Earth isn’t the only world with an IEEE presence. IEEE has launched a vibrant community in Second Life, a 3-D virtual world in which “residents” establish identities, explore, and communicate with others. Second Life is one of the most popular online worlds, with more than 15 million members. IEEE has added its presence so its members can do IEEE kinds of things there. For example, they can set up virtual meetings (complete with PowerPoint presentations and video), check out a student branch’s robot-building project, learn about IEEE standards, and chat with other members.
IEEE has two “islands,” Second Life’s term for its geographic regions. Each island has its own IEEE departments, devoted, for example, to IEEE.tv, IEEE standards, and the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society. Members and staff created the islands and everything in them.
IEEE certainly isn’t the only organization involved with Second Life. Hundreds of companies, including Michelin, IBM, and Xerox, have a presence there, allowing their employees to meet through the site’s interactive environment instead of flying around the globe for real-world conferences. Likewise, IEEE regions, sections, societies, student branches, and other units can hold their meetings in Second Life. What’s more, they don’t have to acquire special Web conferencing software which, unlike Second Life, is typically not free. However, they must get used to seeing each other not “in the flesh,” so to speak, but as lifelike but cartoonish avatars, Second Life’s stand-ins for real people.
Setting yourself up in Second Life is not hard. All you need do is register for a free account (see “Starting Your Second Life”).
WORLDS TO CONQUER Once you’re a Second Life member, you can start exploring your new virtual world. IEEE’s Island 1 features a conference auditorium, the IEEE Standards Association “campus,” an IEEE.tv “tower,” and a place, called a sandbox, where you can practice your design skills by building anything you desire, including robots. Built into the virtual world’s software is a 3D modeling tool based on simple geometric shapes that can be constructed into more complex objects. Users can add functions to the objects allowing, for example, a robot to move. Another feature is what amounts to a media studio, where you can view videos and presentations on any subject members have posted.
In Island 1’s conference auditorium you can run an IEEE meeting the same way you would a Web conference. Participants sit at their own computers, connected to others via the Internet. You can upload PowerPoint presentations or video clips, or forward documents. You can speak to other members—if there’s a microphone in your computer—or communicate through your keyboard. But like a real-world Web conference, Second Life conferences require organizing—things such as notifying members about your meeting (by e-mail, for example), inviting speakers to give presentations, and choosing the virtual room where the meeting will be held. When it’s time for the conference to begin, members’ avatars need to show up at the right location.
At the standards campus you can learn about IEEE standards, download some, and discuss them with others. The IEEE.tv tower has four theaters that continuously play IEEE.tv programs. The sandbox area is where you can practice how to use Second Life’s design tools. You’ll also find links to online resources that explain how to use the tools.
Island 2 features general-purpose “parcels” where IEEE sections and societies can establish their own Second Life presence, and “villas” for members.
LEAD SOCIETY The IEEE Robotics and Automation Society was the first society to set itself up in the virtual world. Its parcel holds general information about the society, as well as announcements of upcoming events. Visitors are likely to bump into autonomous robots—designed by society members—that are left to wander around the parcel. If you want to design a robot of your own, tutorials can show you how. Other IEEE societies and sections are invited to follow the lead of the Robotics and Automation Society and set up parcels. It’s yet another venue for them to hold meetings and get the word out about themselves.
IEEE designed 12 villas for members to occupy without having to design their own buildings—which can be a time-consuming process. In the villas, members can do whatever they like—hold meetings, have virtual robotics competitions, and do virtually anything they can think of.
On your registration form, you’re asked to choose an avatar from among a dozen figures—your virtual incarnation—whose appearance you can modify after you register. Once Second Life is downloaded and installed, open the application and log in. Several tutorials explain how Second Life is played.
Here’s how to find the IEEE islands: