When I got my first SGI Workstation, an Indy, there were
many cool new things to play with and explore on the machine,
and the Cosmo VRML suite was among them. At the time there was no such thing
on other platforms, not that I'd ever come across anyway.
I created numerous models and worlds, some of which I have
managed to collect together here for your delectation and
Virtual Reality Modelling Language
This is the technology developed by SGI in the 1990's,
and is still around today under the heading of Web3D
It's simplicity is the key - much like HTML it is a
descriptive text language which is interpreted and
rendered by the client software, in this case either
a web browser
plugin or stand-alone player. Scene
files can be quite large, but there is an import
facility so models and connecting scenes need not be
loaded all at once, only when needed; this has the added
bonus that if a model needs updating or changing it can
easily be done without altering the main scene file.
Normally models are created in some form of modelling
software and saved as a VRML file, though it is perfectly
possible to hand code simple models and scenes with a text editor.
Graphics and other media files such as ambient sounds can
be created in any appropriate application, and will be loaded
at run time or as required.
Some VRML History
SGI stopped development of VRML some years ago, Computer
Associates acquired the Cosmo technology (SGI's VRML
development suite) but
did nothing with it and have now removed it from
their website all together. Cosmo Worlds is still available
from the SGI website, however it is only for SGI IRIX.
There is still a following on the internet for the Web3D
ISO standard X3D, touted as the successor to VRML, and
numerous key people have kept the
concept alive (one of whome worked on VRML
at SGI - Tony Parisi). X3D is backwards compatible with
the original VRML format, which is why we're still able to
view old scenes such as mine - thank you Web3D for that!
There is an excellent
website which is all about interface design and the sort
of things VRML was originally developed for, I find this very
encouraging to see, and with organisations like this around I feel
the VRML spirit will live on for some time to come; also on this
website they have information about browser
plugins and players that
you will need in order to view VRML/X3D scenes.
I think 3D interface technology will become much more
common place, probably replacing things like light switches
with touch-screen consoles to control lighting,
windows, curtains, thermostats etc, indeed I've seen
such touch-panel devices myself, but they're only just starting to make
appearances in the public eye as a normal thing to have;
these things could use plain 2D graphics, but why not use
cool 3D animations and transitions instead when they're so
easy to do!?
Also there are other applications - you can already
take a virtual tour of famous landmarks in great detail
from around the world from the comfort of your own desktop,
maybe in the future there could be more serious applications
such as keyhole surgery
via the web, or online training at least. It only takes a
small leap of imagination to mix and match technologies
and put them to good use!