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Memorial University in Newfoundland, Canada, has taken distance learning to a new level with major parts of courses being taught in Second Life. In May 2009, Memorial received an award for a course called Marine Production Management that uses Second Life to help students understand the process of designing and constructing a shipyard. According to Memorial University, using virtual worlds has helped keep the students engaged in the material, as well as enhancing their understanding of the scale of the systems they're designing. Memorial uses Second Life in several distance learning classes and is currently running its own "Island" campus where students can attend classes. Memorial provides several videos ( www.distance.mun.ca/media/files/secondlife) that give a glimpse into the future of education.
Figure 1 Memorial University. This figure shows a screen shot of the Second Life island used in Memorial University's Marine Production Management course.
Metaio Augmented Reality Solutions in Munich, Germany, has just produced an iPhone application to help furnish your house called iLiving ( www.metaio.com/design). The process is straightforward: take a photo of a room, then select from 25 pieces of furniture and place it in the photo. Don't trust your own design skills? Just shake the phone and it will randomly lay your virtual furniture out in a new configuration. Seems a lot easier than moving that heavy bed around! The reviews in Apple's Application Store reveal interesting new uses, like how would a sofa look on the subway?
Figure 2 iLiving. Virtual furniture makes redecorating a snap.
Hot on the heels of other specialized controllers for video games like Guitar Hero, Activision is poised to take the virtual world one step closer to reality. The new game Tony Hawk: Ride, bearing the name of the most famous skateboarder of all time, will feature a new skateboard controller. Details are still sketchy, but it looks like what one might expect—a big skateboard-like platform. Robomodo is developing the game with an expected release of sometime next year. What we're wondering is: shouldn't kids just go outside with a real skateboard?
Figure 3 Tony Hawk: Ride. Catching some virtual air.
The nPower Personal Energy Generator (PEG) can supply you with a green and completely renewable power source for all your communication and entertainment needs. Using this device, you can generate power to charge your cell phone or MP3 player using your everyday motion. Just plug a device into the PEG and put them both in your backpack, purse, or briefcase and go about your business. The up-and-down motion of your walking creates kinetic energy that's used to power your handheld device. The system charges devices at about the same rate as a wall charger. The company estimates that you can recharge the typical device to about 80 percent with only about one hour of walking. The PEG weighs about 9 ounces, generates 4 watts, and is expected to cost around US$150.
The Bomo Baby Carriage ( www.gitc21.net/co/kbae8100/GC01272446/CA01272447/indoor_Robot_Baby_Carriage.html) is the world's first robotic baby carriage. Users can program the Bomo to follow a parent around the house, theoretically keeping a clingy baby happily near mom while allowing mom to get other things done. It also acts as a (horizontal) swing, gently rocking the baby to and fro. As the baby grows, the baby can use it like a car, with a steering wheel and an accelerator pedal. The Bomo is smart enough to avoid hitting obstacles no matter how poor the driver sitting behind the wheel. Korea's BMGK manufactures the Bomo, which retails for just under US$800.
Figure 4 nPower Personal Energy Generator (PEG). The small device brings new meaning to "power walking."
This issue we say farewell to Mark Corner, who's served as coeditor of this department for nearly two years. Thank you, Mark. We also cover several virtual reality tools as well as a few new devices. We found a distance education application in Second Life particularly intriguing, especially considering the impact this technology could have on future education. A new iPhone application will reduce the pain of moving heavy furniture only to discover that you don't particularly like the new layout. Likewise, a new skateboarding game will take the pain out of falling, and could prevent numerous scars on elbows and knees, as well as broken bones. On the device front, we liked an upcoming device that will generate enough power to recharge a cell phone while you work out at the gym or walk to work. Finally, we highlight a robotic baby carriage that young parents with clingy infants might want to have a look at, though we must admit questioning the wisdom of this application of robotics. Please continue to send pointers to upcoming products with exciting possibilities, your feedback on existing products, and your personal experiences with them (your name will be included with your review). Email us at email@example.com.
—Mark Corner and Maria R. Ebling