Science

Virtual world users to begin hearing voices

The creators of virtual world Second Life are testing technology that would allow their members to use real world voices instead of text chats to communicate with each other.

The creators of virtual world Second Life are testing technology that would allow their members to use real world voices instead of text chats to communicate with each other.

Linden Lab, publisher of Second Life, announced Tuesday the trial of the new feature in an effort to create a more "immersive" virtual environment.

The company plans to roll out the integrated voice chat to a limited number of users March 6 and then open a beta version to all users at the end of March.

Second Life is a subscription-based, 3-D fantasy world with its own economy launched in 2003 where members — called Residents — interact using characters called avatars they design themselves. The site claims to have over four million residents; at one point Tuesday afternoon, 24,000 people were logged onto the site.

'Transformative technology'

Joe Miller, vice-president of platform and technology development at Linden Lab, said in a statement voice is "a transformative technology that will change the way Residents communicate, and will lend more immediacy and dynamism to their interaction with others."

"For example, academic institutions could use the voice feature of Second Life to carry out lectures, corporations could use it for customer training and friends can simply catch up with each other," he said.

The recent proliferation of Skype and other  voice-over-internet protocol applications has made the absence of voice on Second Life an issue for users, who must communicate now through text-based chat tools.

Linden Lab said its new tool would provide an added twist to traditional voice softwareby making the volume of avatar voices dependent on their distance and direction.

The "in-world" voice experience means two people can chat quietly to each other, but only if their avatars are close together. As an added realism, avatars will become "more animated" depending on the intensity of the speech volume.

Two partners of the company, Vivox and DiamondWare, provided the voice technology, Linden Lab said.

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