The Alamo as seen on a Pocket Virtual World

The Alamo as seen on a Pocket Virtual World

University on cutting edge of an emerging technology

A project pairing BGSU and Case Western Reserve University has been cited as an example of an emerging technology by the New Media Consortium.

Dr. Larry Hatch

Pocket Virtual Worlds, a three-dimensional, photographic virtual space that can be explored on the screen of a handheld device, is an application of mobile broadband technology—one of six described as emerging by the consortium in the 2008 Horizon Report.

The report is an annual collaboration between the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative and the consortium, an international group of learning-focused organizations, including BGSU, that are dedicated to exploration and use of new media and technology.

The report predicts that the six technologies—also including grassroots video, collaboration webs, data “mashups” (a combination of data from multiple sources in one tool), collective intelligence and social operating systems—will likely enter mainstream use in higher education and similarly focused organizations within the next five years.

Time-to-adoption of mobile broadband is listed as two to three years. But the developers of Pocket Virtual Worlds, Dr. Larry Hatch, visual communication and technology education, and Jared Bendis of Case Western Reserve, are working to push the pace of their technology, whose goal is to enable classroom-bound students to take virtual field trips.

“We were very delighted to have it selected as one of the new technologies to watch,” said Hatch, who is spending this academic year at the University of Applied Sciences in Salzburg, Austria. Four students from his Digital Media Research Group at BGSU also went to Salzburg last summer, and while they have returned to Bowling Green, three are continuing to work with Hatch and his Austrian colleagues through the Internet.

Hatch noted that he and Bendis, the creative director for new media at Case Western Reserve, have made presentations about Pocket Virtual Worlds to New Media Consortium members for the last two years.

The technology allows for navigation of virtual environments while actually walking around and exploring them. Photos create panoramas in which people can navigate by using a handheld device. That originally meant a personal digital assistant, but “we are currently moving the technology to work in the much larger market of mobile phones,” Hatch said.

Underlying the technology is the premise that if a panorama represents a single point in space, then an array of panoramas is a virtual world. In the photographic environment, navigation mode allows users to walk on a map that, like a Global Positioning System (GPS), moves under the person to provide a real-world connection and physical sense of scale. At key areas of the map, the system switches to panorama mode, allowing a 360-degree view, and unlike GPS, it works indoors or outdoors.

“Just yesterday (Feb. 5) I took dozens of panoramas at St. Mark’s Square in Venice during Carnival,” said Hatch, adding that he has also completed documenting a castle near the Austrian university where he’s working. “Both of these data sets will be used with our mapping program.”

Those locations could thus become destinations for the desired virtual field trips, with classroom projects and discussion stemming from what students “see” around them. Since the technology can use digitally created images as well as photographs, students could also theoretically explore outer space or locations in history. Hatch and Bendis took about 230 panoramic photos at the Alamo to create the working prototype for Pocket Virtual Worlds.

The technology has also been expanded into a Pocket Mobile Gaming system that, in the gaming mode, can help children learn colors and shapes, sign language or another spoken language, according to Hatch.

“Mobile devices have come a long way in the past few years,” the Horizon Report points out in its assessment of mobile broadband technology. “Now they are video players, Web browsers, document editors, news readers and more. The technology and infrastructure have developed to the point where mobile devices are becoming essential tools, bringing the whole of the Internet and all your social connections to the palm of your hand.”

The report describes the continuing work of the New Media Consortium’s Horizon Project, a five-year research effort that has distilled the viewpoints of more than 175 project advisory board members from business, industry and education, as well as drawing on extensive published resources, current research and practice, and the expertise of the consortium and EDUCAUSE communities.

February 25, 2008