IBM has unveiled a new spin on collaborative virtual environments. Sametime 3D isn't a stand alone VR, but rather, is part of a general business software suite, and is intended as a convenient way to collaborate on business projects.
Otherwise known as 'Virtual Collaboration for Lotus Sametime', the service allows Lotus Sametime users to set up and use virtual meeting spaces securely within their own corporate network, properly firewalled from the outside world, using VoIP, and text chat, along with 3D avatars to discuss business issues.
This means of course that confidential documents don't have to be filed away, as they would be in a telepresence session, and it does not matter if one or more individuals have been doing something particularly dirty or messy prior to the meeting. It provides a space where the outside world can be entirely blocked out.
"College students love to learn and meet in virtual worlds. Although we can already conduct class through other worlds, there is little classroom control or security. Instructors can't always tell who is present," said Chet Strebe, Chief Information Officer, Northcentral Technical College in Wisconsin, which offers on-line courses and has students globally.
"With IBM's new virtual meeting service, teachers would be able to tell which students are present and better control the environment." The college envisions using the service for cross-campus meetings and presentations.
Using Sametime 3D, people can select colleagues from their Lotus Sametime contact list, and then invite them to participate in a virtual meeting. Participants can meet in a boardroom, an auditorium or a collaboration space.
Any other Lotus documents, presentations or spreadsheets can then be loaded up upon walls and pictures within that space, or shown in split screen windows. Notes can also be generated collaboratively upon the documents in the same way - what one scribbles, all see, and the actual documents are updated instantly.
"Virtual Collaboration for Lotus Sametime is part of IBM's ongoing work to redefine the nature of on-line meetings," said John Allessio, vice president, IBM Software Services for Lotus. "Whether through improvements to Web conferencing capabilities or with tools such as VCS, IBM is offering new ways to engage and collaborate, making meetings more effective and productive. The timing is perfect for this new offering as it facilitates effective meetings and brainstorming without the time and expense of travel."
Its not yet ready for a full review, as of time of writing. However, Sametime is being modified to allow spatial voice capabilities as well - VoIP gets fainter as you move away from the target's avatar. It is also unclear at this time, just how many individuals the environment is capable of holding at one time, although that figure is believed to be above 50.
More than 2,500 IBM employees have voluntarily registered to test this out since February, as part of the IBM Technology Adoption Program. Meetings have been held by development, human resources, and product planning teams. Virtually any meeting which requires co-creation of content by a team of people can benefit from this capability, and IBM employees continue to discover new uses for these tools.