. Then there was my dear, pragmatic wife who kept asking “when will it be useful?”

Good point. So I learned how to make animations and build stuff, bought a sail boat and tried to figure out how to make this type of technology go beyond “fun” and into “valuable, exciting and productive.”

As I poked around, I was delighted to find that SL is only one small corner of the experimentation going on in virtual worlds. I found lots of people at really interesting companies trying to put this technology to work. People are working on virtual worlds for training (like disaster planning), or corporate collaboration (like my friend Mimi at Rivers Run Red, or some folks at IBM) or making really interesting visual experiences for television and film and advertising. And gaming.. oh my heavens the gaming applications..

All of these cool things are being done on different platforms optimized for different experiences. Each platform is pretty expensive to build and run.. tinker with and experiment with. The guts of the 3D internet is here — if only we can stimulate the mass innovation to crack the barriers to adoption and drive real applications.

Enter ScienceSim. A team of researchers and technology strategists, funded by Intel’s server business and working with OpenSim open source technology (which celebrates its second birthday today).. had a goal of creating an environment for experimentation in virtual worlds. We wanted a turnkey kit that companies or researchers could download and develop specific applications in virtual worlds, data visualization and analysis.


ScienceSim enables customizable physics, optimizations to achieve better scalability, and can serve as a testbed for data visualization and control for science experiments like fusion reactions, biomedical applications, geophysical, intelligence analysis.. to name a few potential areas of work. As our CTO said in a previous blog, the Intel team is working with the Supercomputing 2009 conference to have folks develop academic material around this platform and have a forum to discuss these efforts and how they fit towards building a 3D internet of the future.

Today we are publically inviting others to come to ScienceSim and investigate its use for building collaborative visualization tools.. Within ScienceSim’s world you’ll find some starting buildings, templates for forums and conference centers and the like. We hope to get voice technology up and running soon so more powerful collaboration is possible.. BUT.. the most important things you’ll find aren’t “in” the world — they’re in the way the world is made and run. ScienceSim provides the basic building blocks (client viewers, installation utilities, management tools, etc) and new technologies that enable broader interoperability through content sharing. Interested people can quickly bring up their own worlds on their own systems and experiment with creating 3D worlds of their own.

Over the past 30 years, I’ve seen the rise of the microcomputer, the rise of the operating system, the emergence of the Internet, then the web. I’ve seen the Web2.0 applications make us more connected and interconnected then ever before.

The 3D internet will knit this quilt together with the cutting edge of research, collaboration and insight from around the world. ScienceSim is a patch in the quilt (yeah.. its an anachronistic analogy.. deal with it) I feel as though Immersive Connected Experiences in virtual worlds and 3D technology are emerging from the shadow lands and into the bright light of the real — and I can’t wait.

So what is the 3D internet to you? What applications get you excited as you think about the future of work, play and family? What are the key pieces of technology that need to get done to bring 3D internet mainstream?

John is a senior business strategist working with Intel planners and researchers to accelerate the adoption of Immersive Connected Experiences. He also teaches Corporate and Marketing Strategy for Portland State University’s MBA Program.

9 Responses to ScienceSim — what could you do with a 3D internet?

  1. Mark Hoemmen says:

    Many virtual worlds remind me of Cloud applications. The Cloud has so much processing power, storage, and search capability, yet it often gets used to implement poor clones of desktop applications. Similarly, virtual worlds have so much potential, but I don’t particularly care to put on 3-D glasses just to walk around a virtual conference center and watch a virtual talk.
    What I’d love to see, for example, is a “virtual lab” much like the real-world labs that freshman physics or chemistry students take, except with experiments that no real-world lab could afford to do: orbital mechanics, or relativistic velocities, or highly reactive chemical processes. Engineers could learn a lot more about safety if they had the chance to experiment at the bounds of what is safe, without actual physical risk. A virtual Chernobyl in the classroom might have prevented a real-life Chernobyl.
    I’m also excited about these sorts of simulations for selfish reasons, because it means more jobs for numerical analysts ;-)

  2. Santi O says:

    As much as it seems fancy. I still have doubts about the “3D internet”. 3D doesn’t seem to me like the best way to display most types of information. It is also unclear to me which is the advantage of having a “physical virtual world” that represents the internet. All the virtual worlds I’ve tried, simply make the navigation process more cumbersome (since mapping information to 3D imposes lots of constraints).
    Virtual worlds are attractive to lots of people and I bet they will succeed. But it is unclear to me whether internet will be 3D. That would be a step backwards imho, since the current structure of the internet is totally freed from any “physical constraints that a 3D environment might impose”.

  3. Kyle G says:

    We love this concept! Our own PG grid is focused on collaboration & learning & we keep it safe for “kids to CEO’s”. We are already talking to Intel about a “HyperGrid” link between our worlds as we share many of the same “functional” goals as you ie . We teach free classes for scripting & the fact OpenSim supports Visual Basic & C# scripting in addition to LSL2 inworld means we can also introduce students to languages they can add to their resume. Kudos Intel for supporting OpenSim!

  4. john hengeveld says:

    Santi, Thats for your post. I completely agree that many applications are not inherently 3D. Your post gets back to the core meaning of “internet”.. which is the network between all things… but the internet we know and love today doesnt have a cost effective/standard way of dealing with 3D experiences and 3D data (or 4D or relational data for that matter…)
    The concept of a 3D internet not a way of foofing out 2D stuff out to 3D to make it prettier (and maybe less useful)… the more interesting concept is developing a way to convey 3D experiences and information in a highly interconnected and interoperable.
    I dont agree that the internet is freed from physical constraints… Use of the internet eventually is tied to how we see information. Its primatives are text and displays.. hierarchical file systems and the like. Will we interact with 3D data differently (I think yes)… I’d like to see the emergence of applications that start to redefine our internet experience.

  5. Sibley says:

    Seems to me that the missing ingredients for more data visualization and other research work using virtual worlds have been the absence of “hooks”. More data-friendly in-world scripting languages and more importantly great hooks to sources of data and numerical simulation output have been needed for anything from more mashups of 3D visualization of data available on the Web to more serious experimentation. Have any plans in that direction?

  6. Lee C says:

    I’m very interested in the topic of 3D Internet, but I’m also still struggling to see any particularly practical use for it. Perhaps the problem is that I’m just too stuck on the current internet and I need to stop thinking of the current 2D, mainly numeric or text based information that I’m used to seeing and try to think of some interesting 3D applications.
    I like the idea of scientific experimentation in virtual worlds, but with the physics in virtual worlds being so crappy, will there ever be truly valuable simulations? Or, is the current challenge the development of awesomely accurate physics that will one day allow us to perform such experiments?
    I think some elaboration on the vision Intel has for virtual worlds would be nice for some more stubborn thinkers such as myself. :O) Fusion reactions, biomedical applications, geophysical, intelligence analysis all sound cool, but can we get a little deeper into some specific examples of potential applications? I think more and more of this would help people like me to kick-start their brains into 3D mode.

  7. Myrddin says:

    Activeworlds (AW) is where I have had the majority of 3d experiences. It’s flexible capabilities have a variety of uses, a few I enjoy in particular are building structures & landscaping, playing bingo and chatting with folks from around the world while being able to see some of their creations and learn techniques as well as simply being able to explore the AW universe. They also have a separate educational universe. I’d like to see further inter-connectivity between universes like AW’s and the OpenSim I’ve just read about. I feel that is where the true value of 3D will begin to mature & the true benefits will be realized for the masses.

  8. Algot Runeman says:

    In the hands of creative educators, a tool like this might be a way to reenvigorate ideas like the one created many years ago by Tom Snyder, Geography Search, which is no longer supporte, by the way. There were other great “games” like Rocky’s Boots, The Factory, and, of course, Oregon Trail.
    This tool will be worth watching.