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In on the action

Cozmo Yoshikawa can fly, teleport, and gain and lose weight instantaneously — all without getting a hair out of place. He’s not your typical summer intern: NASA has never had an intern like Yoshikawa. He is the virtual representation, or avatar, of a college senior that NASA hired to work on the agency’s CoLab Island in the virtual world of Second Life.

Yoshikawa works as  long as 10 hours a day on NASA’s virtual island. His duties include building a model of Mars’ Victoria Crater that will allow avatars to follow NASA’s Mars rover as it explores the planet. He is also building a one-to-one model of the International Space Station.

The man behind the avatar prefers to remain anonymous, but my avatar, Grange Writer, caught up with him in Second Life and got the cyberjuice on what it’s like being one of the world’s first virtual interns.

Grange Writer: You’ve been at this for about a month now?

Cozmo Yoshikawa: Yup, two weeks to go.

Grange Writer: Wow. How’s it been going?

Cozmo Yoshikawa: Good.

Grange Writer: Do you mind telling me a little bit about what you’ve been doing?

Cozmo Yoshikawa: Well, there’s the crater here. The plan is to hopefully get real-time telemetry from the actual rover and move a model in the SL version, so scientists and the public can use it to understand what is going on in Mars.

Grange Writer: Does what you are doing in Second Life translate back in the real world?

Cozmo Yoshikawa: Well, the crater, for example, it’s one of the only SL locations that’s true scale and realistic. It’s assembled from real imagery and elevation data. So in terms of visualization and telepresence, I can see virtual worlds eventually paving the way to mission planning and design. As for SL, though, this is just a low barrier to entry to experiment with the power of virtual worlds.

Yoshikawa said he has had some problems with software bugs in Second Life and what he called technical limitations. But Yosikawa appreciates the commitment to open-source technology demonstrated by Linden Lab, the company that created Second Life.

Like most college seniors, Yoshikawa is trying to figure out what to do with his life. He is trained in astrophysics but said he is leaning toward pursuing a career in neurology or microbiology. The intern said his real talents lie in programming and electronics engineering. We were curious if the internship helped him figure some things out.

Yoshikawa said he still has some soul-searching to do, but yes, the experience has been worthwhile.
Cozmo Yoshikawa: I find school by itself to be very isolated and intellectually
unfriendly.

Grange Writer: NASA is better?

Cozmo Yoshikawa: Yes. I’ve never met people before who want to get stuff done and want to include me — some intern — in on the action.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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