I had an unexpected skype call yesterday with Joe Rigby from MellaniuM, a Toronto-based startup specialising in the development of 3D real-world virtual environments. Joe and his development team have leveraged the Unreal2 engine used in Unreal Tournament game to create this very impressive 3D virtual world – capable of having up to 32 avatars working together in a private virtual world.
MellaniuM works differently from Second Life, in that is it is a Client-Server operation – you need first to download a piece of client software and install it onto your computer, after which all of the processing happens on your desktop, and doesn’t rely on this being done across the web. The result is a very impressive, highly detailed 3D virtual environment that you can navigate around with ease, and includes some of the most impressive light-source rendering that I’ve seen in this sort of thing.
Part of the secret of the very impressive graphics in the environment is that they are rendered directly from Autocad designs to dimension the model to exactly what they are in real life – you can see some examples of this in the video clip.
The other really impressive thing for me was that Joe was able to ‘walk’ me through the demos of the software using skype – another little innovation that he and his colleagues had worked on.
Already interest is coming from engineering and real estate companies who see potential in these sort of environments for their businesses. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to think of ways in which these environments could be used in education – for virtual field trips, virtual science labs, and virtual classrooms… as we’re already seeing happening in places like Second Life, but in this case, in a richer, more graphically detailed environment that “lives” on your own computer.