Last week, as part of the Triangle Computer Science Distinguished Lecture Series, William Swartout of Institute of Creative Technologies(ICT), USC was invited to Duke to deliver a talk on 'Toward the Holodeck: Integrating Graphics, Artificial Intelligence, Entertainment and Learning'. Inspired by the virtual worlds presented in Star Trek, William Swartout and the ICT are conducting research and developing virtual scenarios that contain a close knit connection between graphics, sounds and circumstances, so that man can react to them as if they are in the real world.
In simple words, the ultimate goal is to achieve the Holodeck.
The whole project is an extension of the concept of virtual reality, that has already achieved advanced stages. An example where such a technology can be tremendously useful is in the training of army personnel. A virtual world mimicing a real world scenario can be recreated, and the personnel can play out the whole situation in this simulated environment. This is refered to as the Mission Rehearsal Exercise (MRE), and helps in facilitation of new techniques of survival, defense or attack in the virtual environment, so that one is fully prepared incase of a similar circumstance in reality. The method to make MRE a success is called as a hybrid approach, which involves already scripted and simulated characters, an artifical intelligence with emotional model, as well as a Text-To-Speech (TTS) system. The simulated characters are programmed to be triggered by certain commands and behaviors. The AI helps the simulation to respond in real-time to the actions of the user, and the emotion part adds a tinge of humane touch to it. And the TTS system is used to act as the direct medium of communication.
Apart from the sophisticated visual, audio and character model, this simulated model also takes a content based story approach. Hence the user feels like he is living in the present, and has been allocated certain specified tasks that will enable him to proceed further in the story. This is an excellent advanced platform that will help elevate the methods of physical training, and expanded to include all sorts of social and emotional environments. For example, here is a small video of Duke University graduate student Gil Bohrer interacting with a virtual forest he created:
Another breakthrough in the field of vitual reality was the development of the omni-directional treadmill (ODT), which allows a person to move in all directions. Their creation and further development was essential as they are utilized to ensure an uninterrupted and close to real locomotive motion in virtual reality environments.
What these experiments prove is this is the age of not just innovation in a particular field or subject. It is the age of strategically integrating research conducted in varied fields and model them to meet the needs and aspiration of today's society. This kind of interdisciplinary approach will provide the answer to life,universe and everything, and the answer is definitely not as easy as 42.
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