Spurred by development in computer science and network technology, the use of the Internet has been expanding exponentially. It is now extensively used as a connectivity and reference tool for numerous commercial, personal, and educational purposes. In education, the Internet opens a variety of new avenues and methodologies for enhancing the experience of learning as well as expanding educational opportunities for a larger pool of students. Specifically, distance education and non-traditional classrooms have the capability to reach more students using specialized instruction and self-paced learning. In the area of distance education, many Web-based real time experimentation systems have been reported in the literature (Ando, Graziani, & Pitrone, 2003; Daponte, Grimaldi, & Marinov, 2002; Ko, Chen, Chen et al., 2000; Ko et al., 2001; Kumar, Sridharan, & Srinivasan, 2002; Yeung & Huang, 2003). These Internet-based remote laboratories allow users or students to carry out physical experimental work at their own pace anytime anywhere. They generally require very little physical space and minimal manpower to maintain, and are ideal for the sharing of expensive equipment. However, all these experimental systems can only provide 2D operation panels. Due to this limitation, the actual shapes of 3D instruments and equipment, some of which may have controls or display components on different sides, may not be possible to be reflected on the remote user’s client display window.
Although many 3D visualization schemes on the client side have been presented (Geroimenko & Geroimenko, 2000; Hobona, James, & Fairbairn, 2006; Nakano, Sato, Matsuo, & Ishimasa, 2000; Oellien, Ihlenfeldt, & Gasteiger, 2005; Osawa, Asai, Takase, & Saito, 2001; Ueda, 2006; Vormoor, 2001) and some additional collaborative functions have been proposed for communication amongst multiple remote users or between client and server (Bender, Klein, Disch, & Ebert, 2000; Engel, Hastreiter, Tomandl, et al., 2000; Nielsen, 2006; Zhuang, Chen, & Venter, 2000), applications and issues such as Web-based real time control and 3D-based monitoring have not been addressed. We present in this article the development of Web-based 3D real time experimentation using Java 3D visualization tools.
Among the various tools available, Java 3D is ideal from certain perspectives. Specifically, Java 3D is an efficient tool that provides a very flexible platform for building a wide range of Web-based three-dimensional graphics applications, and is becoming one of the most attractive tools for creating 3D user interfaces, 3D visualizations and virtual environments. It provides not only strong 3D programming but also excellent integration with previous version of Java components.
In comparison with other 3D virtual experimental systems, this chapter attempts to address all the important issues with an emphasis to provide a complete solution. Specifically, issues on connecting actual experimental instruments, real time data transmission, three-dimensional virtual scene and three-dimensional behaviors are addressed. These ensure that the user will get a more realistic feeling when operating and controlling three-dimensioanl experimental instruments as well as monitoring actual experimental results without any significant delay.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Web-Based 3D Navigation: The use of the mouse or keyboard to navigate in a Web-based three-dimensional virtual scene.
Web-Based 3D Visualization: A 3-dimensional scene display that can be accessed through normal Internet explorer such as IE or Netscape.
Web-Based Control: The control of instruments or apparatus through the Internet.
Web-Based 3D Picking: The use of the mouse to manipulate the controls of Web-based three-dimensional virtual or real instruments.
Web-Based Laboratory: A laboratory that typically involves physical experiments and that can be accessed remotely through the use of the Internet.
Online Experiment: An experiment that is running and controlled by a computer terminal.
Virtual Laboratory: A computer accessible laboratory which may be simulated by running a software package or which may involve real remote experimentation.