SOURCE: IBM

January 08, 2007 10:30 ET

Prototype "Sears Virtual Home" to Open on IBM Island in Second Life

Sears and IBM Team to Explore Application of 3-D Immersive Environments to Improve Consumer Experiences

LAS VEGAS, NV and SECOND LIFE -- (MARKET WIRE) -- January 8, 2007 -- At the Consumer Electronics Show today, Sears and IBM (NYSE: IBM) unveiled a prototype 3-D showroom called the "Sears Virtual Home," which resides on an IBM "island" in the virtual world of Second Life.

Sears' early prototype store is meant as a showcase of basic features of what might be possible in using virtual worlds to transform consumer experiences. The initial store allows consumers to experiment with changing the color of the cabinets and countertops in a virtual kitchen, explore 3-D versions of various home theater set-ups and learn how to organize their garage by virtually customizing storage accessories.

Eventually, it is anticipated that Sears' customers will be able to use "avatars" -- 3-D virtual representations of themselves -- to replicate their exact room dimensions and experiment with redesigning their kitchen, garage or home theater by selecting appliances, tools and furniture that fit those blueprints, using the immersive, 3-D environment. Consumers would be able to instantly change the colors, sizes and styles of refrigerators, ovens, counter tops, cabinets, televisions and more.

"Sears is committed to providing our customers with the best possible shopping experience and to looking for new and exciting ways to present our products and services," said Paul Miller, senior vice president, Direct Commerce, Sears Holdings. "The Sears Virtual Home combines the best of virtual worlds and 3-D environments so customers can experience Sears' products in a way that is closer to real life. Sears.com already provides innovative design functionality and this work with IBM in a virtual world is a logical extension of those initiatives."

The virtual showroom replicates in 3-D the custom design tools available today on the Web at Sears.com. Consumers can order items from the "Sears Virtual Home" by connecting from the 3-D environment to Sears.com and choosing delivery to their homes or the option to pick up the items in their local Sears store.

IBM and Sears will be exploring additional ways to link the real world with the virtual world. For example, customers visiting the Sears Virtual Home can have their friends, family members or personal designers join them "in world" and give their personal advice on choosing the right products to build their dream room.

"Our goal is to help Sears use these 3-D virtual worlds to transform how people shop, from simple appliance purchases to total kitchen makeovers. Customers would be able to test drive their entire dream kitchen in a 3-D virtual environment before it is actually built, which provides a powerful new tool to drive customer satisfaction and sales," said Sandra Kearney, director of virtual worlds and 3-D Internet, IBM.

Second Life users can visit the prototype Sears virtual showroom by going to: http://slurl.com/secondlife/ibm%2010/95/32/23/

IBM's Virtual Worlds and 3-D Internet Strategy

These experimentations -- with innovative companies like Sears and Circuit City -- are part of an IBM-led initiative to collaborate with clients and partners on both conducting business inside virtual worlds and connecting the virtual world with the real world to create a richer, more immersive Web environment, and to solve business problems in a new way.

IBM has a series of areas in Second Life open to the general public. On these "islands" -- which are spaces where people can build three-dimensional objects and interact with other people in a way that is more like real life than a web conference or phone call -- IBM has been experimenting on extending virtual worlds for business in three key areas: virtual commerce and work with clients to apply virtual worlds to business problems; driving new kinds of collaboration and education; and experimentations on pushing the limits with a broad community on what might be possible in virtual worlds.

"We view these virtual worlds at a very early stage, both technically and culturally. The user experience will improve as we do more experimentation and figure out how to better apply them to solve real problems in business and society," said Irving Wladawsky-Berger, IBM's chief technologist. "Commerce and collaboration are two key areas ripe for applying virtual worlds to real life, but we also see applications in education, healthcare and many other areas."

IBM is working with dozens of clients to experiment and help them understand and apply virtual worlds to their business. While IBM is prototyping and developing in Second Life, it has a bigger strategy to collaborate with a community in an open source fashion to build out the next generation Web, which IBM calls the 3-D Internet. IBM also aims to build a platform for internal use, including 3-D Intranets inside of a company firewall where private and confidential business can be conducted.

In addition to virtual commerce, IBM works with clients, employees and alumni to use virtual worlds to drive collaboration and provide a more immersive online educational experience. For example, IBM uses virtual worlds to connect with its alumni population and for on-boarding and educating new and current employees. Virtual worlds have proven an effective tool to help simplify the complex, with 3-D models and interactions that cannot be recreated in a Web conference or phone conversation, and have been useful in connecting people around the globe to drive collaboration.

IBM also makes space available on its virtual islands to work on experimentations that push the limit of what might be possible in virtual worlds, with aims to begin the foundations for building out the next generation, 3-D Internet and to drive open standards. Its goal is to experiment with ways to replicate business processes in these worlds and apply variables to them to see what might happen in the real word, or to build new ways to educate people or treat certain types of maladies through innovative uses of technologies for e-learning and telemedicine. For more information on IBM, visit http://www.ibm.com

Contact Information

  • Contacts:

    Matt McMahon
    IBM
    914-766-1067
    mattm@us.ibm.com

    Sears Holdings Public Relations
    (847) 286-8371