It began its operation at an off-campus facility with a large open space where various visualization and virtual environments could be explored. It soon became an integral part of the plans for the new Engineering Laboratory Building for the College of Information Technology and Engineering (CITE).
The initial thrust is to create an effective training environment for mine safety training without the hazards and expense of a real mine or emergency situations. This environment leverages state-of-the-art 3-D visualization, simulation and immersive technologies, such as stereo displays, motion tracking, simulated smoke, etc. This eventually led to the choice of Second Life as a virtual reality platform.
Second Life is a highly accessible client-server technology allowing: multi-player participation across the Internet, user-created content, a good physics engine, audio/video media feeds, decent scalable graphics rendering, voice or text chat, and a scripting language with external communication.
The next objective was to make Second Life more immersive. This was accomplished by providing a stereo-capable browser, a stereo display (and glasses), and the introduction of gesture-based controls. Gesture-based controls range from the use of a Wii remote (with IR sensor) to video-based motion tracking.
Another early objective was to interface this virtual world with the real world and provide geospatial context where possible. This is being done through Google Earth and its latest APIs.
Currently, VISE is exploring alternative virtual platforms utilizing both OpenSimulator and Unity3D to provide more flexibility and functionality for virtual mine safety training, including recent capability developments such as fully functional avatar control using Unity3D and moving Second Life work 'off the grid.'