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Try on clothes as fast as you can browse them. Attend conferences and meetings without actually being there. Play with pink dolphins without getting wet. Lester Kok finds out how you can enter this virtual realm of possibilities at NTU's Institute for Media Innovation

About the Institute for Media Innovation

This international centre at NTU conducts advanced research in the multidisciplinary field of interactive digital media. Housed here is the BeingThere Centre, where prototypes of advanced 3D communication technologies are being developed by researchers from NTU, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich in Switzerland and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the United States. Such "telepresence" and "telecollaboration" systems create the effect of "being there" when one is actually not. The work done could revolutionise human interaction across space in sectors such as travel, training and healthcare.

Immersive Room (left)
This state-of-the-art room lets you interact with your virtual environment in a truly life-like fashion. For example, here you can enter a watery world with pink dolphins as part of a game that teaches social skills. You can also experience what it is like to coordinate an evacuation from a disaster zone. These highly realistic interactions are made possible with the help of a motion capture system that records your real-time position. You'll feel like you're right in the thick of the action, thanks to the room's 320-degree seamless rounded screen that blurs the line between virtual and reality.

Chloe
The next time you walk into NTU, you may be greeted by Chloe, our very own virtual receptionist. A virtual human with facial expressions like the rest of us, she recognises faces and gestures, remembers past conversations and can even chat with you. She is also able to memorise and analyse your habits and store the data in her memory.

Maven
You can now attend overseas conferences without leaving the comfort of your office, thanks to MAVEN (short for Mobile Avatar for Virtual Engagement by NTU). Designed and built by Assoc Prof Gerald Seet, MAVEN lets you move around on a mobile platform at a human walking speed, while establishing your presence with the use of an LED screen, speakers and a microphone. It's as good as being there in person.

3D Virtual Try-On
Shop but don't drop. Just be a virtual fashionista and try on clothes with a few clicks of the mouse. Developed by the Director of the Institute for Media Innovation, Prof Nadia Magnenat-Thalmann, a pioneer in virtual humanity, the technology lets you see how a garment will fit in real life. This is done with the help of your personal avatar, an exact animated replica of your body based on your measurements. As your virtual counterpart moves, observe how the garment drapes over your body. Designers will also like this invention as they can save on creating physical samples, thus benefiting from a shorter design cycle.

Mobile Animatronics Telepresence System
In the near future, if you are ill and in need of urgent medical attention, don't be alarmed if your physician does not pay you a visit. An animatronic avatar that captures his likeness may show up instead. The avatar can project a person's face on its head and copy his or her head movements. You basically see what it sees and it mimics your facial gestures. Future upgrades include movable and controllable hands and legs, potentially allowing doctors to use the avatar as an intermediary.