CheckingOut… Lenovo’s eLounge
Over the last few years business has shown a great interest in using virtual worlds for enterprise. Everything from seminars and conferences to virtual trade shows and retail. However, after an initial flurry of activity many soon abandon them. For some the required learning curve is too high to be an effective tool. For others the return on investment is not high enough. Whatever the reasons, no virtual environment seems to have really delivered what enterprise needs for its mass adoption. That may be about to change.
Yesterday I toured Lenovo’s eLounge. eLounge is the beta test for Nortel’s web.alive project chainsaw which is based upon the Unreal engine. web.alive is a multi-featured true-3d virtual environment offering cutomisable avatars, voice communications, security privileges and inworld item interaction. Unlike most virtual environments however web.alive runs in a web browser. It still requires a software download to run, but currently the initial plug-in is only a few hundred kilobytes (yes, kilobytes not megabytes =). That said, there is a delay as you first visit as the plug-in downloads all the required objects and textures but we’re talking only a few minutes here. Subsequent visits access much faster.
The graphics are detailed and richly colourful. The controls are devilishly simple. Anyone that has used a first-person shooter like Doom can easily master using either the arrow keys or W-S keys to move forward and backward and the mouse to look around and change direction. You can use the s and d keys to strafe but unfortunately the arrow keys (my preferred option) don’t allow you to. The voice communications are clear and offer seminar speakers the ability to throw their voice to everyone in the room. Voice also doesn’t travel very far so its possible to have a conversation with those in the same area without disturbing others (or the speaker). It’s also possible to restrict voice communications to only those within a certain room or area thus allowing confidential meetings.
Interacting with inworld objects is also simple but suffcient. A series of red balls allows you to manipulate objects and proximity sensors allow additional information to be delivered directly into the browser. Speakers also have access to presentation and video delivery utilities. Security privileges prevent those not delivering presentations from accessing the stage or the presentation area of a meeting.
The avatars are sufficiently detailed and customisable. There’s even the ability to import a photo from various online sources like Flickr or Facebook and have that used for your avatars face. However my attempts at doing this failed. The sound is delivered in stereo and spatially aware, so you can tell from which direction a speaker is addressing you. There’s also a visual cue in the form of an arrow directing you towards the speaker should you not be using a stereo headset. My headset worked straight away without any additional configuration whatsoever.
While eLounge is free to visit I don’t currently have any pricing information for the web.alive technology. I have been told that pricing is based on a peak capacity lease spread over twelve months. I’m very impressed with web.alive and the Lenovo eLounge. The use of the unreal engine and delivering the content to a web browser is a stroke of brilliance. As my tour guide, Chris Hardy, said, the gaming industry has spent years working out how to deliver graphics and sound across the net. Why not use that? Presuming that the price is right and it scales effectively, the small learning curve and the platform’s focused capabilities make this something I really believe is a must-have tool for business.Tags: conferences, conventions, eLounge, lenovo, nortel, retail, seminars, unreal engine, virtual trade shows, web.alive