[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Friday, 18 November 2005, 09:25 GMT
Opening doors into virtual worlds
By Jo Twist
BBC News technology reporter in Tunis

Gulliver's World, BBC
Gulliver's World encourages user interaction
Away from the official speeches at the UN World Summit on the Information Society, hundreds of projects tackling the digital divide are on show at a fair called the ICT4All Expo.

One project, Gulliver's World, is not the type of initiative that the governments of developing nations will be throwing money at to take to the masses just yet.

Not least because the virtual reality technology it adapts is not widely used in many developed nations.

Originally designed for the Museum of the Future at Austria's Ars Electronica Center, the prototype 3D virtual reality table top and video screen set-up tries to blur boundaries between computerised and real worlds.

It was a surprise to find the project buried in the middle of stands which feature small-scale, sometimes low-tech, grass roots initiatives from India, Africa, and Asia.

But Gulliver's World is in the expo because it was a winner of the World Summit prize for the best e-entertainment project.

Reality gap

This mixed-reality system is a tool through which people can start to learn about different kinds of interfaces for technology and that can make the virtual more "real", said Gerfried Stocker, a director of Ars Electronica.

Gulliver's World, BBC
The problem we have in digital life is that we cannot touch or smell data
Gerfried Stocker, Ars Electronica
"We wanted to see virtual reality not only on the screen, but also part of the real world," said Dr Stocker. "It is like a virtual reality puppet play."

A camera fitted with sensors detects the position of objects on an interactive table top and translates that to the virtual Earth projected on a big screen.

Players record themselves with a video camera and the recording is then put inside a virtual box.

They then use the interactive table and physical, movable boxes to control their characters and interact with others on-screen. They can also e-mail a snapshot of their boxed-up selves.

It may seem completely unconnected to the plight of developing nations struggling to get local communities connected to the net.

But one can see the potential, as with so many of these types of art-based projects, for creativity. It would add an entirely new dimension to video blogging and Google Earth, for example.

The system is also designed to explain what computers and technology can do, as opposed to what they are.

"The problem we have in digital life is that we cannot touch or smell data," explained Dr Stocker. Working with sensor technology such as this means data is no longer trapped behind screen and keyboard.

When children come to the table, they immediately "get it" and start to produce their own stories within the virtual world.

Cultural relevance

Although a fairly hi-tech project with limited installation potential, Dr Stocker believes projects like Gulliver's World are relevant to developing countries. The team is collaborating with Unesco's DigiArts initiative to develop the project.

Gulliver's World, BBC
Users interact via the table and boxes
"There are definitely lots of young artists in developing countries, such as India. People from there quite often come up with ideas [for technology] that are more like this than screen-based technology," said Dr Stocker.

Students from Bangalore have combined sensors with traditional, cultural and artistic objects to bring technology out from behind the screen and into daily lives.

Intel has worked with local producers to create similar technology, in China for instance, where a computer was designed to reflect cultural relevance and tradition.

"We can learn more from creative people from developing nations about how to bring technology into our lives," added Dr Stocker.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific