Fashion Research Institute Announces Science Sim Land Grant Program Awardees

New York, NY November 1, 2011 – Fashion Research Institute Announces Science Sim Land Grant Program Awardees

Fashion Research Institute has been collaborating with Intel Labs since 2009, helping to push the limits of content development, and overseeing the Science Sim Land Grant Program. The program consists of awards of campuses of four ‘supersized’ 3D volumes called regions, which can support 100,000 primitive units. These campuses are awarded for a six-month period to educators, scientists, and researchers who wish to explore using OpenSim for their work, and who need the power and control of their projects that a campus provides them.  The campuses are provided for nine months beginning September 1, 2011 and ending June 30, 2012.

We are pleased to share the 2011-2012 awardees, in alphabetical order.

The Abyss Observatory (http://chikyu-to-umi.com/abyss/) The Abyss Observatory is a museum of earth science, undersea technology and also Sense of Wonder for the mysteries of Earth & Life in 3D virtual world, established mainly by Japan and US volunteers, supported by SciLands, NOAA, JAMSTEC, Open University UK and Science Circle.

“Earth system science research fields are spread world-wide and far from human habitation.  To gain a better understanding of global issues, visualization in immersive virtual world is powerful tool.  Our students can develop observation methods of virtual environment phenomena or law of physics easily, cost-effectively and safely,”says Hajime Nishimura (JAMSTEC, http://www.jamstec.go.jp/).

The Cyprus University of Technology Chrysanthos Voutounos is a doctoral student at the Department of Multimedia and Graphic Arts in Cyprus. His research work negotiates the design of serious virtual and multimedia applications that deal with the presentation and preservation of Byzantine heritage. The Byzantine heritage of Cyprus is globally known and many monuments on the island are included in the UNESCO’s World Heritage List, like the monastery and the museum of St. John Lampadistis which Chrysanthos aims to design in ScienceSim as part of his research.

My main research objective is to design and evaluate a virtual museum of Byzantine art applying methods that will enable a cross-cultural and cross-aesthetic mediation of Byzantine Aesthetics; providing a meaningful mediation of Byzantine artifacts and a spiritual experience to users.” Said Chrysanthos Voutounos.  “The opportunity given to implement this work on ScienceSim ensures the serious concept of a virtual heritage project; ScienceSim platform hosts a unique of its kind research on virtual worlds (1000 avatars on a region, security of digital content and other achievements). Many thanks to Intel Labs and the Fashion Research Institute for their support!

The EdLab Group Foundation (http://edlabgroup.org ) Hypatia World is supporting and expanding the reach of the National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP) in a 3D virtual environment. Hypatia World provides a safe space for the 5.3 million girls in the NGCP network to access online activities and participate in collaborative projects. The NGCP is committed to informing and motivating girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). NGCP currently supports 21 Collaboratives, serving 31 states to provide support and local resources to STEM practitioners. Hypatia World will host the first 3D virtual Collaborative, providing an online place for the girls and their mentors to interact and participate in STEM activities and events. Through collaborative relationships with partners such as NASA, quality content will assured.

Project Manager, Lindy Orwin, explained, “Hypatia World will provide opportunities for girls to access online mentors and 3D content expanding the opportunities for networking and support for girls interested in STEM and keeping them interested in STEM.”

The Honor Engine (http://www.honorengine.com/) The Honor Engine has created a customizable set of tools built for quest based learning and game development into the virtual world.  The Honor Engine Toolset allows educators, content developers and game designers complete control over their content . The goals of The Honor Engine are to explore the potential uses of quest based learning in education for children and for the workforce. Already well established in SL as the HONOR Roleplay System, the Honor Engine is now expanding their toolset into OpenSim virtual worlds.

Our key focus in moving The Honor Engine into the ScienceSim is to provide a toolset for educators and other creators to scale their interactive content with simple interfaces, quick content creation and adaptation and easy to access metrics to help them define success.”   Bill Jobes, owner and creator of The Honor Engine.  “Quest-based learning that is teacher planned and driven is what the Honor Engine provides. Teachers will be completely free to set up learning scenarios to suit their students  needs. The students play to learn and learn as they play. Classrooms full of students can work together in the virtual world increasing their content knowledge, their literacy skills, and their 21st century skills, all of which will be vital to their success throughout the rest of their lives.

The Oregon L5 Society( http://www.oregonl5.org/) Oregon L5 Society ( ORL5) is using some of their 25 years of research into using planetary caves as centers of human activity on the other worlds of the Solar System as models in virtual worlds. These concepts can be explored in ScienceSim, where ORL5 is creating VW lunar lavatube cave bases and settlements, and similar asteroidal and Mars bases.

These are conceptual models of how such human activity can settle the Solar System in real life.

We use these virtual world projects to contact other researchers, educate the public about how human spaceflight can become more widely affordable, and model specific projects we can then promote to the Space Research community more effectively.” says Tom Billings (Oregon L5 Society Representative).

Meta-Institute for Computational Astrophysics (MICA) Meta-Institute for Computational Astrophysics (MICA) (http://mica-vw.org/) is the first professional scientific organization based in virtual worlds.  The goals of MICA are to explore the potential uses of immersive VR as a scientific and scholarly platform.  Already well established in SL, MICA is now expanding their activities into OpenSim worlds.

Our key research goal is to develop novel techniques and applications for immersive, collaborative data visualization,” says the MICA Director George Djorgovski, a professor at Caltech.  “Scalability is important for massive data sets, and that is one of the main reasons we are in ScienceSim.”  He adds, “Effective visualization of complex, multi- dimensional data is emerging as one of the key challenges for the data- driven science in the 21st century.  As we continue to move our work and collaborations into cyberspace, immersive VR may become a fundamental platform for scientific research.

Preferred Family Healthcare (http://www.pfh.org) Preferred Family Healthcare has been delivering counseling services in virtual worldspace for the past three years and it is on the forward edge of organizations using OpenSim and Jibe/Unity for these purposes. PFH will continue to explore the potential for delivering mental health and substance use disorder services to clients who experience accessibility challenges due to distance, time, travel, physical handicap, social phobias and other complications.

PFH intends to continue to be a leading innovator of technology utilization to make accessible behavioral health interventions available to all who need them,” notes Dick Dillon, Senior VP at Preferred Family Healthcare. “Challenges which have existed for decades are being resolved by the smart application of global connectivity tools. We believe in the potential of virtual world-based service delivery systems, and several pilot projects are already showing excellent results for client retention and participation, with treatment outcomes as good or better than traditional methods.”

Science Circle. The Science Circle is an alliance of Scientists from various disciplines dedicated to connect scientist and students worldwide. We use digital mediums like Second Life® to hold seminars and we are starting in 2011 with various courses for our student group.

“The Science Circle wants to offer our members the possibility to discover OpenSim. Like MICA we are convinced that 3d platforms based on OpenSim are a great tool to offer education. The Science Sim Land Grant program is a great initiative that enables us to do that,” says Agustin Martin on behalf of the Science Circle.

BIO-SE project (Biological Interactive Objects for Science Education)The goal of the BIO-SE Project is to create interactive learning modules targeted to the high school or college freshman biology curriculum. Its primary aim is to have its learning modules be instructive but also designed for first-time users of virtual worlds. Lesson planning and instructor resources will be created as well but do not necessarily require faculty to be conversant with using virtual worlds. The core lessons all come from biologists who have multiple years of experience teaching in Second Life and developing course content there.

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About Fashion Research Institute, Inc.: FRI is at the forefront of developing innovative design & merchandising solutions for the apparel industry.  They research and develop products and systems for the fashion industry that sweepingly address wasteful business and production practices.

Science Sim is part of an evolution toward online 3D experiences that look, act and feel real. Sometimes dubbed the “3D internet,” Intel Labs refers to this technology trend as immersive connected experiences, or ICE. ScienceSim is differentiated from most virtual world environments by its open source architecture. ScienceSim leverages open source building blocks (installation utilities, management tools, client viewers, etc.) based on OpenSimulator (OpenSim) software.

The Psychology of Avatar Design & Customization

A blog post crossed our desk recently from Human Mosaic Systems talking about the importance of avatar design in order to increase immersion.

“As a result, organizations that use this environment need to begin to pay special attention to the psychology of design involved with the avatars used…The psychology of the avatar and our interactions with others in the space is what creates presence…This is an area that has not been focused on in the past in research, but one which is gaining importance and attention.”

Fashion Research Institute has been focusing attention in this area for quite a while now.  We conducted 18 months of research coupled with direct observation of thousands of avatars into how people use their avatars and how the quality (or lack thereof) of avatar customization content had an impact on people’s immersion into virtual worlds.  We then used this initial research to develop our orientation program, which we tested in Second Life as one of the Linden Lab-sanctioned Community Gateways in their formal Community Gateway program.

The Fashion Research Institute Gateway served about 65,000 new users who entered Second Life through our portal during a 12-month time span.  We continued to observe these new users and made continual changes to the orientation environment to best enhance the experience of these new users.  We consistently observed that the higher quality avatar customization content we provided, the stickier the experience became for the new user.  This in turn led to an increased likelihood of any given avatar user immersing.  We marked immersion as the point where users stopped referring to their avatars as it, or him, and began referring to their avatars as ‘me’.

Having completed more than 30 months of research into this area, as a necessary component for our organizational use of virtual worlds, the work we do with avatars and avatar development is based on data collected on over 65,000 subjects.

This research was used to develop our orientation portal for OpenSim.  The portal was completely developed using only content developed on the OpenSim platform.  This portal is active in ScienceSim (ScienceSim.com) as the entry point for the grid if you’d like to check it out.

Many organizations are already understanding the value. Preferred Family Healthcare, Inc. is a case in point. (see our previous post) Providing their users with additional choices in avatar customization was seen as a benefit to helping their youth project in delivering quality counseling services to an underserved population.

In the case of Science Sim, part of FRI’s research collaboration with Intel :abs was to provide premium content so that new users would immediately have options to not only customize their appearance but would also be able to build and create.  This further enhances the immersive buy-in, which enhances the likelihood of success of their project.

Mission Critical-PG Avatars for Corporate and Educational Use

There is a growing call from consumers of digital content and virtual goods for avatars that meet a PG-rating.  While many deeply immersed users of avatars would object strenuously at having their avatars de-sexualized, the audience for a less sexual avatar not only exists, but is vocal in their desires for an avatar that will allow their projects to proceed without emphasis on some of the more mature aspects of interpersonal interaction.

Such audiences include both enterprise and educational users, many of whom have specialized audiences that need to either be protected from exposure to mature avatars or who regard the avatar as a tool whose effectiveness will be hampered if it is too ‘hot’.

Users who have an audience that is underage will usually insist on a PG-rated avatar for a variety of reasons, not least of which is to reduce their legal exposure in the event that a user attempts to engage in inappropriate behaviors for their project.  Likewise, corporate audiences may simply wish to have reasonably attractive, high-quality avatars that are appropriate for everyone in the organization to use, from the entry level worker to the CEO.

Fashion Research Institute has been asked to develop such avatars for various organizations. Our work in developing these specialized avatars has shown that creating a premium PG-rated avatar appropriate for these clients is not as easy as simply welding a bathing suit onto the avatar skin.  There are additional considerations that must be taken into account, including the age, culture, and gender of the intended user base.

For example, in developing for Preferred Family Health Care, one of the requirements was that any clothing provided could not have bare midriffs or plunging cleavage.  Their user base is under the age of 18.  As any parent knows, this demographic can often be found in malls wearing plunging necklines and low-rider jeans; this is the fashion that is preferable to this age range.  However, the requirement was not that we provide what those users would want, but rather what the administrators of the program where the avatars would be used would want.

Likewise, when we developed both the Content Library as well as the shopping mall in ScienceSim, we focused on providing quality clothing and avatar customization that does not have plunging necklines, wife-beater tanks, low-cut waists, excessively long hair or overly made up skins.  The user base uses the OpenSim-based Sciencesim as a work tool to advance their research in data visualization and in other areas. Inappropriately sexualized avatars would be distracting to the real work, and would be inappropriate.

In thinking about the PG avatar, users may opt to have the avatar developed with PG skins, usually with some sort of modesty garment added (usually a bathing suit for all of the obvious reasons).  Less commonly, a client may ask to have skins with the ‘wobbly bits’ removed, but with no modesty garment. Clothing is generally modest with knee- to tea-length skirts for the women, and trousers and jeans for the men.  Tops are opaque for both genders, and where graphic Ts are provided, care is taken to use innocuous graphics. Jewelry and other accessories tend to be discreet – no Mr. T Bling, and above all, no trademarked goods unless a formal license has been obtained and permission granted to use the trademark in question.

A well-developed PG avatar will enable organizations to conduct their real business using virtual worlds without worrying about inappropriate visuals marring their programs.  A PG-avatar may even be regarded as a mission critical component for corporate and education use virtual world projects, especially those with mixed age demographics or those with underage under users.

As the number of entities entering virtual worlds to use them as formal work tools increases, so too will the need for premium PG-avatars, and for the development of best practices and standards that define both quality and rating. Fashion Research Institute has begun the process of developing such standards for its own content, which is developed following its existing product design and development methodology.