Finding our virtual selves
Nowadays, virtual worlds are all around us - not just in the form of amazingly popular games like World of Warcraft, Call of Duty or Second Life, but also in the form of e-mail, texting, Facebook, Twitter and many other applications. As a result, the virtual world is playing an increasingly important role in our everyday lives.
At present, these virtual worlds are mostly separate from our real lives. When you buy Linden Dollars, you have to leave Second Life and make a payment via the website, but if you wish to convert them into pieces of gold, for example, you surf to the World of Warcraft.
In each of these different virtual environments we have a unique avatar, our virtual self. Why can’t there be just one or two that cross effortlessly from one virtual world to another?
A new standard
The primary aim of the Metaverse1 project is to solve problems of this kind. It seeks to create a framework that enables the exchange of information among and between virtual worlds, and between virtual worlds and the real world. The framework will be incorporated into an international standard (MPEG-Virtual or MPEG-V).
The project, which is being financed by ITEA2, is being run by Philips Research. A total of 32 academic and commercial organizations from all over the world - from countries like Greece, France, Israel, Spain, Belgium, and the Netherlands - are involved, as is the VU University Center for Advanced Media Research Amsterdam (CAMeRA).
With the results of the project, it should be possible not only to link existing virtual worlds to each other and exchange information, but also to allow the real and virtual worlds to influence one another. Examples could include sensors that monitor elderly people living on their own, and which provide advice on physical exercise. Perhaps grandchildren on holiday will be able to upload locations, photographs, films, etc. online to allow their family back home to enjoy their holiday in a 3D virtual environment, as if they were actually there.
Virtual worlds are set to change our lives in the way that the internet has during the past decade. As a facilitator, the MPEG-V standard will play an important role in this.