Re: WWW - VRML Benefits?

peter Murray-rust (p.murray-rust%MAIL.CRYST.BBK.AC.UK@vm.ucs.UAlberta.CA)
Sat, 10 Jun 1995 00:06:27 +0100


On Fri, 9 Jun 1995, David R. Woolley wrote:

> I'm not an expert on VRML, myself. One thing I'm unclear about is what it
> will take to create a VRML application. How will you go about constructing a
> 3-d space for users to explore? What tools are available now, and what tools
> are anticipated for the future?
>
VRML is very recent, but there now seems to be a very strong groundswell
and manufacturers are starting to provide browsers.  One major axis is
Silicon Graphics - Netscape.  (VRML is very closely modelled on SG's
Inventor language).  I am sure there will be a push to have it cheaply on
most desktops within the next few months and it will probably be bundled
with some WWW browsers.

        A VRML file - either *.vrml or *.wrl - contains 3-D objects built
up of simple primitives (blocks, cylinders, spheres, cones, triangulated
surfaces, etc) To these are added lighting models and texture  (and some
other powerful graphics tools).  The user has manipulators which allow
them to grab objects and rotate and scale them.  There is a lso provision
for parts of objects (nodes) to have URLs attached to them.  (Indeed
other actions can also be attached).  It is therefore quite
straightforward to 'build' a kitchen and pick up teapots, etc - which
is a common demo.

        The data files cannot easily be created by hand and so will be
output by a program - either a 3D drafting package (e.g. for
architecture, engineering, etc), or from a program which generates
surfaces (this could be from experimental data - e.g. compter scans of
human bodies, geographical features, etc) or calculated ab initio, such
as mathematical functions or physical science.

        If you have a graphical WWW browser, an excellent place to start
is Henry Rzepa's chemistry page at Imperial College :
http://www.ch.ic.ac.uk
which has a whole section on VRML.  Many of theexhibits are chemical
(molecular surfaces) but there are pointers to the main WWW VRML pages
with space, architecture, etc.  There are also pointers to where you may
be able to get browsers.

        When browsers are free (or effectively free) this has enormous
potential for education.  For example, the 'virtual frog' dissection
would be very effective as a VRML object (I expect this has already been
done) which could be downloaded to a student's terminal (a few minutes at
most).  Then the student could - at their own pace, and with no further
connect charges - rotate the frog, 'remove' its skin, examine the nervous
system, etc.  Although VRML has been driven by top-end graphics, I am
sure that desktops coming out now will make a very reasonable platform
for this sort of thing.

        P.

Peter Murray-Rust, Glaxo Research & Dev. (pmr1716@ggr.co.uk); (BioMOO: PeterMR)
Birkbeck College, ubcg09q@cryst.bbk.ac.uk, CBMT/Daresbury mbglx@seqnet.dl.ac.uk
http://www.cryst.bbk.ac.uk/PPS/index.htm, http://www.dl.ac.uk/CBMT/HOME.htm