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Mitch Kapor: 3D cameras will make virtual worlds easier to use

Virtual worlds are hard to use, but the founder of Lotus 1-2-3 and the first investor in Linden Lab thinks that 3D cameras will make them much easier to navigate.

STANFORD, Calif.--Mitch Kapor, like many people, is well aware that virtual worlds are often very difficult to use.

The founder of Lotus 1-2-3, who also happens to be the first investor in Second Life publisher Linden Lab and its chairman, spoke at the Metaverse Roadmap meeting here today on the topic of what can be done to make using virtual worlds a better experience.

"I'm obsessed with what's going to make these things easier to use," Kapor said, his face lit with excitement. "I think a piece of hardware is involved."

And that hardware? 3D cameras, he said.

Martin LaMonica/CNET Networks

The idea, he suggested, is that 3D cameras would be able to provide a new kind of input as to what users are doing at any given moment.

He said that the today's graphical user interface standard input, a mouse and keyboard, don't really make that much sense, but that people don't question it because there's no alternative.

But he pointed to the futuristic graphical display made famous in Steven Spielberg's Minority Report that allowed Tom Cruise's character to move information around on a screen with his hands.

"Look at Minority Report," Kapor said. "I'm here to say that (technology is) going to be real in the next (few) years."

In fact, he said, he predicted that 3D cameras, which would be built into computers much like regular 2D cameras are today, will be available in as little as 12 months.

Basically, 3D cameras would allow the virtual world software to interpret how users are moving in the real-world and to translate that movement into the software. That could mean, then, that if the user raises his or her hand, so too does their avatar.

Kapor said he wasn't clear on what the interface would be like, but he suggested it could be based on something like that of the Segway, in which users move their body forward and the Segway goes forward, backward to go backward, and so forth.

"So, if I look to the left in the real world, I just want my avatar to look to the left," Kapor said. "If I smile, I just want my avatar to smile. The cameras should be good enough to pick that up. I think we're going to see an amazing jump in the sense of presence."

Another experiential improvement the cameras could offer, he said, could be a better way to edit 3D objects.

"It's going to change how editing is done in 3D worlds," he said, "if you can reach in and grab the handles of an object and pull them out with your hands and extend or change the shape of the object."

To demonstrate the value of the cameras, Kapor said he has a prototype already and is planning, within a few months, to start putting up a series of videos shot with it onto YouTube.

All told, the 3D camera could well make up one of the components of the augmented reality piece of the Metaverse Roadmap document that the Accelerating Studies Foundation put out last year.

For now, though, it's too early to tell if Kapor's excitement will be matched by a real-life manifestation of the technology. But with someone like Kapor, who has a stellar track record of picking successful technology and institutions--he helped found the Electronic Frontier Foundation and is the founding chairman of the Mozilla Foundation--you have to give him the benefit of the doubt.