WWW - VRML Benefits?

Evans Craig (bilbo%TRITON.UNM.EDU@vm.ucs.UAlberta.CA)
Thu, 8 Jun 1995 19:52:27 -0600


This is the second try for this one. I'll strip it of all headers.
Hope for any comments on the last three postings.
Thanks,

Evans Craig



VRML Facts & History

The Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) is a language that specifies the
 parameters to create virtual worlds networked together via the Internet and
 accessed via the Web's hyperlinks.  VRML is a standard being proposed for
 interactive simulations within the WWW.

Before VRML could work, three things had to happen:
Storage - TC/IP, the Internet protocol had to be in place. This happened, and an
 infrastructure was born that allowed Supercomputers and others to interact.
Retrieval - CERN, Tim-Berners-Lee, developed the hypermedia system, now known as
 the WWW, for scientists at CERN to use as an Internal Web Server site. This is
 where the URL was born and enables the Web users to access all on the Internet.
Perceptualization - There was a need created by the Internet users to be able to
 not only gain access to all information, but to be the center of  its creation.
  To do this, a world needed to be rendered and placed on the Internet.

Now the Internet users were ready to use all the Internet tools to 'immerse'
 themselves into these worlds.  The VRML specifications allow designers to
 create more robust, standardized, viewers that access these worlds via the WWW.

History

VRML was conceived in the spring of 1994 at the first annual WWW conference in
 Geneva, Switzerland. Attendees agreed that tools (common language) was needed
 to specify 3D scene descriptions with hyperlinks, thus the term Virtual Reality
 Markup Language was coined, and later changed to Virtual Reality Modeling
 Language.  A mail list was formed, www-vrml and the specifications were
 developed with over a thousand participants on the list, and was hammered out
 over _six months_!  The VRML viewer is available to the public via Silicon
 Graphics, Inc. at http://www.sgi.com .

This first draft of VRML 1.0 allows the designers to create virtual worlds in
 which objects within the world contain hyperlinks to other worlds or to other
 Homepages. Currently, when a user clicks on an object with a hyperlink to a
 virtual world, a MIME viewer is launched from within a configured Browser.
 This follows along the standard line of a helper utility.  The simulation will
 run as fast or robust as the system allows.

Running the Simulation

A scenario would be a PC '286  with a 1200 baud modem:
You would not only wait for the simulation to be downloaded to your PC for
 hours, but once you ran the simulation, you would wait and watch each object
 within the world being drawn, each time you moved around.   _Bad_ choice of
 equipment!

Another scenario would be a Power PC with an Ethernet connection to the
 Internet:
You would download the simulation in seconds, and would experience what we in
 the Virtual Simulation business call 'partial immersion.'  You would be able to
 move around the simulated world as fast as your computer could run a
 stand-alone application.  _Excellent_ choice of equipment!

Benefits

VRML was designed to meet the following specifications:
Platform Independence - the viewer is still platform dependent, but the
 simulation will run on all types of platforms, since it is an ASCII language.
Extensibility - the first draft of the language runs in concurrence with HTML,
 not over it.
Low bandwidth requirements - it runs as fast as your machine will allow it.
 (Described above)

How can this be applied to Distance Education?

Simulations on the Web could potentially save school systems large amounts of
 money in travel expenses.  Being able to explore all parts of the _world_ via a
 VRML viewer, is a way to not only travel to another world, (such as a
 State-of-the-Art Supercomputing center or nuclear power plant) but to
 experience what is going on there also.

Being able to experience virtual areas can put both teachers and students in the
 scientists laboratory, trying to help figure out research problems.

The interactivity experienced will be more attuned to the human experiences,
 such as cognitive experiences, and will thus make the virtual experience a
 learning environment equal only to being on-site.

Distance Education is defined as being able to learn at a distance. What better
 way than to experience it, rather than read or hear about it.

Your comments

As with all new technologies, _your_ comments on how to utilize or better the
 experiences are always welcome. I would appreciate any and all personally at
 bilbo@unm.edu or if it is okay, reply back for all to hear.

Evans Craig, VP Educational R&D
Advanced Tribal Integrated Information Networks (ATIIN, Inc.)
One Technology Center
1155 University Blvd., SE
Albuquerque, New Mexico   87106
(505) 843-4292

bilbo@triton.unm.edu    or    aissys@technet.nm.org

and coming soon:        evans@atiin.com