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Collaborative Virtual ENvironments

Objective

COVEN aims at developing a computational service for teleworking and virtual presence. The overall objective of the project is to provide the facilities needed to support future cooperative teleworking systems and to demonstrate the added value of networked VR for both professional users and home users.
COVEN is developing a general platform for Collaborative Virtual Environments (CVEs), providing the application-level services needed to support the implementation of these CVEs. The development of the COVEN platform is driven by the needs of two CVE applications addressing professional and home users.
The general result of the project will be a comprehensive understanding of the different issues and requirements in the design and realisation of shared virtual environments, at the different network, distribution, runtime services and application levels, in both professional and citizen contexts. Foreseen achievements specifically include:
A set of runtime services supporting the realisation of CVE applications, integrated within a networked VR platform; a set of techniques specifically addressing scalability at services as well as distribution architecture levels.
Two CVE application demonstrators, in both home user and professional contexts.
A model of network traffic requirements for these kinds of applications.
A human factors evaluation of the usability and added value of this technology.
Active contributions to the DIS, VRML and MPEG4-SNHC standardisation processes.

A first cycle of development was recently completed, with first versions of the COVEN applications, services and platform now available, together with first results regarding networking requirements; this work is disseminated through a set of papers, public reports and video (check our web site, http://chinon.thomson-csf.fr/coven/).
Expected Impact
COVEN will contribute through its achievements to the development of future collaborative (tele)work and communication systems, both for the professional and the home users.
The project will develop an understanding of the general requirements of future networking protocols to support these kinds of systems.
The development of an integrated COVEN platform, based on Division Ltd's dVS, will maintain a strong European presence in the future of the VE marketplace.
The project will also strengthen European involvment in key international standards.

Snapshot from the travel arrangement demonstrator: virtual flight over Rhodes

Snapshot from the business-oriented scenario: collaborative 3D spreadsheet

Main contributions to the programme objectives:
Main deliverables
Software and hardware for distributed virtual reality (DVR) - the project held extensive trials of networked VR services for a range of applications
Contribution to the programme
Usability guidelines and key statistical data on network traffic for DVR systems - this work provided a sound basis for future generation systems

Technical Approach
COVEN is a four-year project starting 1st of October, 1995. To realise its objectives, COVEN is:
Developing a powerful networked VR platform based on dVS, an existing commercial VR platform from Division Ltd. Developments are fed by exploratory prototyping experiences gained using the DIVE research platform of the Swedish Institute of Computer Science.
Developing models and techniques for supporting scalable interactivity in CVEs; this includes developments in VE distribution schemes and VE structuring models, exploiting spatial and semantic coherence of VEs and investigating variable complexity models for highly dynamic objects.
Developing and integrating advanced graphics techniques to support the visualisation of dynamic objects, in particular representation of humans, autonomous agents and crowds.
Developing and integrating techniques for speech and multi-modal interaction as a support for 'natural' interaction within immersive multi-participant virtual environments.
Designing and developing two CVE applications using this platform: a business-oriented application supporting different scenarios of teleconferencing, collaborative design and travel rehearsal activities, and a citizen-oriented travel arrangement application using the Island of Rhodes as example target destination.
Conducting trials with these applications to establish the networking requirements of such technology and to uncover critical human factors issues which need to be addressed if it is to be developed successfully.
Addressing contribution to the DIS, VRML and also MPEG4-SNHC standardisation processes so that these standards may be developed with a view to supporting future commercial and public oriented CVE applications; members of the consortium now are firmly involved in all three standardisation processes.
Disseminating results through scientific publications, workshops and public demonstrations, including the ACTS Concertation chains (SID chain) and domains (Multimedia Services Domain, sub-domain 1).

The project builds upon a set of existing platforms and experiences which result from field trials across a range of different networks. Our technical approach centres on three cycles of design, development, experimentation and dissemination.
Summary of Trial
COVEN networking trials are based on the enhanced version of the commercially available European VR platform dVS, and involve National Hosts over the UK, The Netherlands, France, Sweden, Greece and Switzerland.
The trials will be carried out in three distinct phases, based on different versions of the demonstrator applications, making an extensive use of ISDN in all phases and introducing ATM in phases 2 and 3. At each trial phase, both an assessment of network performances and a Human Factors evaluation will be performed.
Our current network assessment trial phase is focusing on a subset of five COVEN sites over the UK and The Netherlands. It is measuring the characteristics of the network traffic generated by the initial applications in use over these five sites, and combining these with network emulation techniques in order to understand: how existing network technologies such as ISDN and ATM might best be deployed to support these kinds of applications; the general requirements of future networking protocols to support these kinds of applications.
Our current usage evaluation trial phase is being developed as a set of experimental case-control studies, to assess the extent of the realisation of the goals of the initial applications. Two approaches are planned: assessment of the degree to which the applications work in themselves that is, is it possible for participants to carry out the tasks as specified in those applications; formal experimental studies to examine the efficacy of the applications with regards to presence and performance.
Key Issues
COVEN is a unique project which brings together a wide range of expertise on communication infrastructures, CSCW, Virtual Environments, Human-Computer Interaction and VR animation to provide support for a European distributed virtual environment.
The COVEN applications encompass both the high-end and low-end of the spectrum of VR applications.
Target key issues are: collaboration support within VEs (including awareness, communication, group interaction, etc.); corresponding requirements at network and runtime services level (involving concern for scalability and continuous media support); related Human Factors aspects.
Key issues also involve the contribution to current standardisation efforts (DIS, VRML, MPEG4).

Funding Scheme

CSC - Cost-sharing contracts

Coordinator

Thomson-Csf Lcr
Address
Domaine De Corbeville
91404 Orsay
France

Participants (11)

Arax Ltd
United Kingdom
Division Ltd
United Kingdom
Integrated Information Systems Ltd
Greece
KPN Research
Netherlands
Swedish Institute of Computer Science
Sweden
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology - EPFL
Switzerland
TNO-FEL
Netherlands
Univ. College London
United Kingdom
Univ. of Geneva
Switzerland
Univ. of Nottingham
United Kingdom
University of Lancaster
United Kingdom
Address
Bailrigg
LA1 4YW Lancaster