Sunday, 8 July 2007

Eolus - A Big Leap Toward 3D Internet

Before I went off on my recent city break to Tokyo, I was chatting with my good friend (and, coincidentally, my SL landlady), Ludo Merit. During the course of the conversation, she asked me whether I had heard of a think tank called EOLUS(I hadn't) and would I like to get in touch to find out more (I would). She put me in contact with Eolus McMillan, who invited me over to the EOLUS ONE island for a chat. I came away from the chat with my head buzzing with all manner of stuff that would take a while for me to inwardly digest. As a sizeable chunk of the discussion was about the convergence of Second Life (and Virtual Worlds generally) with making "a Better Planet", and recognising that I would not have time to blog it, I got in touch with Tara5 Oh (Tish Shute of the excellent Ugotrade blog) to see if she would pick up the cudgels on this one. I was certain this would be of huge interest to her, and so it proved - check out her giga-post here.

Normally, I'd give you a rundown on the island, its features and its raison d'etre. However, I think Tish has already covered that more than adequately - as has VeeJay Burns at Mindblizzard. My main reason for this post is to talk about what I derived from the EOLUS session(s) - plural, because I also spent an hour or two there today. Before that though, here is the EOLUS conceptual architecture - not quite Zachman, but it works!

EOLUS as Think Tank
Perhaps the key philosophical driver for Eolus is to act as a think tank where creative minds can get together and explore how to apply Second Life as a vehicle for achieving a Better Planet. Some of this comes from the pioneering work being done by Implenia (one of the RL companies in the "EOLUS consortium") in the use of technology to improve building efficiency. But already ideas have been streaming in for using SL as a visualisation tool - for example: to illustrate solar water disinfection.

EOLUS as RL-SL Integration Solution
The think tank is a great idea, but is not unique within Second Life, which teems with forums and think tanks. However, where it wins out is in taking the visionary ideas from the think tank into practical implementation. There are already a number of integration points between SL and non-SL applications. However, the majority of these exist as "proofs of concept" and are aimed at improving personal communications between SL and internet-based applications. EOLUS takes the idea much further - into integration with large-scale business applications like SAP, the world-leading Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software. In this model, Second Life acts as a sophisticated 3D user interface (UI) that is able to display data from the back-end systems (eg: SAP) in ways that cannot be done with other UIs, employing the 3D environment to its full effect. By extension, Second Life can also accept commands or instructions that can be fed through to the back-end systems.

Let's consider an example: order processing. With EOLUS you can view and select items for purchase within Second Life. When you come to actaully request the items, an order is sent from Second Life to the SAP application, which returns an order reference. Thereafter, you can track your order's status from within Second Life, which gets the information in real time from the back-end SAP system. In effect, this is like using Second Life as a particularly powerful form of web browser.

Another example is in housing energy management. EOLUS can show you a house that has been modelled in Second Life. Data from various sensors in the corresponding Real Life house can be displayed in a readily understandable visual format in the Second Life model. Controls can be set on the model which are passed back to feedback devices in the Real Life house. Such controls could include thermostat settings, air-con settings and so forth. It is then a simple matter to replicate the model as many times as required to handle the energy management of an entire estate.

EOLUS as Virtual Operations Centre (VOC)
The housing energy management is a simple example of a virtual operations centre. However, far more complex operations centres can be constructed. In fact, pretty much any application or system (or set of applications or systems) that provides control information could be managed through a virtual operations centre. The visualisation of this information will depend on context - but Second Life provides a rich palette of options. One could model something akin to a RL operations centre (basically, walls of graphs, and alert lamps), but virtually any form of 2D or 3D visualisation that simplifies the system management could be constructed.

But why is this such a big deal? Two answers: first, this approach can be delivered at a fraction of the cost of a RL operations centre; second, as it is in a virtual world, accessible from across the globe, it can be manned around the clock at a fraction of the cost of a manned RL operations centre.

One point to bear in mind - this is not (yet) appropriate for mission-critical operations, as Second Life cannot yet provide the levels of availability needed for such operations. However, there are many scenaros in which a VOC could deliver improved management over other (more costly) solutions - indeed, scenarious in which a RL centre would not be feasible due to cost.

EOLUS as Enabling Technology
Concepts like the VOC rely on the ability to pass information between SL and non-SL applications. To this end, EOLUS have devised the Virtual Worlds Communication Interface (VWCI) - a combination of hardware and software that sits between SL and non-SL, and provides a common interface between them. There is actually a lot more to this than meets the eye, and I am awaiting more information from EOLUS about this. However, suffice it to say, this is an essential component for getting information in and out of Second Life.

And that's about it (for now). I am sure I have over-simplified some things, over-complicated others, and simply forgotten a whole lot more. However, to state my position on this - in its use of Second Life as a 3D User Interface, together with the VWCI, I think EOLUS have taken a massive leap toward 3D Internet.
Sorry about the paucity of pictures.... I promise I will get back on track with rich visuals very soon. But in the meantime, here's one showing the key companies participating in EOLUS:

Thanks to Eolus McMillan for his time and patience in trying to explain all this to me!


Nobody Fugazi said...

Dunno. I was there for the opening and it sat there.

Eolus One demonstrated the level of potential proportional to the size of it's group divided by the sigma of the metaverse.

While I would like to hope that it is useful, the fact that many groups have come into the spotlight promising to change the world and faded away leaves me pragmatic - which some would mistake for being jaded.

In the end, don't tell me what it can do. Show me.

Aleister Kronos said...

Ah... well put.

I should be this skeptical too, but I like the look of the architecture underpinning it, and reckon that it should be a go-er. It is a fairly straightforward concept - build a message framework, shove it thru WebSphere and stick what you like at the back-end. You then need the transforms to make it tick... and this is largely off-the-shelf for the big apps (like SAP or Siebel).

PortSeven said...

I also like the name of the interface, Virtual Worlds Communication Interface it sound like it should be a standard!

If Linden have anything about them they should create this themselves and open it with the server code.