M3D (Media 3D) A new programming language for web-based virtual reality in E-Learning &Edutainment Sepideh Chakaveh, Detlef Skaley, Patricia Lainé, Ralf Haeger, Soha Maad Interactive Television Competence Center (ITV) Fraunhofer Institute Media Communication, St.Augustin, D-53754 Germany ABSTRACT Today, interactive multimedia educational systems are well established, as they prove useful instruments to enhance one's learning capabilities. Hitherto, the main difficulty with almost all E-Learning systems was latent in the rich media implementation techniques. This meant that each and every system should be created individually as reapplying the media, be it only a part, or the whole content was not directly possible, as everything must be applied mechanically i.e. by hand. Consequently making E-learning systems exceedingly expensive to generate, both in time and money terms. Media-3D or M3D is a new platform independent programming language, developed at the Fraunhofer Institute Media Communication to enable visualisation and simulation of E-Learning multimedia content. M3D is an XML- based language, which is capable of distinguishing between the3D models from that of the 3D scenes, as well as handling provisions for animations, within the programme. Here we give a technical account of M3D programming language and briefly describe two specific application scenarios where M3D is applied to create virtual reality E-Learning content for training of technical personnel. Keywords: VR, Internet Programming Language, 3D Visualisation, XML, JAVA3D, SMIL, E-Learning, Edutainment. 1. INTRODUCTION Nowadays, Virtual Reality (VR) is regarded as technically well advanced. Technology alone, however can be of little use when appropriate application scenarios are not considered. Moreover E-Learning & Edutainment are new terminologies with gradually gathering acceptance as they evolve into wide spread applications areas in the field of information technology. Hitherto, the inherent problem with almost all E-Learning systems was latent in content implementation processes. This meant that each and every system should be created individually, as reapplying the content, be it only a part, or the whole courseware was not possible. Hence creation of E-Learning systems was regarded as very cumbersome and costly to generate. M3D is a new programming language, which creates interactive 3D Learning Content (LC) from any rich media using virtual reality techniques. This is both an innovative method to aid learning more effectively, as well as providing safe training practices where otherwise one could face hazardous operations or tasks. 2. CONCEPT M3D is a XML & JAVA3D based language, enabling an author with no or very little previous knowledge of JAVA programming, to define 3D Learning Objects (LO) with physical attributes. The 3D LCs are displayed through a Java3D-Applet, which is also launched through some HTML web site when accessed on the Internet. One of the M3D´s advanced capabilities is to distinguish between 3D- models and the 3D- scenes. In addition M3D caters for animations as well as simultaneous audio, video & text presentations. Here externally created or imported 3D object modules are deposited through an object library that can be both accessed and extended further when necessary. A large number of 3D data formats such as CAD objects, 3DStudioMax etc. can be directly imported into M3D. As for the scene definition, some tree-like structure similar to VRML or X3D languages is designed in the programme. To cater for parallel animations or any other functions, a SMIL type structure is also implemented. Finally one of M3D´s exclusive attributes is its provision to accommodate author defined simulation interfaces within the scene. 3. METHOD This section describes the technical features of the M3D language: • The structure of the language; • Model building in M3D; • The future research agenda for authoring M3D and porting it to an ITV platform. 3.1 The structure of M3D language M3D can be conceived as an XML based authoring of Java 3D. It is targeted for use by non-expert programmers having graphic design knowledge capabilities. The XML based M3D language consists of five main tags that embraces other nested corresponding tags, which include: • General tags (2 tags): these tags identify the M3D mark-up language and differentiate it from other extended mark-up languages (<M3D>---- </M3D). The general tags also include tags for comments. • Global data tags (7 tags): these tags gives a high level description of the features of the model developed using M3D, such as the browser setting, the imported files, the model directory path, the external scene files, the components used, the main scene description, and the actions involved in the model. • The component definition tags (2 tags): these tags identify a component in terms of its geometry. • The scene definition tags (7 tags): these tags identifies a scene in terms of its branch groups, its 3D transformation, its 3D shapes, the geometries included in the scene, the appearances of objects in the scene, the 3D font of texts in the scene, and the defined action buttons corresponding to this scene. • The action tags (18 tags): these tags help in defining the potential actions that can be applied to the objects in the scene. These actions include: parallel and sequential actions, translation, rotation, scaling, set transform parameters, set camera position, move camera, pause, execute action, stop action, playing a background sound, show/hide, set material, modify material, and simulation. Figure 1 depicts a similarity between the XML based M3D language and Java3D. This similarity highlights the XML authoring features of Java3D provided by M3D. <M3D> <External Scenefile="obj1.3DS" Virtual Universe def="Druck"/> <!—A comment --> <Component def="Druck_comp"> <BranchGroup> <Shape3D useExternal="Druck"/> local <Appearance> <Material specularColor="0 0 0"/> </Appearance> BG BG </BranchGroup> </Component> <Scene def="demo"> Shape 3D <Transform def="Test01"> node <Shape3D TG useExternal="Druck_comp"/> S View </Transform> Platform 3D scene </Scene> appearance geometry </M3D> M3D Scene Description Java 3D Scene Graph Figure 1. Creation of Java3D using M3D 3.2 Model building in M3D The steps for model building in M3D, for example in the case of industrial training content, consists of creating the geometry of machines using a graphical package (e.g. StudioMax, CAD, or VRML) and writing an M3D script for the machine description. The geometry of the machine may be formed of different components. Two types of files are to be created. The components files and the scene file. The components files are imported to the scene file. Note that we may import several components files, however a model is based on a single scene file. The component files hold the M3D description of the components geometry. The scene file stores information related to the interactivity features applied to the components. Figure 2 illustrates the M3D model building process. Get the Geometry Build M3D script Add the of the consisting of interactivity components in a components and features particular scene files Figure 2. Steps For Model Building in M3D 3.3 Future research agenda Ongoing development of the M3D language involves bringing the level of authoring further ahead. An authoring tool for M3D is under development. More technical details of this tool are elaborated in section 4 of this paper. The authoring tool features non-expert programmers and relies on drag and drop techniques to realise the full functionality of the M3D language. Two authoring levels are identified in our product development, a primary authoring level and a secondary one: • The primary authoring level designates the capability of using M3D to author JAVA3D. • The secondary authoring level designates the capability of authoring M3D through an M3D authoring tool. Porting M3D to an ITV platform is an ongoing project that leverages breakthrough technologies and ITV standards. Current research efforts along this direction involve converting M3D into UIML (the Universal Interface Modelling Language)1 and developing a corresponding Java-based renderer for running on a versatile ITV platform. The conversion of M3D to UIML is done via XSLT2, a language for transforming XML documents into other XML documents. 4. THE AUTHORING TOOL Hitherto one major shortcoming of initial versions of M3D was the fact that, the complete scene descriptions and object descriptions must be written by hand. To overcome this difficulty the amendment of an authoring tool was then assumed. In here the content may be developed by loading a new M3D file. With the aid of the new drag and drop features of the authoring tool, learning objects (LO) as well as any appropriate scenes are built and consequently are integrated for a new content as desired. Technically the Authoring Tool is based on Java, Java3D and XML. The application uses XML schema to define the grammar of M3D, through this the user may only need to decide, which element of the M3D, he wants to use. The menu list contains only lexically available elements. This feature ensures that the user knowledge about M3D can be reduced to some mathematical knowledge, since the error rate by building M3D scripts is reduced to mathematical mistakes. Moreover the editing results are displayed simultaneously by the viewer, so that changes to the file are directly visible to enhance the user comprehension of M3D functions, such as descriptions which are available at any time. 1 http://www.uiml.org 2 http://www.w3.org/TR/xslt The processing of building new M3D files with the Authoring Tool interferes knowledge about the hierarchic structure of M3D. The result of this development allows that a novice user may be able to build new M3D files. Figure 3 represents a screen shot of the M3D ´s authoring tool in operation. A new canvas may be opened where the scene and other objects are built into a M3D file. Appropriate menus contain added features for scene creation, as discussed earlier are also shown in here. Figure 3. Screen shot of the M3D ´s authoring tool in operation. 5. APPLICATION Interactive knowledge based systems are essential when learning for qualification as skilled or semiskilled technical personnel. Creating courseware based on traditional methods of integrating Virtual Reality (VR) into Web Based Training (WBT) requires extensive and in-depth knowledge of modeling and animations of 3D scenes. Here M3D is used to generate E-Learning systems from some general CAD & technical descriptions of mechanical engineering machinery. One such application is shown in figure 4 where CAD design of a spin extrusion machine is read directly into the programme. The imported data is then used to form complete simulations & visualisations of the assembly, which can then be displayed using a M3D viewer applet. The viewer contains a number of control buttons, which are associated with appropriate physical attributes. One of the most innovative aspects of M3D is its ability to demonstrate an object both in solid and transparent form. This means that in the case of a solid object say a metallic cylinder one may investigate if the cylinder inside contains any further individual parts. In this way the whole assembly or the individual parts in question may be considered as desired. Figure 5 shows the schematic of a laser induction system, which is equally used to generate E-Learning courseware. In this case using virtual reality techniques, M3D enables the user to learn how to operate safely the laser induction system. Equally figure 6 gives details of a hydraulics press machine visualised and simulated using M3D language. Figure 4. CAD design of a spin extrusion machine (Courtesy of the Fraunhofer Institute IWU in Chemnitz) Figure 5. Schematic of a laser induction system (Courtesy of Fraunhofer Institute IWS in Dresden). Figure 6. CAD design of a hydraulics press machine (Courtesy of the Fraunhofer Institute IWU in Chemnitz) 6. DIDACTIC ANALYSIS AND RESULTS M3D is developed as a part of Medi@train project sponsored by the German Ministry of Research & Education, to promote the application of the new technology in training and education at large. The project Medi@train comprises of a number of independent parts. Next to the development of new technologies, the other major focus of the project is the application of the latter to some practical and hands-on scenarios. Two Fraunhofer Institutes of FhG-IWU in Chemnitz and FhG-IWS in Dresden were responsible to implement these technologies within appropriate application areas. M3D has provided a platform for any average user, to be able to freely experiment and hence learn about the operation of heavy machinery, using trail and error in the virtual worlds. To analyse M3D´s didactic effects and its implications in the training environments, the tool was tested by a number of skilled and semi-skilled personnel in a factory shop-floor. To our great delight we discovered an overwhelming positive response from all the users. The interactivity of virtual environment enabled them to experiment on the web at their own convenience, with total confidence to overcome the fears of damaging or destroying any equipment or set ups. Figure 7 shows a screen shot of a user interface where the control panel is simulated using M3D and operates a remote laser induction machine. In here the user may safely learn to operate the machine using M3D´s virtual reality techniques. Figure 7. Screen shot of a user interface where the control panel is simulated using M3D on a laser induction machine. 7. SUMMARY Here we briefly described a new platform independent XML & JAVA3D based programming language known as M3D, which enables creation of web-, based virtual reality technologies for E-Learning systems. With aid of two examples some of the practical functionality of M3D are also pointed out here. REFERENCES 1. Med@train/VR, IMK Information Sheet, D. Skaley, S. Chakaveh 2002 2. Medi@train Report, D. Skaley, P.Laine´, R.Haeger, 2001. 3. Specifications on Implementation of VR, D. Skaley, J.Becker, M. Hoffmann, D. Klug, 2001. 4. BMBF- Medi@train Proposal, D.Skaley, S.Chakaveh, M.Reiser, 2000. ACKNOWLEGDEMENT M3D is developed as part the German Ministry of Education & Research for the funding for the project Medi@train. The authors acknowledge the support of the Fraunhofer Institute Media Communication on Medi@train. In particular, Mr. Horst Santo the managing director of the competence center ITV for his full support and encouragement on the project.
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