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ODU Professor Ahmed Noor Writes Cover Story for National Mechanical Engineering Society Magazine

Old Dominion University engineering professor Ahmed Noor has written the cover article in this month's Mechanical Engineering, the American Society of Mechanical Engineering's trade journal.

The piece, titled "Disruption from the Virtual World," hits on the themes that Noor and his team use to guide their research at ODU's groundbreaking Center for Advanced Engineering Environments (CAEE), of which Noor is the director.

"Immersive, interactive simulated environments are no longer merely the purview of video gaming. They have the potential to remake fundamental engineering practices," writes Noor, an Eminent Scholar and the William E. Lobeck Professor of Aerospace Engineering at ODU.

The six-page article starts out by noting that "virtual" shares its root with "virtue," a word whose original meaning denoted strength.

Virtual worlds have been created for decades. Noor writes that aficionados of the popular game Dungeons and Dragons sat around a table and conjured up imaginary worlds where characters cooperate to solve problems.

"Today, the widespread availability of powerful (Internet technology) has introduced large numbers of people to virtual worlds animated in 3-D, and delivering advantages of communication and idea exchange not possible in the real world," Noor writes.

Noor writes that immersive and interactive simulations could become an invaluable tool for doing real-time analysis with multiple participants in different locations, virtual prototypes to cut down on the cost of making real trial items, and can be invaluable in workforce training because the hands-on aspect of immersive simulations keeps young people who have grown up with video games engaged in the process.

And it's not just video gamers who are using the technology. Noor writes that in 2009, revenues from virtual worlds will reach an estimated $19.3 billion. Within the decade, he surmises, virtual worlds could rival the movie industry.

The real value of virtual worlds in an academic setting is that they provide a highly compelling distance learning environment, Noor writes. "They enable interactive, engaging and collaborative learning by simulating physical environments and real-life experiences." Noor said that more than 300 colleges and universities around the world have created virtual campuses, and the advances in technology will only make these immersive environments more common, and more compelling.

In the future, Noor says, the continued merging of the real and virtual worlds has the potential of transforming the Internet into a 360-degree, multisensory 3-D immersive experience, an ecosystem of sorts - providing the developers of virtual worlds limitless opportunities to shape the scale and appearance of the world, the capabilities of its avatars, even the laws of physics.

"A virtual world is like a blend, after all, of play and work," Noor's article concludes. "It offers a rich range of features, as well as an engaging and exciting environment for collaborative invention of new products."

This article was posted on: November 5, 2009

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