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iSee blurs the virtual and the real. And it could soon be real

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Typically, yesteryear’s science fiction becomes tomorrow’s technology. Just when that ‘tomorrow’ arrives is often a matter of curiosity, and conjecture.

iSee is such a technology. Many believe its time has come, or at least is near.

Before we can even tell you what it is, we would like to point out what you may or may not have missed.

Its name. It’s ominous, perhaps, considering Apple’s near-universal claim over the small lower-case ‘i’ as a prefix. Besides, it could easily be seen, some day, as impinging on Apple’s own Facetime.

Anyway, here’s the deal on iSee. It’s more than videoconferencing as we know it. It is a full leap into what futurists have dubbed “immersive Internet” – a “collection of emerging technologies combined with a social culture that has roots in gaming and virtual worlds, opening up new dimensions in collaboration, engagement, and context,” as described by ThinkBalm.

iSee is the result of a technology collaboration partnership of the Smart Services CRC (Cooperative Research Centres) in Sydney, a federal research initiative, with the University of Wollongong.

Earlier this month, the technology won an iAward in the R&D category. The iAwards are jointly presented by the Australian Computer Society, Australian Information Industry Association and Pearcey Foundation.

A game changer?

“iSee is seen as a game changer for distributed work teams and for distance education,” says Warren Bradey, chief executive of Smart Services.

Smart Services is initially targeting online education for its technology for obvious reasons. iSee can probably make the most dramatic transformation in this area.

The technology allows several different users – eventually even in the hundreds – to “virtually” attend classes and actually participate as if they were all in a real classroom.

“We believe it has application to enterprises in finance, mining, engineering consulting and similar organisations that operate distributed teams or look to interact with customers in an immersive way,” Bradey told Anthill.

iSee is ”a combination of positive attributes of video conferencing and virtual environments, using real-time video instead of avatars,” says Prof. Farzad Safaei of UOW’s ICT Research Institute and the lead researcher of the project. “In iSee you actually feel like you are part of a crowd as you move naturally around the environment,” he says.

iSee uses real-time video and spatial audio in a 3D immersive environment to enable hundreds to interact with each other. It is currently in user trials with education providers including campuses of the UOW. Also, Indian IT company Infosys is adapting it at its training centre in Mysore, adding other functionalities on top of the iSee software.

Unlike expensive videoconferencing technologies such as Cisco’s TelePresence, this runs on a simple laptop and apparently requires limited bandwidth and other network resources. It is though unclear just how much the technology could cost.

You can view a brief demo video of the technology here and here.

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