Get the latest news alerts: at Twitter.

Local Tech Wire

RALEIGH, N.C. – Researchers at N.C. State plan to develop a scale to measure the impact of virtual world “presence” on teams spread across various locations.

If having an avatar helps, can scientists quantify the degree to which it does? Can a "virtual presence" be improved?

The National Science Foundation is funding the project with a grant of $203,549.

Indiana University will also participate in the program.

“Developers consider presence to be a desirable characteristic and there is a belief that it is related to performance. However, there is limited evidence to support these views,” said Mitzi Montoya, a professor of marketing innovation at NCSU’s College of Management.

Virtual world such as Linden Lab’s already exist with private and public sector partners.

The quality of a “virtual presence” or being “in” the world will be a focal part of the project’s efforts.

Anne Massey, a professor at Indiana’s business school, said the project will seek to answer whether virtual worlds improve performance or experiences of participants.

“Being able to measure and understand the role of virtual presence in collaborative processes is an important foundational step to assessing real business impact,” she said.

Montoya and Massey will work with Michael Devetsikiotis, professor of electrical and computer engineering in N.C. State’s College of Engineering, and Jeanne Johnston, assistant professor of kinesiology in I.U.’s School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, to develop a scale for measurement of a “collective virtual preference” (CVP) and then asset the CVP’s relationship to performance. Physiological data will also be collected by Johnston.

According to Devetsikotis, the end result of the project could help developers and users of virtual worlds to improve design in order to influence performance.

“This project is a step in that direction,” he said.