Ever since the last few months of the SLENZ project last year, we have been hoping that we would be able to keep the team together in some way and make good use of all the good things we learnt and the skills we acquired. Being a group of educators and virtual world enthusiasts scattered throughout New Zealand the obvious way to do that was virtually but we also needed an RL presence that would allow us to chase funding and gather donations.
Virtual Life Education New Zealand more usually known as VLENZ was conceived by the SLENZ team members and supporters as the natural successor to our successful project. Thanks to the generosity of NMIT, we were able to pay the necessary fees to establish VLENZ Inc as an incorporated society which had its first AGM tonight. Now the officers are confirmed we can register for charitable status which should be forthcoming in a few weeks.
We knew from the beginning that VLENZ would need to operate primarily within the virtual environment and various changes to the standard incorporated society rules were made to recognise that society members would meet as avatars rather than face to face – quite a challenge! At the AGM which I chaired tonight we needed to ensure that all the records were kept according to our rules, particularly those concerning attendance and confirming that the avatar truly represented an RL individual who was a voting VLENZ member. At the same time of course we had to protect the privacy of our avatar members in line with the SL Terms of Service. I think we achieved it and I am left wondering how many others have been faced with this challenge and what their experiences have been.
But it has been worth it! We now have an officially constituted society that is committed to exploring, supporting, mentoring, advising New Zealanders on as many aspects of education in MUVEs as we can manage. We have a broad skill set, a ton of experience and cartloads of enthusiasm and we are ready to boldly go! But most of all we share a common sense that the use of multi -user virtual environments will change forever the ways in which we teach and learn.
Over the last month or so I have become aware of initiatives to assist users to create life like or even real time gestures for their avatars. It all seemed like a dream of the distant future – well a couple of years at least! But then I came across this posting from the ACM Tech News today – and it looks as though that distant future is just around the corner!
Avatar Mimics You in Real Time
PhysOrg.com (03/25/08) Zyga, Lisa
A digital avatar capable of mirroring a person’s movements in real time has been developed by researchers at Deutsche Telekom Laboratories, Germany’s Fraunhofer Heinrich-Hertz-Institut, and Israel’s Ben Gurion University. The researchers say the technology opens up new possibilities for touch-free, intuitive human-computer interaction. The prototype system features real-time performance of audio-visual analysis so that the avatar can move immediately. The system’s hardware ingredients are an inexpensive Webcam and a pair of standard headphones, and the system interoperates with a standard PC. Users must wave their hands around at first so the system can identify their skin color, as it depends on recognizing skin color to follow hand and head movements. The system is capable of recognizing a series of 66 parameters that classify facial expression, and there are also high-level facial expressions that users can manually activate with buttons. The system can recognize many basic gestures, including those from the American Sign Language alphabet, by finger position analysis. Future applications include its employment in virtual chat rooms and online call centers, where users are represented by avatars to maintain privacy. In mobile devices the avatar system could function as an interface that promotes user-friendliness.
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How awesome will this be! except that now everyone will know if I am yawning or dozing off or just staring out the window or doing other things that maybe I shouldn’t! The potential uses seem endless but is it an invasion of our privacy – do I want someone else to know what my real self is doing? It raises all kinds of questions about what we expect our avatar to be and how far it is us and how far it is a fantasy! One part of me is fascinated the other is somewhat wary!