Monday, November 10, 2008

A bit about the Social Computing Room

In the last blog entry, I had put down a spot to link to a description of the 'Social Computing Room', and realized that I didn't have one. So I wanted to fill in a few details and fix that link.

The Social Computing Room, (or SCR for short) is a visualization space at the Renci Engagement Center at UNC Chapel Hill. We're over near the hospital in the ITS-Manning building in Chapel Hill. It's one of three spaces, the other being the Showcase Dome (a 5-meter tilted Global Immersion dome), and Teleimmersion, which is a 4K (4 x HD resolution) stereo environment. We're working on some virtual tours for a new web site, so there should be some more info soon on those other spaces.

One of the primary features of the SCR is its 360-degree display. The room is essentially a 12,288x768 Windows desktop. (I've also tested a Mac in this environment, and it works as well). Here's a pic of the SCR...

The room has multiple cameras, wireless mics, multi-channel sound, 3D location tracking for people and objects, and is ultra-configurable (plenty of cat-6 for connecting things, Unistrut ceiling for adding new hardware). The room has so many possibilities that it gets difficult to keep up with all of the ideas. I think of it as a place where you can paint the walls with software, and make it into anything you want. There are currently a few emerging themes:

  • The SCR is a collaborative visualization space. The room seems especially suited for groups considering a lot of information, doing comparison, interperetation, and grouping. There is a lot of visual real estate, and the four-wall arrangement seems to lend itself to spatial organization of data. As groups use the space for this purpose, I'm trying to capture how they work, and what they need. The goal is to create a seemless experience for collaboration. This is the reason I've been interested in WPF, and the InfoMesa technology demonstrator, as covered in this previous post.
  • The SCR is a new media space. Its been used for art installations, and it has interesting possibilities for all sorts of interactive experiences, as illustrated by this recent experiment.
  • The SCR is a place for interacting with the virtual world. We're working on a Second Life client that would have a 360-degree perspective, so that we can embed the SCR inside of a larger virtual enviroment, enabling all sorts of new possibilities.
These are just a few of the areas I'm interested in. Each of the areas can be enhanced by the use of different types of sensors and robotics, and I've been started with Wiimotes, SunSpots, and the Ubisense location tracking hardware.

That's a bit about the SCR, it's a really fascinating environment, and if you are on the UNC campus, give me a shout out and I'll show you around!

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