January 17 2012

More than Games Part 2: Takeaways from Unite11

Related Solutions: Consumer, Ethnographic Animation, Events, High-tech, Manufacturing, Training
Related Skill Sets: 3D, CAD Conversion, Interactive

(This article is a continuation from More than Games Part 1. Check out Part 3 here.)

This year I had the pleasure of attending Unite11, a conference for developers on the Unity3D platform. Here are some more non-game uses for Unity that I found really interesting.

Getting briefed for training in the virtual Conference Room

Interactive Training

Another burgeoning field for interactive 3D applications is training. This is more than just pictures, animation and quizzes. Using a 3D interactive engine opens up training skills that, in the past, would have required a real-world training environment and instructors. In our age of limited educational resources, along with more computer-savvy students, “virtual” training has come into its own. 3D interactive training tools allow the educator to create a single set of virtual “assets” (environments, instructors, equipment) and let the student use them any time, anywhere. It scales up, as well, allowing hundreds of students to use the same training “space” at the same time with little additional cost.

The fully-interactive virtual patient

Interactive Medical Clinic

One of the most exciting examples of 3D interactive training was demonstrated by IndusGeeks. Their “CliniSpace” tool is a study in detailed virtual environment training. They’ve created a fully interactive medical clinic, populated with administrators, doctors, nurses, and even real working tools. They’ve integrated multi-user tools to allow several students to interact in the same virtual space (including voice and text chat). They’ve got a virtual reception space and conference room where the students are briefed, an exam/operating space with working equipment, and even a virtual patient that the instructors can customize that will react to the student’s actions in a realistic way.

A gamer like me might see this and be reminded of games like Trauma Center, where you take on the role of a surgeon to save patients. However, unlike games, this is the real world, and modeling a real clinic in a way that’s accurate and realistic enough to satisfy medical training instructors is an accomplishment to be applauded. More to the point, it hits home the fact that 3D virtual worlds aren’t as impractical as they once were. Our tools and audience are much more refined, making it easier to create realistic scenarios, as well as making it easier for the user to understand how to interact.

An example of a crime scene that's been scanned and processed into a 3D virtual environment

Virtual Crime Lab

Despite what shows like CSI might suggest, with most police departments, investigating crimes is primarily a matter of paperwork. The investigator uses photos and documents as his primary source of data. However, North Carolina State University’s Digital Games Research Center is working on a solution that will allow the investigator to revisit the crime scene again and again, as many times as necessary, even months or years after the crime was committed.

The solution they’ve developed utilizes 3D virtual space to re-create a crime scene. This isn’t an approximation of the crime scene as imagined by a 3D artist. They use a relatively recent technology called “3D laser scanning” to scan the entire scene, inside and outside. This creates a highly accurate, realistic representation of the scene in 3D software that can be imported into an interactive engine like Unity. Then the investigator can use their computers to “explore” the scanned copy of the crime scene from any angle.

The shared "lobby" of the IC-CRIME interactive space.

The resulting information is similar to what the investigator would get using traditional technologies like photography, but the 3D virtual space allows this information to be presenting in a natural, meaningful, easily assimilated way. This allows the investigator to get a big-picture view of the scene, and zoom into details, and relate data points much more quickly than they would be able to by sifting through piles of photos. The goal is to make investigations more efficient and more informative, saving time but also improving the quality of the data the investigator produces.

Another great advantage to virtual crime investigation is collaboration. More than one investigator can use the system at the same time, allowing them to trade data and ideas in real time as they work together in the same virtual environment.

More to come…

That’s it for this installment, but there’s lots more to talk about. Stay tuned for some highlights of ways the US Military is experimenting with Unity to train troops and some fantastic visualization tricks using Kinect.

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