A new collaboration paradigm that inherently involves virtual reality and allows for merging the physical and the virtual worlds.
Imagine a completely new form of relationship with your IT devices: a relationship in which the mouse and the keyboard seem like ancient relics used only by geeks and IT professionals; a relationship in which your 'desktop' is much more closely linked with your physical reality, and in which social interactions play a central and practical role.
This is our view for the not too distant future: A technological revolution is coming that is poised to change our life in a way similar to how the 2D graphical interface trumped the character-based command line just a few decades ago. VirCA is aimed at implementing this vision by adopting the shareable and fully customizable 3D virtual workspace as a central idea. VirCA enables people who are not necessarily in the same location, or even on the same continent, to create ideas, then design and implement them together in a shared virtual space. VirCA is a pilot solution which highlights several key tenets of the EU trend of Future Internet, and as such provides very effective means of collaboration in virtual spaces.
The arguably novel philosophy behind the platform was recognized through highly ranked awards, such as the exhibitor award at the FET'11 international forum, and the 2013 TÜV Rheinland Innovation Award.
Due to the capabilities of the VirCA platform to serve cooperative activity of large-scale international consortium, we have received EU funds to coordinate research projects in various topics such a cognitive neuroscience and dynamic robot behaviour.
VirCA provides a platform where users can build, share and manipulate 3D content, and collaboratively interact with real-time processes in a 3D context, while the participating hardware and software devices can be spatially and/or logically distributed and connected together via IP network. For example, engineers and researchers from different countries can put a mobile robot and an obstacle avoidance software module together to test and tune it in a semi-virtual manner. They do not have to move their devices to the same place and take effort in the system integration. The VirCA 3D virtual reality component can work together with the cutting edge stereoscopic 3D display technologies including the immersive 3D CAVE systems.
Since the virtual environment in VirCA is generated by computers, all information has a corresponding internal representation in the system. Therefore, in this environment everything can be measured or detected, and various kinds of information can be extracted via virtual sensors, which need not even exist in the real world today. Such combination of real and virtual sensors can be very powerful. Using this design philosophy, VirCA is capable of accommodating virtual experiments using both existent and non-existent future technologies for the development of new algorithms for various sensor and actuator setups.
VirCA's uniform, modular, RT-Middleware based framework allows to organize components from different sources into a system using a browser-based graphical programming environment. There are already existing VirCA components including the 3D interactive virtual environment, communication and interaction techniques, support for widely used hardware and software tools from robots to algorithms. This allows the plug and play exploitation of the knowledge that is embedded into the academy, industry, or community developed components, and simplifies the creation of new, state of the art solutions. In our vision, RT-Middleware components and VirCA-enabled software pieces (CyberDevices) implementing standard generic or even fully customized interfaces could be collected in a community website. System integrators could use these functional building blocks for free or even on commercial basis similarly to the popular online application stores. In this way the knowledge that is integrated into the downloadable components can be easily added to any VirCA based system in a plug and play manner.
The 3D content and processes in VirCA can be synchronized with the real world, which allows the combination of reality and virtuality in the collaboration arena. This allows VirCA users to virtually interact not only with other users, but also with existing, remotely operated hardware and software, such as robots, sensors, or actuators. This type of semi-virtual interaction allows the users to build distributed systems consisting of real and virtual parts at the same time.