CAMBRIDGE, MASS. –
For the large majority of Internet users, virtual worlds like Second Life remain a confusing landscape of empty buildings, failed marketing and furry strangers. But Joe Paradiso believes that virtual worlds could be more than an over-hyped gimmick. They just need a dose of reality.
Paradiso, a professor in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab, is working to create what he calls X-Reality or Cross Reality, a system designed to bring virtual and real worlds into a practical sort of alignment. With funding from Second Life parent company, Linden Lab, Paradiso aims to use sensors, displays and software to bring real-world data into virtual worlds and to integrate access to virtual worlds with real-world situations.
Later in November, Paradiso's team of seven Ph.D. students plans to switch on 45 PDA-sized devices mounted on the walls of the Media Lab's building. Each is equipped with an iPhone-like touch screen, a version of Second Life's software, wireless connections, cameras and a variety of audio, motion and infrared sensors.
According to Paradiso's plan, anyone in the building wearing a small electronic badge can walk up to one of the small screens and peer into a landscape in Second Life and communicate with users. Second Life users will likewise use the screens to look into the real world through floating windows in the virtual world, watching passersby or even remotely sitting in on meetings.