When I first got into Second Life, I bought this great looking castle. It was vast with all these great rooms. We figured we could use it for conferencing. With the AR gear on, the frame rate fell. You don't notice that normally, because 10 frames-per-second isn't that bad in Second Life, but when you have the head-mount on, it really is noticeable.
TE: Is the software for AR Second Life available to the public to download and try out?
BM: Right now, we haven't even got it integrated into the latest source build. We will have a student working on it starting in the fall semester. So, hopefully September, October, we'll start making it available.
There's some components of it that I want to contribute immediately back. For example, we repackaged the rendering engine such that we can do a bunch of effects like shading and blocking light. That would be really useful for anybody who wants to do machinima.
Aside from that, I'm interested in how can we build tools to let non-programmers experiment with augmented reality. We have an AR toolkit built on top of Macromedia Director to take people who are Flash or Director programmers, not hardcore programmers, and let them experiment with AR. That's available on our website.
TE: How much longer will the AR Second Life project continue? What will happen with all the data you have collected?
BM: I expect this is going to go at least for another year. It looks like we've got funding for a student to keep working on it for at least that long.
Once we get to the point of releasing it, hopefully the technology will get integrated back into the [official Second Life] client. So you could create an interface to Second Life where you put on a head-mount.
TE: Have any game developers expressed interest in your research?
BM: Not really. We've done other augmented reality projects that have generated some interest from the game community on mobile phones. But nobody's stepped up and said, "We'd like to turn this into a product."
The big problem with augmented reality is it doesn't seem feasible to imagine millions of people buying head-mounted displays right now. On cell phones, I think there will be interesting things happening in the near future. Hopefully, that will change as the displays get better and cheaper.
TE: To be honest, the first thing that comes to mind about adding augmented reality technology to Second Life was the possibility of more immersive cyber-sex experiences among users. Have you seriously considered or looked into this?
BM: It obviously has occurred to us. The cyber-sex in Second Life, basically I would describe as phone sex plus avatars. Imagine doing AR so that the avatar is dancing in your living room instead of on your computer. It's not clear to me if that would be a better experience, or if people would actually pay for that. Probably. If you can imagine it, people will try it, but we have no intention of pursuing that ... I've got only so much time to do so many things, and there's a lot of other things I'd rather do than that. I think there are things in the collaborative work or wide-scale game sense that are more interesting.
Howard Wen (www.howardwen.com) plans to render himself a fancy sports car to get him through his Second mid-Life crisis.