Architectures for 3D Virtual Environments

Architectures for 3D Virtual Environments

Thiago Pereira Rique (Federal Rural University of the Semiarid Region, Brazil), Samara Martins Nascimento (Federal University of Ceará, Brazil), Rodrigo da Cruz Fujioka (Federal University of Pernambuco, Brazil) and Fernando da Fonseca de Souza (Federal University of Pernambuco, Brazil)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0125-1.ch005
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Abstract

A very important aspect in the development of systems that allow access to virtual environments is their architecture, along with both the requirements and the type of offered services, once they significantly affect the design of an application. The concept of architecture refers to how the components that constitute a software system are arranged, their interfaces and relationships. Thus, this chapter aims to present and discuss different architectures that can be used in the development of 3D virtual environments. The first architecture addresses issues about the design of virtual environments for educational purposes with the goal of making collaborative e-learning services available. The second architecture proposes a modular structure for the development of 3D virtual environments that support collaboration, remote experiments and content adaptation. Lastly, the third architecture presents issues related to the sharing and management of 3D virtual environments, making use of software reuse techniques combined with web services.
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Introduction

3D virtual environments can be described as interactive environments, consisting of 3D objects and being generated in real time by a computer system. This technology aims at simulating real environments or building imaginary environments, and allows one or more users to interact through the visualization and manipulation of objects, expanding the sensory system (Kirner & Kirner, 2011; Martins, Gomes, & Guimarães, 2015).

Through the use of virtual reality (VR) techniques, the virtual environments have emerged as an attractive tool for the development of more dynamic and realistic interfaces to the user. Some research in artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual environments has shown that the integration between these areas represents a strong trend. Aylett and Luck pointed the following factors as the motivators of this integration (as cited in Osório et al., 2004, p. 240): first, a greater computer processing power has made it possible not only the development of visual realism, but also the inclusion of an intelligent layer in such environments; second, the incentive given to the development of 3D environments due to the increasing availability of 3D graphics libraries and standards; and third, AI techniques have been constantly improved and explored in the interactions between users and the environment.

In this sense, the purpose of the integration between these areas is the development of virtual environments capable of exploring, with a certain degree of intelligence, the use of entities and the effective ways of their graphical representations, besides taking into account different forms of interaction (Osório et al., 2004). Therefore, it is intended to provide these environments with a greater dynamism, realism and usability.

One of the most promising uses of VR technology is the employment of virtual environments in collaborative e-learning. Many studies have been performed in the area of networked virtual environments for sharing of events, but little emphasis has been given to research on specific services and functionality (Bouras & Tsiatsos, 2006).

It is also known that educators around the world have invested a lot of time and resources in research which aims to analyze the pedagogical potential of technologies that have captured their attention, such as 3D games, simulations and virtual worlds. It can be considered that the continued development of and investment in 3D virtual environments for educational purposes can revolutionize the way distance (and traditional) learning is performed. These technologies have caused a great impact on higher education by providing an environment where learning can occur collaboratively (Lee, 2009; Moura, Bispo, Souza, & Ferreira, 2015).

With the aim of incorporating the advances of information technology to learning environments, various types of applications have been developed. Support for e-learning is already present in many systems, which use different types of learning methods implemented through the use of different technologies (Bouras, Triglianos, & Tsiatsos, 2014). In addition, there is a variety of virtual environments that provide different services and functionalities.

In this context, 3D virtual environments have been applied in various areas, being potentially used in entertainment, education and simulation. Each area in which these environments can be applied has its characteristics in terms of functionality and way of use, which must be strongly taken into consideration during the 3D virtual environment development process.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA): A type of software architecture whose fundamental principle is based on the fact that an application’s functionality should be made available in the form of services.

SCollab Core: A framework that provides all the infrastructure necessary for developing Java EE applications capable of connecting to social networks, providing solutions for handling issues such as data persistence, transactions control, security, among others.

Collaborative Virtual Environment (CVE): A virtual reality system capable of supporting collaboration and interaction among multiple participants geographically distributed.

Virtual Learning Environment (VLE): A web-based application that provides a set of teaching and learning tools designed to improve a student’s learning experience.

Mixed Reality: A specialization of augmented reality with focus on mixing simulations (virtual elements) with reality (real elements).

Web Service: A software-based solution for system integration and communication between different applications.

Multi-Agents System (MAS): A computer system in which two or more agents work together to perform certain tasks or to meet a set of objectives.

Educational Virtual Environment (EVE): A CVE with focus on education and collaboration. Interchangeable Components: a strategy for building scenarios with both real and virtual components for education.

Learning Object (LO): A web-based tool that provides support to the interactive learning of a given concept, facilitating the cognitive process of learners in virtual environments.

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