PlaceWorld is an embodiment of a physical electronic landscape (eSCAPE) that explores the potentialities of a new interaction paradigm: augmented virtuality. It was developed as an eSCAPE demonstrator in partnership with the European ESPRIT i3 research program—a cooperative undertaking between the ZKM Karlsruhe, Lancaster University, Manchester University and the Swedish Institute of Computer Science. The main focus of the eSCAPE project was to devise a heterogeneous electronic landscape as a virtual environment into which a diverse range of two- and three-dimensional information spaces could be integrated and linked. It sought to create a connective—as distinct from collective—environment at the digital level, and to develop subjectivisation tools that heighten individual efficiency by permitting interactors to move between digital spaces, or even to be simultaneously present in more than one space at once.
PlaceWorld’s core technology is based on the augmented reality affordance of the Panoramic Navigator (1997). While the Panoramic Navigator used the real environment as its frame of reference for interactive information delivery, PlaceWorld has a projected virtual environment as its viewable context. A video projector mounted behind the touch screen of the Panoramic Navigator outputs onto a 6 m diameter circular screen that surrounds it. This displays a 360-degree immersive virtual environment and gives users a touchable interface that allows them to explore and interact with this surrounding virtual environment directly, thanks to the video-camera-captured images of this projected surrounding that are presented in real time on the touch screen.
The design of PlaceWorld takes many features of PLACE - a user's manual (1995) as points of departure. It is a virtual, navigable world that is populated by an architecture of cylindrically enclosed environments users can enter, and which are also portals into other virtual environments. This virtual world is characterised by pathways that provide a topography of navigable connectivities between these cylinders. PlaceWorld implements numerous novel design strategies for interaction, including the dynamic delineation of tracks, paths, roads and highways to evidence users’ behaviour in the virtual world; the ability for users to create their own 3-D environments using building resources provided there, or alternatively to import already completed 3-D models into its virtual world; the users’ ability to not only traverse the ground plane between sites in PlaceWorld, but also to hyperlink themselves instantly between these sites; various self-identification and intercommunication tools allowing multiple visitors to PlaceWorld to communicate effectively with one another; and a networked architecture that puts PlaceWorld online for universal access.