What Havok and Smurfs can do for you

Remember my post about Havok7 and things tumbling about in virtual worlds? Well this week, events in my real world have been tumbling about too! First up, I played football in Second Life with Dave Taylor (Our Man at Imperial College ) using an on-the-spot created ball by way of a demonstration of what the current version of Havok can do. We already have bump, jiggle, and dislodge, it seems so next time we can maybe incorporate it into our build. That’s the value of teams – Dave knew what could be done but not that it might be useful, and I knew what might be useful but not that it could be done.  One short game of footie later and we’re both clued up although I doubt I’ll be troubling Fabio any time soon.

Then there was our meeting as a nascent research community with Dame Sally Davies, Director General of Research and Development and Chief Scientific Adviser for the Department of Health and NHS, who set up the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR). This was a huge compliment to the efforts of our director of research and to the Trust itself for having the foresight to place research at the heart of its activity. This meeting also gave us an oppportunity to discuss directly some of the glitches and anomalies that seem to beset applications and the positive response we received to those was extremely encouraging. I’ll say more about that when we have tangible results about which we can wave flags.

Well if all that wasn’t mind-boggling enough, I just participated in a seminar in Second Life, touring a group of post graduates and medical specialists from Imperial College around our Brighton simulation. It is quite a bizarre experience, knowing that there are unseen others ‘out there’  listening to me sitting here in Sussex (with the dogs safely stowed out of bark and holler range) but seeing ‘me’ in my SL representation. Dave was also in-world and so I was not alone although it’s an interesting notion that the presence of one bunch of pixels is reassuring to the driver of another bunch when neither is actually there. The authenticity of the engagement was illustrated for me when Dave said goodbye and took his audience off to another part of the simulation and I stood in our empty waiting room wondering whether to go home or not. What if there were stragglers?

The power of 3D experiences is likely to become increasingly apparent as this is introduced into film and TV with greater sophistication and ease of popular access. Interactive 3D will then be such a short step away as to be almost an essential in the process of information giving by services and organisations wanting people to understand their product. What the giant smurfs started…!

James Cameron's Avatar


Electro-wetting: no, not an embarrassing disorder!

screenshot of e-reader Most of us have heard of Amazon’s Kindle e-reader, Sony’s alternative product, and the various other challengers for the electronic library market. If you set aside the disadvantages of being largely monochromatic, generally wedded to particular publishing outlets, and not much cop in the bath, this tech seems to be on the verge of mass indispensability.

BBC ‘Click’ highlighted Dutch firm, Liquavista, which is bringing that position closer to reality by not only developing colour and video capability, but also working on incorporating the oil-based system into flexible plastic sheets. Imagine, your whole library+ mag and newspaper subscriptions rolled up and slotted into the gap in your bag between the Volvic and the organic Pret butty!

A Luxurious indulgence? Maybe, for now. But with tech buzz about advancing the use of 3D environments and integrating virtual environments into what today are graphic intensive, interactive but standard internet fare, you start to see how pervasive this might eventually become. Add to this the Havok7 development that allows simulated impact effects and suddenly the potential for sophisticated virtual interactivity in your pocket starts to look like a runner.

How does this affect research and clinical practice? Two ways right off the top of my head: I could stop lugging hefty folders of documents or the tech to display them from site to site and still have what I need right to hand, and we could equip patients, clients, participants with highly mobile, less fragile, and more interactive devices that they can use anywhere cheaply and safely.

The downside? No idea where your Volvic or your sarnie’s going to go if you ditch the bag. Whatever happened to those pill-only diets we were all going to be on in the 21st century? Same place as the silver suits and the domestic robots that look like maids? Oh! Well, while we’re talking bots

Havok7 in Second Life

still from havok7 videoIndigoMertal, a builder in Second Life, sent me this link to a wonderful video of what seems to be the next generation of Second Life viewers. In this iteration, the underlying physics engine allows for tumbling, bumping, and colliding in ways not possible at the moment. Take a look here, magic!

Of course, that isn’t where it stops, this isn’t just a pretty face. The kind of reality introduced by this capability seems likely to increase the sense of presence people experience in the virtual environment and that has huge implications for the kinds of social, psychological, and medical research that’s going on there.