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January 27, 2012

New Tool Aims To Slash Costs of Creating Virtual Worlds

By KRISTIN QUINN

Lockheed Martin’s Virtual World Labs is developing an Internet framework meant to promote interoperability among and lower the cost of creating virtual worlds.

“Building simulations today is unnecessarily complex and costly,” said Richard Boyd, who helped create Virtual World Labs, Lockheed’s workshop for computer gaming and virtual worlds.

Called the Virtual World Framework, Lockheed’s architecture will ultimately be a multiuser virtual training environment that is scalable, interoperable, secure and consistent on all platforms, from mobile devices and laptops to desktop computers and holodecks. The goal is to increase democratization, lower barriers to participation, and increase experimentation and innovation.

Boyd said the effort could revolutionize the use of virtual worlds for training.

“We want to do for simulation what Mosaic and Netscape did for publishing” on the web, he said.

In the summer of 2010, the office of the U.S. defense undersecretary for personnel and readiness asked industry to help improve the interoperability of virtual worlds for training. About 30 companies pursued the contract, and it was awarded to Lockheed Martin in the same year.

At the time, Boyd recalled, Frank DiGiovanni, the undersecretary’s director for training readiness and strategy, said he wasn’t interested in “big, Lock-Mart type companies” for this project.

But Boyd and his team did not come up in the defense industry. He joined Lockheed in 2007, when it acquired his computer gaming company, 3Dsolve. Boyd’s team set out to create what he describes as “a system with all the best the internet has to offer,” and throughout the process visited several Internet companies to determine how to pull existing technologies together.

Boyd said the new framework could disrupt the entire training and simulation community, including Lockheed. But, he said, things will inevitably evolve in this direction, and it is better for Lockheed to be leading rather than following.

The biggest outstanding question is how the framework will be used once it’s ready.

“It’s not complete unless you have the business ecosystem as well,” Boyd said.

At I/ITSEC 2011 Boyd presented a paper, co-authored with Lockheed’s David Smith, titled, “The Virtual World Ecosystem Framework,” on how to define a plan that will encourage the ecosystem’s growth.

Boyd noted that Lockheed has designed and is now building the kernel — the software heart — for this new environment, but he said no single company should build out the entire system. His company is working with other companies, government and academia to determine the rules for this new virtual world technology.

Instead, he predicts it will be a “massively parallel contribution system,” and compares it to a garden, or a site such as Wikipedia, that will require validation.

“We need to buy things and value them in a different way,” he said.

Boyd said the timing for this project couldn’t be better, with many services adopting virtual training environments and the Pentagon facing tighter budgets.