Monday, April 12, 2010

Second Life Courtroom

The third workshop on technology-enhanced learning at ANU was by Eola Barnett (USQ) and Shirley Reushle (Australian Digital Futures Institute) demonstrating "Using Second Life to support the teaching of Law". I have found Second Life very disappointing and of little value for education. However, the use of Second Life to provide a virtual courtroom to teach lawyers is an excellent use of the technology. In the Second Life courtroom, the teacher plays the role of the judge, with students presenting their case. As well as real time use of Second Life with the students, videos have been prepared using a script and professional actors providing voices and using Second Life for the images. This was done as a way to produce role playing video at a lower cost that with real video

Eola also pointed out that the Moodle LMS ha been integrated into Second Life. This is a use I find less compelling. The value of a LMS is that it is different to a physical classroom. If you simulate a classroom in the LMS too closely then the benefits of using an LMS will be lost.

Another aspect of teaching legal students would be to simulate some of the new technology based court processes. As an example video conferences are now used for court process. It would be relatively simple to simulate these. Courts also use document based systems for some decision making: the parties submit documents and the judge makes a decision without ever speaking to the parties. These document based systems could also be simulated.

While criminal law may involve a real time physical court room, civil law is mostly about communication via documents. As an expert witness I have only had to front up once in person, all the other cases were settled out of court after I sent in a written report. Some legal processes are now done entirely online, such as arbitration of the use of domain names. The Federal Court of Australia has introduced an electronic court system eCourt.It seems to me that lawyers will need to be familiar with such systems as it will be how most court cases are decided, not by people standing up talking in a court room.

At question time Shirley mentioned that they were working on a nursing simulation. This will provide a simulated patient in Second Life. Here again this would seem to miss out on the opportunity to use the system for the most urgent and import part of medical practice, which is to support patients in the community, rather than in hospitals or doctor's offices.

It would be interesting to see both the medical systems for this and the education developed together. New computer based systems, such as military aircraft, now incorporate training simulation. Rather than have a separate simulator, the real aircraft can be programmed for training.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Controlling a real robot from Second Life

UWA TelerobotCSIRO's ICT Centre has more than fifty projects which they will pay university students to do over the summer vacation. One example is to interface a real industrial robot so it can be controlled from within the Second Life Virtual reality world. While the web site says applications have closed, there may be some late applications considered:
Project 41: Use of Gaming Engines for Telerobotics
Location: Canberra ...
Skills: Experience with the Second Life Environment
Experience with scripting in Second Life, programming skills.
Prerequisite Criteria: Partially completed degree in Engineering or Computer Science.
Project description: Controlling the real world from Second Life

The aim of this project is to explore the use of Second Life as a platform for teleoperating real world devices. Second Life provides a sophisticated gaming environment that can be used for interacting with real world devices. You will control a robotic device by manipulating a model of the device you create in Second Life, then investigate the suitability of gaming environments for a teleoperating real world equipment. Your teleoperated device can remain as a permanent demonstration on the Second Life CSIRO island.

Within the telerobotics project there is a Mirror World activity and this vacation project is intended to be an integral part of this activity. Gaming environments provide sophisticated three dimensional worlds that could be much more effective for teleoperating equipment than existing alternatives. The use of gaming environments for teleoperation is a new idea that may expand the reach of teleoperation to applications where teleoperation is in its infancy. The application domain in which we are particularly interested is remote mining. Currently information services are outsourced to call centres and teleoperation provides the opportunity to extend the concept to physical services.

There will be a demonstrator developed that will reside permanently on the CSIRO island in Second Life. The student will apply their gaming skills to controlling a device in the real world from a virtual world. The student will evaluate the effectiveness of the teleoperating from a virtual world.

What is the vacation scholar going to learn through this project?
The student will learn about immersive environments, teleoperation and how to extend a gaming engine to teleoperate a device. They will develop programming skills and skills in evaluating usability.

From: ICT Centre 2007 Vacation Scholarship Program, CSIRO, 28/9/2007
Of course this is not the first robot on the Internet. In 1994 Ken Taylor demonstrated control of a robot in Perth from Canberra. That robot is still online.

Perhaps the student could get second life to work on the OpenMono Linux smart phone and control the robot from that. There is an alpha version of a Second Life client for Linux.

Some of the other projects look interesting as well:
1: Extending the VotApedia Audience Response System # 3
2: Rate Control of Video over IP Networks # 4
3: Security Exposure of Virtual Machines # 5
4: Development of a key management service on a portable Trust
Extension Device (TED) for trust enhanced SOA applications. # 6
5: Interference Study in Wireless Sensor Networks # 8
6: Visual mark-up and rapid prototyping of tailored information delivery systems # page .9
7: Intelligent support for ‘on-the-fly’ document tailoring # 11
8: Declarative program synthesis for the Web # 13
9: Semantic Security Views # 15
10: Change management in Composed Web Services # 16
11: Web Service Mining # 17
12: Bootstrapping Reputation in Web Service Environments # 18
13: Automatic creation of overview pages for science communicators 19
14: Improving search algorithms for better health information # 21
15: Correction of intensity inhomogeneity of Magnetic Resonance images in 3D # 23
16: Design of 3D Visualization tools for brain surface information analysis for Alzheimer's disease diagnosis # 24
17: Live-wire based semi-automatic segmentation of Medical images # 25
18: Building a case database for the Colonoscopy Simulation Project #27
19: Efficient visualization and multivariate analysis of multiple images # 28
20: Post processing techniques to derive and visualize clinically significant information from ambulatory monitoring data. # 29
21: A web based graphical viewer for biomedical time series signals and hierarchical activity profile visualisation # 31
22: Structured Pathology Reporting using Natural Language Input # 33
23: Digital Mammogram Class Library # 35
24: Digital Image Watermarking of Mammograms # 36
25: Statistical parameter estimators in modelling of high electron mobility transistors (HEMTs) # 37
26: Characterization and electromagnetic modelling of board connectors for high speed digital applications # 39
27: Electromagnetic modelling of reconfigurable antenna arrays # 40
28: Modelling electromagnetic waves in millimetre-wave integrated circuits # 41
29: Super-resolution terahertz imaging # 42
30: Non-linear inverse scattering # 44
31: Steerable Antenna Design For Future Gigabit Wireless Networks # 46
32: Improving Performance of Radio Tracking # 48
33: Multi-user WLAN Downlink Implementation for Dense Networks # 50
34: GPS Reference for Radio Tracking System # 52
35: Sigma Delta D/A converter using Rocket I/O # 53
36: Communicating agents for self-repairing power grids # 54
37: Image processing and streaming over a wireless sensor network. # 56
38: Hardware Development of a Small Mobile Robot for Sensor Network Assisted Operations # 58
39: Software Development of a Small Mobile Robot for Sensor Network Assisted Operations # 60
40: Simulation and Visualization Optimization # 62
41: Use of Gaming Engines for Telerobotics # 63
42: Laser targeted positioning of a robotic manipulator # 64
43: Real-time hyper-spectral image processing and classification of marine micro-organisms # 65
44: Computer Controllable Power Switching Device for Avionics Systems # 67
45: Self-assembly Simulator # 68
46: Low power motion tracking in wireless sensor networks # 70
47: On the Reliable Data Transport Protocol in Wireless Sensor Network (WSN) # 72
48: Simulation of Self-repairing Modular Robots # 73
49: Benthic image analysis # 74
50: Power grid outages and PLC # 75
51: Online Food Frequency Questionnaire # 76
52: Sea Sentinel – Propulsion, Steering and Sensor Integration # 77
53: Sea Sentinel – Navigation and Control Systems # 78
54: Visualisation of multiple proteomic data sources # 79
55: Modelling Sensor/Observation Characteristics in SensorML # 80
56: An evaluation of spatial and temporal ontologies # 81

From: ICT Centre 2007 Vacation Scholarship Program, CSIRO, 28/9/2007

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Getting a Second Life

Second Life: The Official Guide (Book Cover)After commenting on Kathryn Greenhill's talk on Second Life, I thought I should try it for myself. The registration process is much like other online services.

One difference is that you can't use you real name. You can enter your own first name, but then have to select from a limited set list of surnames. This may be to allow free reign to your imagination by using a pseudonym, but must be insulting for people from cultures where the offered names don't match what their names look like. I picked a name at random and then worried it may have some hidden meaning.

Second Life uses an optional step to register you with a payment system (I used my PayPal account). This seems to be to help authenticate the identity of the person, as well as allow you to pay for items in the system.

Then cam download the Second Life client for the computer. This is about 30 mbytes. It is downloading at 15 kbytes per second using the NLA's wireless connection. This raises the issue of access for those with limited bandwidth. I felt a little guilty about using up the NLA's bandwidth this way. But they did host a talk advocating Second Life for use by library patrons, so what can they expect. ;-)

When I tried to connect to second life I was unable to. It may be using ports which are blocked on the library connection.

Also I did a quick search on "second life" for the blind and came up with about half a million items, the first of which was about a class action for discrimination. Also I noticed discussion of a mobile hpne interface. This could use the same technology as an accessible interface.

From my home office I was able to start second life using my iBurst wireless connection. It worked fine on a 256/64 kbps link.

Your avatar starts on an orientation island where you have to complete a tutorial on basic use of the system, before you are allowed into the rest of the system. After completing one task (holding a "torch") the system froze and at that point I gave up.

This is not an extensive use of the system, but even after a few minutes I didn't like it much. If this were a conventional computer application the length and complexity of the tutorial needed before starting using the application would be unacceptable.

For those who like such games this may be a fun way to interact online, and they may find it natural, but I found it a very limiting and clumsy interface. I kept wondering why can't I have a plan view so I can simply click where I want to go? Why do these people have their names floating above the heads, that is not very realistic.

The blurry 3D graphics and spurious animation in the system made me feel queasy, but it was a lot easier to look at on my own screen than on the large screen in the NLA theater. Even so this seemed an uncomfortable way to interact with people and services online.

If Second Life become a long term success, then libraries and other organizations will need to have a presence there. However, they should ensure that the services they provide there are available with alternative interfaces for those who are unable or unwilling to use Second Life.

Work needs to be done on alternative more efficient interfaces for such systems. For those who ask "why is an alternative interface needed?" or "why bother building an interface for a few poor blind people?", consider the mobile market. In much of the Asian region the usual interface to online systems is not a desktop computer but a mobile phone. The interface for Second Life would need extensive changes for this environment.

Some books:

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Second Life for Librarians

Australian Libraries Building in Second LifeKathryn Greenhill just finished her talk on Second Life, at the (real) National Library of Australia in Canberra. Second life is an online virtual world. Kathryn is a librarian at the (real) Murdoch University Library in Western Australia. She also co-ordinates the virtual "Australian Libraries Building" inside Second Life.

Kathryn gave an introduction to Second Life and an online tour of the Australian Libraries Building. The building is modeled on a real library, with interfaces to traditional online library resources, but done in a whimsical way.

One aspect which worried me is that Second Life is a for-profit company product. You can purchase an "island" to display your products and services. The Australian Libraries Building is on an island devoted to libraries around the world. While anyone can use second life for free, it costs real money to set up a building and it is effectively a virtual private gated community.

The interface for second life is a two dimensional rendering of a virtual 3d world. Each user of the system is represented by an Avatar; a graphical representation of the person. The avatar and the environment can be customized to look and behave differently, partly using purchased resources (using a local currency). The user interface is similar to that of a video game (but without the guns and violence, for the present).

All this made me feel old and alienated. Not being a computer games player I found the visual interface unnatural. I had difficult seeing the details and keeping up with the blurry, animated items. The overly rich visual design made me feel nauseous (much as a set of 3d goggles does after a couple of minutes use).

However, there was a great level of enthusiasm displayed by Kathryn and evidently a lot of effort being put in by other librarians. But will this translate into a mainstream product or be just for a few geeks?

At question time I asked if there was an alternative accessible interface for the blind. Kathryn didn't know and I was shocked that the audience of librarians laughed at the idea. I would have assumed that librarians would know they have a professional and legal obligation to provide services to the disabled. Not providing an interface for the blind, if is technically feasible and not too expensive, is unlawful. While Second Life may seem a virtual place, unlawful actions carried out there are within the jurisdiction of Australian courts (I had to do an expert witness report for an international online libel case a few days ago).
Correction 15 February 2007: Above I wrote that the audience of librarians laughed at my suggestion there should be an alternative accessible interface for the blind. Someone else there says they were laughing at were the antics of the avatars on the screen, behind the speaker, not at my question. My apologies to the audience if this was the case.
Another audience member asked a question about the bandwidth needed for the interface. Apparently the graphical interface required a lot of bandwidth. This would seem a fruitful area for IT research. It should be possible to optimize the the system to reduce the bandwidth needed and provide an interface for the blind at the same time. I might set it as an ANU e-Science project for the students to do.

This talk was one in the excellent NLA Digital Culture series. Unfortunately the NLA doesn't have a public web page about the series. But the next time they email me an invitation I will blog it.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Second Life, 14 February 2007, Canberra

Australian Libraries Building in Second LifeThis is in the same series as Vic Elliott's talk on academic publishing. Recommended:
NLA Digital Culture talks:

Flying Librarians of Oz: What's the fuss about Second Life and what's it got to do with libraries?

Second Life is an online virtual community created by its residents and run by Linden Labs. Over two million people have registered: Dell Computing, Adidas, Harvard Law School and the United States Congress all have a presence there. ...

Kathryn Greenhill, a librarian at Murdoch University Library in Western Australia, co-ordinates the Australian Libraries Building. She will provide a guided tour of the Australian Libraries Building and discuss some of the benefits to librarians of having a Second Life.

Time: 12.30 to 13.30
Date: Wednesday, 14 February 2007
Venue: Library Theatre
Entry: Free
Speaker: Kathryn Greenhill, Librarian, Murdoch University Library, Western Australia
Introduced by Matthew Stuckings, Reader Services Branch, National Library of Australia

Bobby Graham
Web Content Manager
Web Publishing Branch, IT Division
National Library of Australia

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