SINGAPORE: Virtual 3D S'pore now on the way

Media Development Authority reviews proposals for a virtual Singapore described as "Google Maps meets Second Life'

The Straits Times
Monday, April 28, 2008

By Alfred Siew

Walk through a library, pick up a book and read it on-screen. Or, cheer on athletes with thousands of fans at the Youth Olympics without even being at the stadium.

Soon, Internet users will be able to walk through and interact with an online version of Singapore specially created for the computer screen.

The promise comes from an ambitious project to re-create not just the streets and buildings here but the experience of being in Singapore -- in an online 3D world.

The Media Development Authority (MDA) is currently reviewing several proposals from the industry to build this virtual city, called Co-Space. Some of these proposals will be presented at an industry event this evening.

The realm could let users explore famous places, like Fort Canning, talk to Singaporeans who are also logged on, and be an online spectator during the Youth Olympics in 2010.

It will allow people to chat in online forums and explore a 3D world like that in Second Life, the popular virtual domain that lets people 'walk' through streets with their avatars, or characters, and interact.

But unlike Second Life, the Singapore version will be based on reality, not fantasy. MDA deputy chief executive Michael Yap called it 'Google Maps meets Second Life.'

Though the concept has been around since the early days of the Web, higher broadband speeds and faster computers churning out realistic 3D graphics have made such an online world possible now.

Fifty firms, from budding online-world developers to telecom operators have come forward since the MDA first sought proposals for the realm last month.

Mr Yap declined to reveal the sum set aside for the new 'online Singapore' project, but said that MDA would strongly back companies that created much-needed infrastructure.

The agency is prepared to fund more than 50 per cent of costs incurred in creating the software to build the online world, or for planting cameras or sensors in the real world to capture scenes that can be used online.

The funds come from $500 million set aside for interactive and digital media, an area considered strategic to Singapore.

Though no government deadlines have been set for the project, Mr Yap envisions the Youth Olympics in 2010 as a chance to let a global audience see Singapore -- without being here physically.

For example, they may be able to visit a virtual stadium, which will show video feeds of live events.

The same concept is being pursued by several government agencies also involved in the Co-Space project.

The National Library Board, for example, is looking at a fully interactive library where people can not just walk through the shelves virtually, but meet, say, a fellow fan of poet Ted Hughes.

Mr Terence Mak, head of Amazing Worlds, a local start-up bidding to work on the Singapore project, said videos and indeed the entire library archive, can be accessed this way in future.

'Instead of just reading and typing on the Net now, you can also 'see' and maybe even 'touch' people online because everyone will have a character or avatar,' he predicted.

'Who knows, it may even be the way to meet people in the future.'