During the night of September 29th-30th, 2007, I had a very vivid dream about another possible development regarding virtual cities, and the public’s interaction with them.
Previously I have written on this blog about my hope for "off the shelf" virtual cities, allowing end users to purchase cities that they could use in conjunction with home, office, or classroom computers and virtual immersion equipment (glasses and equipment to sense head movement are available today at fine prices). This not-too-distant frontier will hopefully allow students, urban planners, the elderly, and the handicapped to instantly "visit" places that they could not practically see in real life. These off the shelf cities would allow interaction with interiors like museums, famous signature outdoor events, and other delights.
However, in my dream, I experienced a virtual city emporium of sorts! Perhaps the size of the Mall of America (Minneapolis) or Eaton Centre (Toronto), this was in effect an amusement park of virtual cities projected onto walls of completely blackwalled rooms. The visitors (which in my dream included myself, my wife, and a couple friends) can choose to travel to Los Angeles, Paris, New York, and other destinations by just walking into specific sections of the emporium. A single entrance fee was required, and add-ons were available on the top level (see below).
For example, in my dream my entire party visited New York, which had a bridge in the center of a large black room, but with 3d projection on all surfaces of a virtual city (with pedestrians in the distance and landmarks), it was as if we were walking across an actual city bridge. A few rooms over was Los Angeles in much the same vein. And there was a top floor which contained huge booths with flat-panels of more than 100 inches, where visitors could take their pick of any virtual experience.
Interestingly, aside from the true darkness, with projected light trying to provide a sense of daytime, which was somewhat eerie, there was one haunting feature that I understood upon waking but which was jarring in the dream. The emporium had its own police force which patrolled the cities as well, to prevent real crime in virtual environments. Sirens did go off and doors in the black walls opened when police had to enter and exit.
I think with the rapidity of virtual city development on home computers and major geographic servers, this vision could be implemented today, using data from such common sources as Microsoft’s spectacularly evolving Virtual Earth (http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=75722), or gaming software. However, in 10 years, places like these may be commonly available for our amusement.