I have always been intrigued by the way in which Virtual Environments (VEs) can fool people into saying they are on the moon when they are actually in a laboratory. The notion of “Presence” started my collaboration with my colleague Prof Mel Slater on a small 4th framework INCO-DC EU project, and a number exchanges between students have taken place over the years. Presence outputs form a large portion of my recent publications.
A substantial part of my research over the past years has been on developing tools to support virtual reality authoring. I was the leader of an Innovation Fund project to produce such tools. The main problem we tackled was how to allow people who are domain experts but not programmers to script the interactions within a VE. We came up with a VE authoring methodology (CVEE), planning and management tool (FREND) and scripting tool called (CAVEAT at first and then VRDirect for the final version). These tools have been difficult to commercialize (now is not the time to write about the gap between research outputs and getting venture capital in South Africa). However the tools are being used internally and a book on the methodology is in preparation. I have listed an example of the applications produced as one of my best publications: Brown, Nunez, and Blake: “Using virtual reality to provide nutritional support to HIV+ women”, 2005. The SAN storytelling application was used to produce a VR experience that was integrated in the prestigious SAN exhibition space of the Iziko (South African) museum.