R. Stevens, M. E. Papka, T. Disz, "The Access Grid: Prototyping - Workspaces of the Future," Preprint ANL/MCS-P1064-0603, June 2003. [pdf]
Collaborative immersive virtual reality technology has been in use since the late 1980s. In the mid-1990s these systems were used to investigate multi-user wide-area collaboration scenarios. While these efforts were pioneering in many respects, they proved less suitable as work environments for everyday use. People tire easily when spending extended time in the dark spaces needed for projection virtual reality or when being immersed in a completely synthetic world for hours at a time without access to high-resolution text displays or high-quality interactions devices. During the past decade, desktop multimedia technology capabilities have also grown considerably, to the point that all modern desktop systems can easily handle video and audio. Indeed, desktop PCs have exceeded dedicated graphics systems in rendering performance and pixel bandwidth. Moreover, with near-ubiquitous high-speed multipoint networks and protocols now available on the Internet, new models for communication are emerging. The Access Grid project builds on and extends the use of these technologies (collaborative virtual reality, desktop multimedia, point-to-point remote graphics) in ways that are better suited for users in the twenty-first century. This paper shows how we view the Access Grid as a first step toward room-based computing environments that will, we believe, challenge desktop metaphors, desktop user environments, and perhaps even desktop computer deployment in the decades ahead. Instead of simple, single-stream videoconferencing implemented with special-purpose desktop appliances, the environments we envision are entire rooms or laboratories instrumented for rich, full-time, multimodal communications between multiple groups of people connected over inherently multipoint, high-speed networks. We offer three scenarios showing how this vision is becoming a reality.