Visitors planning a trip to Birmingham will have the chance to explore the city online when “Birmingham Island” opens in the 3D online world Second Life later this week.
Developed by Digital Birmingham, the online city aims to show the potential of digital and virtual technologies in delivering public services and interacting with citizens.
The developers hope the virtual city will provide city planners and others with a powerful online consultation and marketing tool as well as huge scope for generating inward investment in the long term.
Although several other cities have a presence in Second Life, Birmingham Island’s showpiece attraction b-scape is the first to integrate other online applications such as Google Maps, video and RSS feeds to provide a new layer of collaboration.
B-scape is a 3-D information area centred around an interactive screen with a map of Birmingham’s physical city centre.
It allows visitors to experience the city via an avatar - a virtual self - and gives the ability to interact and collaborate with other avatars in Second Life and control b-scape.
Through their avatars, users can navigate around Birmingham using Google Maps technology and discover information about key buildings in the city centre, play videos and access RSS data.
Virtual Birmingham’s developers point to the fact that b-scape can be experienced collectively by several individuals at the same time, making it an ideal virtual environment for meetings and training sessions.
It could allow architects and developers to plan the development of the city and see schemes in relation to their surroundings as well as enabling visitors to plan their trips in advance.
The developers believe Birmingham Island offers great potential for local organisations and companies wishing to have a presence in Second Life and to explore the opportunities presented by virtual world.
Paul Tilsley, Birmingham City Council deputy leader and head of the Digital Birmingham Partnership, said: “For organisations to be able to see the city as it looks now and plan how it could look in the future is an extremely powerful tool.”
“The potential is enormous: visitors could browse the city’s attractions and amenities to see for themselves what it’s like before they visit, residents could access local services, event organisers could use it to showcase exhibitions and displays, and could even host events in the virtual world with performances accessible online.”
The new Library of Birmingham, due to open in 2013, is already planning an interactive site on the Island and Digital Birmingham believes the island will prove invaluable as a resource for other local organisations.
Virtual Birmingham will be launched by Birmingham City Council leader Mike Whitby at this week’s Hello Digital festival at Millennium Point later this week and Birmingham Island will go live on October 23.
London, Liverpool and Manchester have all used Second Life but it is believed that Birmingham is the first council in the UK to utilise a range of virtual world technologies to interact collaboratively with the public and local businesses.
Digital Birmingham is a city-wide partnership which aims to encourage people, business and communities to gain the benefits of digital technologies and help Birmingham make the transition from an industrial city to a digital city. It aims to make Birmingham a leading European digital city by 2010. Among Digital Birmingham’s other projects, it has created a local digital TV service for Birmingham ahead of the digital switchover.
This means that Birmingham citizens can access around 50 information and service areas through their TV that covers jobs, bus and train travel information as well as a trial GP appointment booking facility.