Within REVERIE, we believe that the time is ripe to push social networking towards the next logical step in its evolution: to immersive collaborative environments that support realistic inter‐personal communication.
Recent scientific advances in the variety of different research fields represented within REVERIE means that it is now possible to integrate research outputs towards technologies that support real‐time realistic interaction between humans in online virtual & immersive environments. In this way, the ambitious ideas outlined above will come within reach of the next generation of Internet users.
To achieve this aim, we must break the existing tether to the mouse/keyboard as interaction mechanisms. In fact, this is already happening in the gaming world, as demonstrated by the success to date of the Nintendo Wii and the frenetic take‐up of Microsoft’s Kinect. In a similar manner, REVERIE will bring online social networking into the real‐world with interaction and communication based on what people do and say and how they act. In other words, we will bridge the physical/digital divide, making communication in social networks more reflective of how people interact in the real world. To this end, a key focus in the project’s work plan is on developing/integrating multi‐modal and multi‐sensor signal acquisition tools for capturing, and subsequently representing and recreating both 3D environments and human activities therein.
Of course, we must also focus on how users will experience this interaction and the digital online environment in which it takes place. 3D and immersive audio‐visual display technologies have developed to such an extent in recent times that the technology is now considered de rigueur for ensuring the most attractive user experience – just consider Hollywood’s renewed appetite for 3D and the public’s acceptance of this as reflected in box‐office receipts. As such, advances in 3D visualisation, construction of immersive environments and rendering are all targeted. Further, REVERIE intends to bring new dimensions to such experiences, introducing aspects of autonomy into avatar behaviour, and capturing and representing user emotional state as well as physical activity, in order to provide a recreation that is as rich as possible.
Unlike the telephone, the great potential of ethology made up of combined realistic 3D immersion and social networking gives us the option of determining the temporal nature of our communications – they can be REal and Virtual Engagement in Realistic Immersive Environments synchronous real‐time interactions, or asynchronous off‐line experiences based on previously posted content.
Within REVERIE, we will continue to support both modes of engagement within the social network of the future. Clearly, this presents issues not just in terms of capture and display but also with regards to data transmission and the underlying network. For this reason, networking issues play a key role within the project.
REVERIE will introduce a new paradigm for how communication happens in social networks by adding to the realism of immersive 3D virtual worlds. It behoves us to consider the impact of this on end‐users. As with any new technology, understanding how users will apply it, the benefits it brings them and other associated sociological considerations (e.g. legal, ethical) will be key to ensuring its success, and thus investigated in detail within the project.