Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A Singapore Mirror World (not yet but coming)

Imagine a virtual world that parallels the real world. This virtual world will have buildings, streets, objects that exist and are located at exactly the same reference as the real world. This virtual world will have an Orchard Road, a Suntec City, a Junction 8, with shops, walls and objects just exactly as the real Orchard Road, Suntec, and Junction 8.

Fantasy? No, it's actually an old concept.

The concept was first explored in the book "Mirror Worlds" by David Gelernter in 1991, i.e. 17 years ago! Back then technology can't put such a concept to reality.

Today it can. Yes, it can! Look at Google Earth. The software already allows a full rendition of good satellite maps that allow for zooming. Add 3D buildings to it, and viola there you have it! There is at least one such city around, i.e. Berlin.

In Singapore, we also have a group of people trying to put virtual buildings that match the real ones. The group discuss their findings (and offer many other mash-ups) at the SinGeo website. Of course, having a rendered object doesn't give the same feel as the real ones, i.e. some features (like botched paint job, or faded tiles..etc) wouldn't be reflected. But technology is improving, and there are other initiatives around that could help. There is Google Street View, but that's only street level view of real world. Google Street View is not the only initiative around, there are others, e.g Microsoft's similar project.

Personally what I feel is lacking is the interactivity between these Mirror World objects and their real life counter-parts. I don't think there is any actual example yet of a Mirror World avatar shopping through, say, Borders, browsing a virtual book at a book launch, and be given the choice of either a) purchase a digital copy (e.g. pdf format) of the book, or b) order a real hard copy that will be delivered to a physical address. In such an example, the book launch could take place simultaneously in both real and Mirror World, with the latter reflecting the buzz and happenings in real-time. I reckon the 'feel' will be very different than watching a real broadcast of the event. You can't interact in the broadcast at least, and neither can you 'move' and view the event from multiple angles. Such a Mirror World service will allow for many more people to be present and interact at the event, a value proposition that is both commercially as well as socially appealing.

I guess the developments in these areas still need time, and I wouldn't be surprised that Mirror Worlds become as common place as existing virtual worlds (e.g. 2nd Life) in 4-5 years time. In the mean while, here's a YouTube video of a virtual F1 race through a somewhat Mirror World area of Singapore, done by Earth@Sg folks. Enjoy!

Here's another version done using Google Earth. Heh... eh both done by same group of people?

Afternote (23 Apr): SingTel released a plyable F1 simulator, which could be downloaded here. So you need not just watch the YouTube, but you could play the simulator and experienced the night race yourself!

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