Siggraph 99 Web3D Round Up Entry
(Karen Marcelo/SRL)

South Park Teaser: What Is Real

Survival Research Labs Event in conjunction with Web98: An Experiment In Real Time 3D Web-based TeleRobotics Applications For Disrupting Community In The Real World

Using an over the top, 3D, animated and navigable interface to actuate an extreme and intense real-world physical event we thought was a good use for combining all the (at the time) state of the art web technology which was VRML, Java, real-time streaming audio and video, and wireless networking, all in one application just to see if we could.

People often extoll the virtues of virtual worlds for providing virtual communities. While this is a great solution to bring distant people together, it tends to also isolate people who are in close proximity physically.

In order to get the best of both worlds, this experiment succeeded in allowing remote users to create a spectacle to draw out people in close proximity and show them that the Real World can be just as compelling as their Virtual Worlds. What better place to do this than South Park, San Francisco: Ground Zero for multimedia and web companies immersed in their virtual worlds.

Quite possibly the first civilian application using free software to develop a multi-user, tele-operated disruption system deployed over the web, Survival Research Labs succeeded in getting web artists and engineers out of their cubicles in San Francisco's Multimedia Gulch to check out Real Reality.

Using a VRML interface that connects to a multi-threaded, multi-user Java server via the VRML External Authoring Interface (EAI) and TCP/IP, users at Web98 held at Moscone Center got to interact with the Epileptic Bot modeled by Out of the Blue Design Inc. by clicking on it's parts. This sent commands over the web and through a wireless network to actuate the various parts of the robot. Another control was used to pan the camera mounted on a machine called the Flame Whistle -powered by a Boeing Minesweeper engine, it is quite possibly the loudest flamethrower ever made. Java buttons were used to switch cameras mounted on the Epileptic Bot and the Flame Whistle and also synchronized the viewpoints in the VRML scene.

Users could aim at the Epileptic Bot and press the Fire button that caused the Flame Whistle to blow a plume of fire around the bot and burn off it's 'flesh'. Users got real-time (or close to real-time) audio and visual feedback of what was going on in the real world via NetMeeting.

During setup and after the bot had been burned, users could play around and navigate the virtual version of the actual location of the event using one of the very first VRML models created -Virtual SOMA by Planet 9.

  1. Streaming video optimized for 28.8 can be viewed here.   You'll need G2 Real Player to see this
  2. Streaming video optimized for 56.6 can be viewed here.   You'll need G2 Real Player to see this
  3. Streaming video optimized for DSL can be viewed here.   You'll need G2 Real Player to see this
  1. Images of the 3D and 2D UI can be viewed here.
  2. Images of the actual machines actuated by remote users can be seen here.
    VRML/Java Interface (requires VRML97 or better browser and Java 1.1 or better VM)
  1. The actual VRML version of the UI that one can navigate can be found here.

Since this was written in early '98 it is best viewed using Netscape 4.04 and Cosmo 2.0 with a Java 1.1 VM. Newer versions of the software as well as Worldview can be used as well but that animted flame GIF will not be seen in the newer versions of the software.

More information regarding the entire project can be found here.

Many thanks to:

  • Mark Pauline / m a r k p [at] s r l [.] o r g - Director SRL, Robot Creator
  • Karen Marcelo / k a r e n (at) s r l (dot) o r g - Java/VRML/Network Programming, Web Server Setup
  • Eric Paulos / p a u l o s [at] s r l (.) o r g - Microcontroller Programming, 2-Way A/V Setup, Wireless Network Setup
  • Marc Anthony Slayton / m a r c [@] o m n i b o t . c o m - Wireless Network Setup

Video Editing and Post-production: Diana DeFrancesco
Video footage from: