WO2006126205A2 - Systems and uses and methods for graphic display - Google Patents

Systems and uses and methods for graphic display Download PDF

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Publication number
WO2006126205A2
WO2006126205A2 PCT/IL2006/000621 IL2006000621W WO2006126205A2 WO 2006126205 A2 WO2006126205 A2 WO 2006126205A2 IL 2006000621 W IL2006000621 W IL 2006000621W WO 2006126205 A2 WO2006126205 A2 WO 2006126205A2
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WIPO (PCT)
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optionally
method according
environment
virtual
invention
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PCT/IL2006/000621
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French (fr)
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WO2006126205A3 (en
Inventor
Vladimir Chernyanskiy
Dmitry Tepper
Michael Itenberg
Avigdor Harold Friedman
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Vircomzone Ltd.
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Priority to US68510605P priority Critical
Priority to US60/685,106 priority
Priority to US71692505P priority
Priority to US60/716,925 priority
Application filed by Vircomzone Ltd. filed Critical Vircomzone Ltd.
Publication of WO2006126205A2 publication Critical patent/WO2006126205A2/en
Publication of WO2006126205A3 publication Critical patent/WO2006126205A3/en

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    • GPHYSICS
    • G06COMPUTING; CALCULATING; COUNTING
    • G06QDATA PROCESSING SYSTEMS OR METHODS, SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES; SYSTEMS OR METHODS SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES, NOT OTHERWISE PROVIDED FOR
    • G06Q20/00Payment architectures, schemes or protocols
    • G06Q20/08Payment architectures
    • G06Q20/12Payment architectures specially adapted for electronic shopping systems

Abstract

A computer-implemented method for providing a shopping experience to a user in a virtual commercial environment, comprising: displaying in a graphic user interface an interior of the virtual commercial environment in seemingly three-dimensions: displaying at least one template representing an item available for purchase by the user, in the interior of the virtual commercial environment; allowing the user to navigate within the interior of the virtual commercial environment in at least three dimensions to view the at least one template using the graphic user interface; and, providing the user with a checkout for completing a purchase of at least one it (see figure 1).

Description

SYSTEMS AND USES AND METHODS FOR GRAPHIC DISPLAY RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application is related to pending U.S. App. Ser. No. 60/685,106, filed on May 26, 2005 and U.S. App. Ser. No. 60/716,925, filed on September 15, 2005, the disclosures of which are herein incorporated by reference.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to providing improved graphics techniques, for example to providing an interactive, three-dimensional graphical interface for use in electronic commerce.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION As technology evolves, artificial depiction of realistic environments has become increasingly feasible. For example, software has been developed to allow portrayal of an architectural design in a simulated three-dimensional environment. Naturally, being able to see a design in a near realistic scenario is vastly favorable to using one's imagination. One example of architecturally-minded software is Punch! Home Design Architectural Series™ 4000, by Punch! Software.

Other types of three-dimensional style simulation software are used to organize desktop data files into realistic looking environments. Rooms 3d Desktops, by EiDoxis, Ltd., and SphereXP, developed by Dusan Hamar of Slovakia, are examples of such software. Yet other software applications lend themselves to the rendition of three-dimensional shapes and possibly in conjunction with a plurality of other three-dimensional shapes to create a complex virtual image. AutoCAD by Autodesk, Inc. is an example of such software.

A software application, SketchUp by @Last Software, Inc., offers a billboard effect which makes a two dimensional object appear three dimensional by constantly facing it towards the viewer, even as the viewer moves around the object. While the above technological innovations attempt to bridge the gap between real and artificial environments, most or all of them suffer from the inability to provide a seemingly three-dimensional artificial environment which can be interacted with, contains potentially thousands of objects and textures, and which can be produced from file sizes which are reasonably accessible over an average consumer's online connection. SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

An aspect of some embodiments of the invention relates to providing systems and methods for enabling shopping in a virtual commercial environment, such as a store, presented in a seemingly three-dimensional format. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, the seemingly three-dimensional format is of a nature that reduces workload, file transfer time, bandwidth requirements and/or file storage size in comparison to a similar, true three- dimensional store space. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, a seemingly three- dimensional shopping experience is provided to an online customer by displaying a large number of small file size objects, while the small file size objects retain the quality necessary to impart the feeling of a three-dimensional shopping experience. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, color fidelity and/or resolution for an object image are retained, but not for the image itself. Optionally, quality retention is accomplished by reducing color fidelity no more than 20%. Optionally, quality retention is accomplished by reducing image resolution no more than 20%. For example, an online store is provided which occupies less than 45MB. Optionally, the provided online store is less than 30MB in size. Optionally, the provided online store is less than 15MB in size. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, the three-dimensional store is interacted with by a customer from the remote location. Optionally, a customer uses a personal computer to interact with the store. Optionally, a customer uses a video gaming system such as Microsoft Xbox®, connected to a display such as a television and to a global communication network, for interacting with the store. Optionally, a customer uses a television to interact with the store.

An aspect of some embodiments of the invention relates to providing systems and methods for constructing a commercial environment, such as a store, to be used with a communications network. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, a method of creating an online store is provided wherein seemingly three-dimensional product and material models are created, the online store layout including number and position of rooms is created, and room contents are placed within the rooms, including product and material models. Optionally, software is provided for creating an online three-dimensional store via a step-by- step "wizard" format. Optionally, an online three-dimensional store is created by a professional store designer and/or graphic artist. Optionally, retailers are provided with software or manual assistance for establishing an online store.

An aspect of some embodiments of the invention relates to providing a virtual shopping experience similar to a real world shopping experience. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, visual object density of the created virtual commercial environment, such as a store, is similar or greater to the visual object density of a corresponding store in the real world (physically existing store). Optionally, the visual density of objects is manipulated based on a particular customer's preferences and/or to impart a particular shopping feel to the customer. Optionally, other customer preferences are considered for displaying a virtual store.

An aspect of some embodiments of the invention relates to providing a personalized shopping experience to a customer. Optionally, items presented to a customer are chosen based on indicia of customer interest in those items, for example past purchases and/or captured viewing of and/or clicks on advertisements/products for those items. Optionally, environmental factors such as music, decor, object density, store layout and/or design are taken into consideration when displaying a virtual store for a customer.

An aspect of some embodiments of the invention relates to providing systems and methods for using massification as a display method. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, graphics manipulation techniques are provided which provide quality graphics while reducing workload, file transfer time, bandwidth requirements and data storage size. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, massification is a technique that takes one object and its associated textures and/or materials, and replicates it in order to display a plurality of the object. Optionally, massified items are displayed together en masse. Optionally, massified items are amalgamated together to form a single object. Optionally, a template based system is used to conserve resources and improve performance, wherein one template for each object and/or material used in conjunction with the system is stored and used with any number of placement identifiers, like placeholders, placed within a virtual space and referencing the object, rather than storing one object and/or material for each instance it occurs in the virtual space. Optionally, object and/or material templates are reusable in multiple virtual spaces.

An aspect of some embodiments of the invention relates to minimizing geometry distortion by changing the positioning of a "camera" which provides the point of view of a customer. For example, defining the z-axis as the perpendicular axis to the floor and ceiling, as the customer looks up, the camera optionally moves upwards slightly in the z-axis in order to reduce the angle of incidence to the viewed area.

An aspect of some embodiments of the invention relates to providing systems and methods for advertising and/or for collecting customer information useful for advertising techniques improvement, advertisement personalization/targeting studies/implementation purposes and academic studies of shopper/human behavior in realistic virtual environment. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, information is gathered, such as time of viewing an advertisement, effective advertisement ratio (described below), whether exposure to an advertisement led to an eventual purchase and other diagnostics which cannot be practically measured in a real store or internet based store. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, the results of this kind of study can be used in real (physically existing) shops. Utilizing software to monitor online shopping behavior of shoppers, various statistics can be tabulated pertaining to quality and quantity of advertising exposure to customers. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, the efficacy of advertising is measured. Optionally, customer feedback is collected regarding advertisements. Optionally, statistics and/or customer information are conveyed to advertisers. Optionally, advertising virtually interacts with customers as they shop.

An aspect of some embodiments of the invention relates to providing systems and methods for streamlining rendering processes for software applications. Optionally, methods and systems are provided for streamlining rendering processes intended to be used in connection with a communications network, hi some exemplary embodiments of the invention, rendering is economized by classifying all rendered objects as sprites and/or simple geometric shapes. Optionally, complex objects are converted into simple ones manually and/or by using a library of objects. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, limited viewing angles are enforced for some objects allowing only partial rendering of those objects and/or simplifies the analytics. Optionally, limited viewing angles are enforced for some objects by arranging them so they abut a non-transparent barrier. Optionally, combinations of driver level filters are used to provide good image quality while not significantly affecting performance. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, grid space partition techniques are used to economize the analytical process. Optionally, rendering is streamlined through use of a vertex index buffer.

In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, systems and methods are provided for creating a three-dimensional shopping experience via a communications network. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, digital versions of products are located within an online three-dimensional store representing a product available for purchase. Optionally, payment of purchased products is enabled via the software. Optionally, delivery of purchased products is arranged through the software. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, various statistics are kept regarding customer visits to an online three-dimensional store. An aspect of some embodiments of the invention relates to utilizing textures with pre- processed lighting effects, at least in order to conserve computer memory and/or processor usage. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, lighting effects on a particular object are approximated prior to displaying the object. These lighting effects are pre-processed and integrated with the textures assigned to the object such that when the object is displayed by the graphics engine, hardware resources are conserved by not having to calculate lighting effects. Optionally, pre-processed lighting effects are used in conjunction with dynamic lighting and/or static light map techniques. An aspect of the invention relates to providing individualized 3D emergency evacuation procedures, including environment details, in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention. Furthermore, providing 3D emergency evacuation procedures saves time and cost in some exemplary embodiments of the invention. Optionally, emergency evacuation instructions pertain to a fire-related emergency. Optionally, emergency evacuation instructions pertain to a wind-related emergency. Optionally, emergency evacuation instructions pertain to a water- related emergency, hi some exemplary embodiments of the invention, the emergency evacuation procedure is displayed for a person on a computer's monitor. Optionally, the evacuation procedure is displayed on a television. Optionally, the evacuation procedure is displayed on another display device, such as those described herein. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, the evacuation procedure origination point is determined by the location of the person requesting to view the procedure. Optionally, an origination point is selected graphically by the person, for example from a two dimensional map. Optionally, the origination point is determined textually by the person, for example by entering the name of an origination point into a data entry blank. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, the person viewing the evacuation procedure navigates an evacuation route manually. Optionally, visual and/or audio cues are provided to the person to ensure adherence to the evacuation procedure. Optionally, the evacuation route is automatically navigated without assistance from the person viewing the procedure. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, alternative evacuation procedures are provided, which may vary depending on the circumstances of the particular emergency. Optionally, the emergency evacuation procedure can be provided to the person in hard copy, for example printed out from a printer. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, the person's navigation of an evacuation is recorded for performance evaluation.

There is thus provided in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention, a computer-implemented method for providing a shopping experience to a user in a virtual commercial environment, comprising: displaying in a graphic user interface an interior of the virtual commercial environment in seemingly three-dimensions; displaying at least one template representing an item available for purchase by the user, in the interior of the virtual commercial environment; allowing the user to navigate within the interior of the virtual commercial environment in at least three dimensions to view the at least one template using the graphic user interface; and, providing the user with a checkout for completing a purchase of at least one item. Optionally, the virtual commercial environment is a store. In an embodiment of the invention, the method further comprises displaying advertising to the user within the interior of the seemingly three-dimensional virtual commercial environment. Optionally, the user interacts with the advertising. Optionally, a plurality of templates representing a plurality of items are displayed simultaneously in the interior environment. Optionally, the item available for purchase is a tangible item. Optionally, the item available for purchase is a service. Optionally, the template is a graphical representation of a service to be performed. Optionally, a density of displayed templates in the interior environment is similar or greater to the density of products visible to a shopper in a corresponding non- virtual store. Optionally, at least 20 items are displayed in the interior environment simultaneously. Optionally, at least 50 items are displayed in the interior environment. Optionally, at least 100 items are displayed in the interior environment. Optionally, at least one template has been previously massified. hi some embodiments of the invention, the method further comprises tracking the user navigation within the interior of the virtual commercial environment. Optionally, user navigation is correlated to advertising displayed within the interior of the virtual commercial environment. Optionally, the virtual commercial environment is modified based on the tracked user navigation. Optionally, at least 750 objects and at least 2,250 textures/materials comprising less than 45MB are displayed simultaneously in the virtual commercial environment.

There is thus provided in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention, a method of collecting information related to a user of a seemingly three-dimensional virtual commercial environment, comprising: prompting the user to enter profile information in a registration form; and, tracking user behavior within the seemingly three-dimensional virtual commercial environment; and generating a user account including profile information and information from the user behavior tracking. Optionally, profile information is comprised of at least one of: name, address, contact information, billing information or demographic information. Optionally, tracking user behavior includes at least one of: observing the user's shopping habits, monitoring the time spent viewing an advertisement located within the virtual shopping environment, or whether exposure to an advertisement led to an eventual purchase.

There is thus provided in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention, a method of presenting a user with a personalized advertising in a seemingly three-dimensional virtual commercial environment, comprising: displaying a three dimensional environment; and presenting advertising to the user based on at least one factor. Optionally, at least one factor includes: tracked user behavior; demographic information; buying history; product viewing history, or advertising viewing history. Optionally, a format of the advertising is at least one of the following: video, still images, audio, two dimensional images and/or video, and/or three dimensional images and/or video. Optionally, the advertising changes dynamically depending on tracked user behavior. Optionally, a change can include at least one of: a change in color, a change in content, or a change in audio. Optionally, tracked user behavior includes viewing a product, a product family or an area of the virtual commercial environment for a specified amount of time.

There is thus provided in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention, a method of building a seemingly three-dimensional virtual commercial environment using a "wizard", comprising: prompting a user to choose a floor plan for the virtual commercial environment; prompting the user to choose an entrance for the virtual commercial environment; prompting the user to select at least one texture for at least one of a walls, ceiling or floor of the virtual commercial environment; prompting the user to choose at least one architectural element; and, assembling the floor plan, the entrance, the at least one texture and at least one architectural element to build the virtual commercial environment. In an embodiment of the invention, the method further comprises prompting the user to select trading equipment. In an embodiment of the invention, the method further comprises prompting the user to select a style or theme for the virtual commercial environment.

There is thus provided in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention, a computer-implemented method of displaying in a virtual environment, comprising: creating a plurality of seemingly three dimensional templates; storing the plurality of templates on a database; assigning to the templates respective placement identifiers; placing the placement identifiers within software code, the software code providing instructions for creating the virtual environment; and, commencing a render cycle which includes retrieving the at least one of the plurality of templates from the database for each the respective placement identifier. Optionally, at least one template is an object template. Optionally, at least one template is a material template. Optionally, placing the identifier further includes coordinate information for placement of the template within the virtual environment. Optionally, placing the identifier further includes orientation information for placement of the template within the virtual environment. Optionally, the virtual environment is a store. Optionally, the virtual environment is downloaded via a global communications network. Optionally, at least one of the plurality of templates is stored on the database in a previous session. Optionally, the database is located locally.

There is thus provided in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention, a computer-implemented method of measuring effective advertisement ratio of an advertisement presented in a seemingly three-dimensional virtual environment, comprising: indexing the location of at least one advertisement presented in the virtual environment; tracking at least a part of a visibility pyramid as the visibility pyramid navigates through the virtual environment; correlating tracked location of the pyramid with the indexed advertisement; and, quantifying at least one effective advertisement ratio factor of the advertisement based on the correlating, hi an embodiment of the invention, the method further comprises displaying result of the quantifying for analysis. Optionally, the advertisement is a visual advertisement. Optionally, the advertisement is an audible advertisement. Optionally, the virtual environment is a store. Optionally, the virtual environment is accessed via a global communications network. Optionally, an effective advertisement ratio factor is related to time in visibility pyramid. Optionally, an effective advertisement ratio factor is nearness to center of a far plane of the visibility pyramid. Optionally, an effective advertisement ratio factor is perceived change in motion of the visibility pyramid due to advertisement. Optionally, an effective advertisement ratio factor is relative performance of the advertisement to other advertisements. There is thus provided in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention, a computer-implemented method of reducing graphic distortion induced by viewing away from a horizontal plane in a virtual environment, comprising: monitoring a visibility pyramid for departure from the horizontal plane; tabulating the amount of departure of the visibility pyramid from the horizontal plane; and, altering elevation of the visibility pyramid in relation to the amount of departure of the visibility pyramid from the horizontal plane. Optionally, the virtual environment is a store. Optionally, the virtual environment is accessed via a communications network.

There is thus provided in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention, a system for providing a seemingly three-dimensional, graphic environment displaying at least 750 objects and at least 2250 textures/materials in a visible unit, comprising: at least one server, wherein the server stores files relating to the virtual environment; the files comprising less than 45MB; and, a display apparatus, whereupon the virtual environment is displayed. Optionally, the graphic environment is a store. Optionally, the graphic environment is accessed via a global communications network. Optionally, the files comprise fewer than 30 MB. Optionally, the files comprise fewer than 15 MB. In an embodiment of the invention, the method further comprises a video adapter with at least 64MB of memory. Optionally, the video adapter has at least 128MB of memory. Optionally, the video adapter has at least 256MB of memory.

There is thus provided in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention, a computer-implemented method of displaying a plurality of the same object in a virtual environment, comprising: creating a template associated with the object; storing the template on a database; defining a group of the object representing the plurality; locating the group within the virtual environment; and, commencing a display render cycle which includes retrieving the template from the database for each the object of the group. Optionally, the virtual environment is a commercial environment.

There is thus provided in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention, a computer-implemented method of optimizing object display in a virtual environment, comprising: determining at least one disallowed angle of view for the object; creating a template associated with the object, whereby in the template no textures and materials are located on areas of the object that will not be visible due to falling into the at least one disallowed angle of view; and, displaying the object from at least one angle of view not included in the at least one disallowed angle of view. There is thus provided in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention, a computer-implemented method of conducting an evacuation procedure in a virtual environment, comprising: selecting an origination point; displaying the evacuation procedure from the point; and, navigating the virtual environment using the evacuation procedure. In an embodiment of the invention, the method further comprises displaying indicators for highlighting the correct evacuation procedure in the environment. In an embodiment of the invention, the method further comprises displaying at least one alternative evacuation procedure from the point. In an embodiment of the invention, the method further comprises providing a hard copy of the evacuation procedure. Optionally, the displaying includes providing visual effects including one or more of wind, water, fire, smoke, and/or people. In an embodiment of the invention, the method further comprises analyzing the navigating for performance evaluation. Optionally, the virtual environment is a building. Optionally, the virtual environment is a ship. Optionally, the virtual environment is outdoors. Optionally, the virtual environment is downloaded via a global communications network in the event of an emergency. Optionally, selecting is performed automatically.

There is thus provided in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention, a computer-implemented method of conserving display hardware resources, comprising: approximating lighting effects on a plurality of objects in a virtual environment; integrating the approximated lighting effects into a texture associated with each of the plurality of objects; and, displaying each of the plurality of objects with the approximated lighting effects textures.

Optionally, the approximated lighting effects textures are used in conjunction with a dynamic lighting technique. Optionally, the approximated lighting effects textures are used in conjunction with a static light map.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE FIGURES

Exemplary non-limiting embodiments of the invention are described in the following description, read with reference to the figures attached hereto. In the figures, identical and similar structures, elements or parts thereof that appear in more than one figure are generally labeled with the same or similar references in the figures in which they appear. Dimensions of components and features shown in the figures are chosen primarily for convenience and clarity of presentation and are not necessarily to scale. The attached figures are:

Fig. 1 is an overall system schematic in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention; Fig. 2 is a shop creation and maintenance schematic in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention;

Fig. 3 is a general building a new shop flowchart in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention;

Fig. 4 is a flowchart depicting a process whereby a designer builds a shop environment in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention;

Fig. 5 is a flowchart depicting a process whereby a user builds a shop environment in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention;

Fig. 6 is a flowchart depicting a product model building process in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention; Figs. 7 A and 7B are a flowchart depicting shop installation in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention;

Figs. 8 A and 8B are a flowchart depicting a method of using a shop in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention; Figs. 9A and 9B are a flowchart depicting a method of processing and displaying store graphics in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention;

Fig. 10 depicts a graphic user interface in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention; and, Fig. 11 is a flowchart depicting a method of giving emergency evacuation instructions using a three dimensional representation of an evacuation procedure.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF EXEMPLARY EMBODIMENTS Overview

In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, systems and methods are provided to allow a customer, for example a shopper, to have a shopping experience at a remote location from a store. Fig. 10 depicts a graphic user interface 1000 from which a customer experiences virtual shopping, in an exemplary embodiment of the invention. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, a room is pictured within graphic user interface. Optionally, the room has a floor 1020, walls 1022 and a ceiling 1024. A virtual shopping trolley 1002 is optionally provided within the graphic user interface 1000. hi some embodiments of the invention, shopping trolley 1002 helps provide a more realistic online shopping experience. Optionally, customer views contents of shopping trolley 1002 by "looking" down into the cart by altering customer's point of view within graphic user interface 1000. Optionally, shopping trolley 1002 is provided with an information display 1010 which conveys information to the customer. Information optionally includes product information, price, advertising, information on specials, store announcements, a list of contents of shopping trolley 1002, called an electronic shopping cart 1028, and the like. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, shopping trolley 1002 functionally provides a receptacle for products 1004 a customer wishes to purchase. For example, products 1004 are optionally "dragged and dropped" into shopping trolley 1002 using a pointer and/or added by other mouse action like double click where they are kept until check-out. Optionally, a customer can access electronic shopping cart 1028 contents in order to see what has already been selected for purchase and/or to make modifications to a selected product, such as number of units to buy and/or to delete product from electronic shopping cart 1028. Optionally, shelf tags are used to display the product price, discounts, reduced price and other information directly in graphic user interface 1000. hi some embodiments of the invention, shelf tags are objects with pre-rendered textures for digits 0-9 and/or symbols, pre-rendering performed to streamline usage of display adapter resources. Optionally, digits and symbols are combined to communicate information. Optionally, shelf tags are coded to convey information about the product. For example, shelf tags are optionally color coded reflecting varying price levels. Optionally, color-coding is used to reflect the best price for the product amongst a plurality of stores. Optionally, tool-tip-like technology is used to display the same information on a product. Products 1004 for sale are displayed on trading equipment 1006, such as shelves and/or stands, in some exemplary embodiments of the invention. Optionally, products 1004 appear to "float" in the air, such as floating product 1026. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, products 1004 follow the customer around the store. Optionally, customer 110 (Fig. 1) uses virtual reality devices such as goggles, gloves and/or clothing in order to enhance the experience while connected to the store. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, advertising is communicated to the customer. Advertising is optionally visual and/or audible. More details on advertising can be found below in the "Advertising" section. Doors 1014 are optionally provided as access points to other rooms in the store, as checkout points, as decoration, as entrances and/or exits to/from the store and/or as a means for moving to another store, such as in a virtual shopping mall. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, the customer shops from home or any public place on a computer or video gaming system or TV set-top box or other device with a sufficient hardware configuration. Optionally, pointer or camera on behalf the customer is controlled by an input device, such as a mouse and/or keyboard and/or joystick and/or other input device suitable for navigation/pointing, located at customer's location and connected to the computer. Optionally, the store is not constructed in the real world and exists only as the product of software programming implementation. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, the customer and the store are in communication via a global communications network. A more detailed description of an exemplary system is described below in the "Exemplary System" section and in Figs. 1 and 2. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, systems and methods are provided to enable a retailer or specially trained representative to construct a store to be made accessible via a global communications network. Online stores are optionally constructed by design professionals. Optionally, retailers design online stores for themselves. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, software "wizards" are provided to enable a step-by-step store creation process. A more detailed description of how to build an online store in an exemplary embodiment of the invention is described below in the "Store Building" section and in Figs. 3- 6. Briefly, a shopping experience starts with the customer downloading client-side software for installation on a computer, in an exemplary embodiment of the invention. Optionally, the software installation process doesn't require the customer's computer to be rebooted, for the shopper's convenience. Optionally, only minimal or no customer intervention and/or computer skills are needed for the software installation process. Once the software is installed and the computer is in communication with a global communications network, the customer accesses the remote store and interacts with the store performing various tasks, such as shopping. Optionally, the store is displayed in a seemingly three-dimensional format and various tasks such as shopping are performed by interacting with the three-dimensional environment. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, customer behavior is monitored for statistics, information gathering and/or advertising purposes. Optionally, advertising interacts with customers as they shop. A more detailed description of how to conduct an online shopping experience in an exemplary embodiment of the invention is described below in the "Downloading and Using an Online Store" section and in Figs. 7 A, 7B, 8A and 8B.

In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, the software is run while minimizing necessary CPU processing power and/or required random access memory (RAM) and/or bandwidth and/or display adapter requirements and/or hard disk access. Various optional graphics manipulation techniques are provided which provide quality graphics while reducing workload and file size. Optionally, graphics manipulation techniques are used to minimize the amount of time it takes to start shopping. A more detailed description of how to streamline the graphics display process in an exemplary embodiment of the invention is described below in the "Improved Graphics Display Techniques and Performance" section and in Figs. 9A, 9B and 10. Exemplary System

Referring to Fig. 1, an overall system 100 schematic is shown for at least providing an online, digital store in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, a server farm 104 is provided which is comprised of a plurality of digital processing and/or storage devices, such as computers and/or databases. Server farm 104 is provided to system 100 for storing retailer data including store information, product information, advertising and promotional information and other relevant data, in an exemplary embodiment of the invention. Optionally, server farm 104 stores and processes information relating to customer 110 accounts, such as login/logoff requests and customer personal information data. Optionally, server farm 104 stores and/or transmits management and/or maintenance information to other elements of system 100. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, server farm 104 hosts application servers for server application logic handling. Optionally, server farm 104 hosts servers connected to a communications network for processing requests received via the communications network. Such requests come from retailers, advertisers, customers and/or suppliers, for example.

In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, servers containing retailer catalog-based website servers 106 are integrated into system 100. Optionally, the website information located on website servers 106 is stored at server farm 104, obviating the need for the additional website servers 106. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, website servers 106 perform back office processing functions such as inventory management, finance, and/or billing, hi an exemplary embodiment of the invention, when customer 110 navigates to a store located on website server 106, customer 110 is presented with an option to interact with the store using a three-dimensional graphic user interface 1000. Upon the selection of this option, store information is transmitted to customer 110 from server 104. Alternatively or additionally, information is transmitted to customer 110 from web server 106.

Optionally a retailer representative 108 is provided to system 100 in an exemplary embodiment of the invention as a liaison between a retailer and other components of system 100. Retailer representative 108 optionally performs functions pertaining to the retailer including, but not limited to, creating, advising on and/or approving online store layout and equipment, providing product information, indicating promotions and/or sales related to the products being offered, providing customer 110 information, providing advertising information, transmitting and/or receiving information from other elements of system 100, transmitting and/or receiving financial information from other elements of system 100, and other functions related to the offer, sale, and/or servicing of products. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, retailer representative 108 transmits and/or receives information to/from other elements of system 100. The tasks described above can be completed directly operating at server farm 104 and/or administrative office 102 and/or using remote computer in communication with a global communications network to connect to the server farm 104 and/or administrative office 102, described below, acting as an intermediary.

Customers 110 interact with system 100 to perform shopping functions and/or shopping related functions, in an exemplary embodiment of the invention. Shopping is performed by customers 110 in system 100 using a device such as a personal computer, video gaming system, TV set-top box or other similar appropriate device. Optionally, any device with an operative connection to system 100 and sufficient hardware specifications could be used, for example a personal data assistant and/or a cell phone. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, customers 110 access website server 106 via a communications network, such as the Internet 150. Additionally or alternatively, shopping is performed in a virtual three-dimensional environment, such as depicted in Fig. 10. Such an environment is optionally stored at server farm 104. Optionally, the environment is downloaded for storage at customer 110 location. An exemplary customer usage scenario 800 is described in more detail in the description pertaining to Figs. 8 A and 8B. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, an administrative office 102 provides management and/or maintenance to system 100 elements. Management and/or maintenance optionally includes, but is not limited to, upgrading client and/or server software, updating products and/or product information, updating data regarding online stores, updating/replacing/adding advertisements, upgrading/replacing/adding hardware, updating inventory information, and other tasks relevant to the operation of system 100. hi an exemplary embodiment of the invention, management and/or maintenance data is first copied to an intermediate location, such as the server farm 104 described below, before transmission to its final destination, such as a customer 110. Optionally, management and/or maintenance data is transmitted directly to its final destination. Optionally, administrative office 102 also performs a graphics processing function for the creation and revision of an online, digital, three- dimensional store. Graphics processing is described in more detail in conjunction with Fig. 2.

Optionally, system 100 is further comprised of at least one advertiser 112. hi an exemplary embodiment of the invention, advertiser 112 is in operative communication to administrative office 102 for performing such tasks as uploading new advertising to be displayed in stores, checking advertising statistics, conducting financial transactions, checking customer statistics, and gathering and/or transmitting other information. At least one product supplier 114 is also optionally included in system 100. As system 100 allows for electronic commerce transactions, inventory statistics are optionally electronically tracked, hi an exemplary embodiment of the invention, retailer representative 108 contacts product supplier 114 for additional products to sell. Optionally, product supplier 114 delivers directly to customer 110 once the retailer has made a sale. Optionally, product supplier 114 accesses retailer inventory through system 100 and delivers product based on a perceived inventory shortage. Other related elements, such as for payment processing (not shown) and/or delivery (not shown) are also optionally included in system 100. Optionally, some or all of the system elements 102-114 are automated using system components like object/template libraries, compile station, application programming interfaces (API's) and scripts handling library control logic/store creation/maintenance and/or the web/windows based graphical user interface (GUI).

In some embodiments of the invention, some and/or all of the elements 102-114 are operationally connected to be in communication with at least one other element of system 100. Optionally, at least one element of system 100 is operationally connected to a communications network 150, such as the Internet. It should be understood that while the various elements of system 100 are shown and described as unitary entities for performing a function or functions, the elements are optionally comprised of a plurality of sub-elements optionally positioned in a plurality of locations, jointly and/or severally capable of performing the function or functions. Optionally, some of the various elements of system 100 are combined, for example server farm 104 and website servers 106 can be integrated in an exemplary embodiment of the invention. In some embodiments of the invention some and/or all of the elements 102-114 are provided with a data input/output, storage and/or processing apparatus, such as a personal computer, for interacting with system 100. Store Building

Turning now to Fig. 2, a schematic 200 is shown depicting elements used for store design, creation, renovation, management and/or maintenance, in an exemplary embodiment of the invention. One component of creating a virtual, three-dimensional store is producing the products that are to be displayed and offered for sale in the store, hi an exemplary embodiment of the invention, data, such as digital images of products, are created by using a photo stand 202. Photo stand 202 is optionally constructed of some or all of a stand on which to place the product, at least one digital camera, at least one adjustable light source, a control device such as a computer, software loaded on the computer for image capture synchronization and/or photo pre-processing. Photo stand 202 captures at least one image of a product in a digital format which can then be used to model the product digitally. Optionally, the product is imaged from a plurality of angles in order to create the digital product model. Optionally, at least one light source is adjusted in order to portray the product in a desired light. Optionally, product image capture is performed using a video device. Optionally, product image capture is performed using a scanner. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, a graphics processing station is provided to perform texture preprocessing. Optionally, graphics processing station 204 is a computer. In some embodiments of the invention, graphics processing station 204 uses images and/or data captured at photo stand 202 for the creation and processing of graphical textures. In some embodiments of the invention, graphics processing station 204 is provided with software which enables manipulation of the images provided from photo stand 202. Optionally, graphics processing station 204 is in operative communication with photo stand 202 for receipt of images captured by photo stand 202 of various products, hi some exemplary embodiments of the invention, graphics processing station 204 receives and/or transmits data to/from other elements in schematic 200. Optionally, graphics processing station 204 receives images from photo stand 202 via an intermediary, such as a portable storage device. Graphics processing station 204 is optionally in communication with a graphics library database 206 for storing graphics processed on graphics processing station 204 and/or for retrieving graphics to be processed on graphics processing station 204. Graphics library database 206 serves as a repository for data in an exemplary embodiment of the invention. Optionally, graphics library database 206 stores data files pertaining to products, online stores, scenery, decorations, textures, floor plans, trade equipment, fixtures and any other data which would be useful for constructing and/or maintaining a graphically and/or textually based online store. In some embodiments of the invention, graphics library database 206 is in operative communication with at least one other element portrayed in schematic 200 and is capable of receipt and/or transmission of data stored on graphics library database 206. Optionally, graphics library database 206 is in communication with and/or is located at server farm 104.

A graphics designer station 208 is provided in schematic 200 for designing an online store and/or its contents and/or any piece of graphical/other information stored in graphics library database 206, in an exemplary embodiment of the invention. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, a graphics designer station 208 is provided for generating the product models to be used in an online store. A process for product model creation using graphics designer station 208 in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention is described in more detail in the context of Fig. 6. At graphics designer station 208, data is used to design, create, renovate, and/or maintain an online store. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, source files are created by graphics designer station 208 for use in displaying at least one online store. Optionally, data is derived from graphics library database 206. Optionally, data is saved back to graphics library database 206. Optionally, data produced at graphics designer station 208 and/or at graphics processing station 204 and/or stored in graphics library database 206 is reused in almost each newly produced online store at least to some extent. Optionally, data is used which does not come from graphics library database 206, such as from an external data source 210. Optionally, an external data source is a design professional, such as an interior designer and/or architect and/or other graphics designer. Optionally, an external source is retailer representative 108. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, a designer uses graphics designer station 208, and software loaded thereon, to combine data in order design, create, renovate, and/or maintain an online shop and optionally, the contents therein. Optionally, a designer is not needed and designing, creation, renovation, and/or maintenance is automated. An exemplary process for creation of an online store and, optionally, the contents therein is described in further detail in the context of Fig. 3. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, graphics designer station 208, and optionally other elements shown in schematic 200, are utilized for implementing the process of Fig. 3. Optionally, graphics designer station 208 is a computer.

In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, a compiling station 212 is used to compile source files generated at graphics designer station 208 into graphics engine format, usable by the graphics engine of the graphic user interface 1000. The graphics engine is described in more detail in Figs. 9 A and 9B. Optionally, compiling station 212 is a computer. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, compiling station 212 is in operative communication with other elements portrayed in schematic 200. Optionally, graphics processing station 204, graphics designer station 208 and/or compiling station 212 are combined.

At least one of the elements described above, 202, 204, 206, 208, 210 and/or 212 is operatively connected to a web server 214. Optionally, the web server 214 is located at server farm 104. Web server 214 is in communication with a global communications network, such as the Internet 150. Through network 150, online stores and/or data files associated with online stores are optionally transmitted from web server 214 to customers 110. Optionally, data files associated with an online store are created ad-hoc. Optionally, data files associated with a plurality of online stores are transmitted to customers 110, thereby creating a virtual shopping mall. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, a plurality of affiliated stores are accessible from each other. In some embodiments of the invention, only data files which are updated versions of previous data files already located at customer 110 are transmitted to customers 110. Additionally and/or alternatively, web server 214 receives customer data files from customers 110. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, web server 214 is in communication with retailer representative 108. As described above, retailer representative 108 optionally performs various functions within system 100.

5 It should be noted that in an exemplary embodiment of the invention, at least one schematic element 202-214 is situated within administrative office 102 of Fig. 1. Optionally, tasks described as being performed within the framework of schematic 200 are automated. Optionally, tasks described as being performed within the framework of schematic 200 are performed manually, for example the designer using graphical designer station 208. 0 Turning now to Fig. 3, a store building process 300 is depicted for building an online store, in an exemplary embodiment of the invention. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, shop building process 300 starts (302) by determining (304) if the online store will resemble a store that exists in the "brick and mortar" world. If it is determined (304) that the online store will resemble an existing store, signature design elements are captured (306) from 5 the existing store for use in the creation of the online store. Using the various captured signature elements and optional additional elements, a retailer or someone besides the retailer builds (308) the online store to resemble the real one in an exemplary embodiment of the invention. The emulated real store build process 400 in an exemplary embodiment of the invention is depicted and described in detail in Fig. 4. In some embodiments of the invention, a

10 store designer builds the store. Optionally, someone besides a designer builds the store, such as retailer representative 108. Optionally, existing architectural plans are used in copying an existing store plan. Alternatively or additionally, images of the store are used to reconstruct a 3D model of the store and/or its surfaces and/or its textures.

On the other hand, if it is determined (304) that the online store will not resemble an

>5 existing real world store, the online store is created in some embodiments of the invention by choosing (310) fictional design elements. Such design elements are optionally stored on graphics library database 206. Optionally, fictional design elements are generated by a graphic artist and/or are derived from a source 210 that is not graphics library database 206. In some embodiments of the invention, if graphics data is obtained from a source 210 that is not in i0 graphics library database 206, then those graphics are subsequently added to graphics library database 206. From the various design elements available, an online store is built (312). Fig. 5 depicts a fictional store creation process in an exemplary embodiment of the invention. At least one product and/or service is intended for sale in the online store in an exemplary embodiment of the invention. Therefore, in an online store that is intended to be viewed in a graphical, and optionally three-dimensional, context, the product is optionally made viewable in the online store to customers 110. As most products available in stores today are provided with a product identifier, like a Universal Product Code ("UPC Code") from the Uniform Code Council, a product which is to be placed on display in the online store has its UPC Code captured (314) in order to determine (316) if a product model already exists in graphics library database 206. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, if the UPC Code of the product is recognized, meaning a product model already has been created and is available, then the product model is chosen (318) from graphics library database 206. If however, in an exemplary embodiment of the invention, the UPC Code of the product is not recognized and/or if the product has no UPC Code and/or if the product can't be recognized/found in the library using library search capabilities including visual/manual search inside the relevant product category, then a product model is created (320). A process for creating a product model is described in detail in the context of Fig. 6. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, product models which are created are stored in graphics library database 206 and are referenced by a UPC Code. Optionally, for products which bear no UPC Code, an indexing system is created so that products are not duplicatively modeled unnecessarily. Optionally, a UPC Code is used, but not used as the primary method of identifying products. Optionally, a UPC Code is not used at all.

In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, more than one unit of a product is displayed together, for example on a shelf. Optionally, a product group is optionally created (322) using massification, a technique that takes one object and replicates it in order to display a plurality of the object. The product group enables more convenient placement of multiple products within the online store. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, objects are located behind one another. Optionally, these objects are two-dimensional. Optionally, they are three-dimensional. Optionally, more than one two-dimensional objects are used to show one product from several different points of view (e.g. yogurt container front view and top view combined to create the illusion of 3D product view). Optionally, two-dimensional objects dynamically rotate at a computed angle toward the camera creating an illusion of 3D. Optionally two-dimensional objects are static and located on shelves in a specific way, creating an illusion of 3D. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, only the front-most object is three-dimensional. Optionally, only one 3D object, surrounded by 2D views of the same object, is used as a product massification technique. Optionally, any other combination of 2D and 3D object views for the same object and/or different objects are used to create massification and 3D visual effects. Optionally, objects are overlaid to create a new object and/or to alter the appearance of the object. Individual products and/or product groups are located (324) for display within the online store. Additional objects are optionally made viewable by repeating (340) the process from capturing the products barcode (314). In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, product identifiers, like UPC Codes, associated with products located within the online store are noted (340) and indexed to location so that when customer 110 interacts with the product, system 100 is properly advised as to which product is being interacted with and system 100 can provide the appropriate response. Optionally, identifiers are used for locating products within the store. Optionally, some indexing method is used to identify shelves and/or other trading equipment and/or any location in the store to assist in product/product group location in the store. Optionally, the indexing method is used as a reference to facilitate construction and/or maintenance of a store from a remote location, such as giving and/or receiving instructions regarding placement of items in the store in relation to the indexing.

Once the products are placed within the store, additional, optional tasks can be performed such as creating (326) advertising for placement within the store, assigning discounts and/or specials to specific products, and/or making signage for the store. Advertisements and/or signage that are created are optionally located (328) within the store as appropriate. Optionally, a wizard is used for placement of advertising in the store. Optionally, different choices of types of advertising are present during use of the wizard. A detailed description of optional types and techniques of advertising is found herein below. An additional optional task involves defining (330) a camera start position, the camera being customer's 110 point of view. Shop building process 300 concludes (334) by compiling (332) the source files into a format used by a graphics engine, such as described in relation to compiling station 212.

Referring to Fig. 4, a flowchart 400 describing a process of building a virtual space is presented which, in an exemplary embodiment of the invention, corresponds to building a store (308) in Fig. 3. The process starts (402) by launching (404) software which is adapted to allow editing of graphics files. An example of acceptable software includes 3ds Max® by Autodesk Media and Entertainment of Montreal, Quebec. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, a room of the store is created (406) using the software including various design elements such as walls, ceiling and floor. Creation (406) of various elements of the store also optionally includes applying textures to the elements, light and shadow effects, and adaptation of the elements to simple geometrical shapes and/or sprites. Sprites are generally regarded as a two- dimensional graphical representation of an object, typically in bitmap format. In the bitmap format, a group of bits corresponds to each pixel of the image, the bits conveying display information for that pixel. One reason for using simple geometrical shapes and/or sprites is the ease of creation. Another reason for simple geometrical shapes and/or sprites is optimization of file size. In some embodiments of the invention, various design elements are already stored on graphics library database 206. Optionally, design elements are created during the building (308) process and/or are derived from an outside source, which are then optionally stored on graphics library database 206 for future use. Another reason for usage of sprites is that they are much easier on hardware to display than true three-dimensional images. For example, a sprite can emulate a cylinder making it appear three-dimensional, but requiring much less processing power to display than a true three dimensional cylinder shape.

Once the basic structure of a room in the store is created (406) assorted other elements are optionally added to provide a store-like environment. Doorframes and windows, for example, are also created (408) along with the installation (410) of other architectural elements such as columns. Trading equipment is also optionally added (412) to the store layout. Examples of trading equipment include shelves, end caps, coolers, refrigerators, freezers, stands, countertops, tables and/or any structure which is capable of providing a location to display products for sale. Optionally, trading equipment is transparent. Optionally, trading equipment is not statically located. Optionally, trading equipment used has no real world analog, for example, a cloud as a shelf, flying and/or floating stands, and/or a flying carpet and other similar concoctions which are not limited by real world physics. Optionally, computer generated trading equipment is an exact analog of an existing real world version of the equipment. Optionally, trading equipment is a modified version of the existing trade equipment.

Doors are added (414) to the door frames, the doors being optionally animated to provide a feeling of opening and closing. For example, sliding glass doors can be optionally provided which when customer 110 activates a trigger, such as described herein below, that customer 110 is approaching the sliding door, the door will open. Optionally, the door closes behind customer 110 once customer 110 has passed through. Optionally, if customer 110 does not pass through the door, the door closes after a certain amount of elapsed time. Optionally, the door opening/closing and/or other animations are accompanied by sound effects. Other animated elements are optionally added to the store, such as advertising which is described in more detail herein below, and/or video screens for example. Optionally, products are animated. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, triggers are provided to activate animated elements when customer 110 is near. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, certain graphics and/or graphical effects are displayed only if triggered by movement of the camera into a trigger area. Examples of triggers include: camera location trigger, camera visibility pyramid trigger, user pointing device operation trigger (e.g. mouse click/double click, timed out mouse over), chain activated triggers, user activity/idle detection trigger, and viewing and/or buying history based triggers. Optionally, animated elements operate without a trigger. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, animated elements operate even if they move outside the pyramid of visibility. For example, if a video loop starts playing, the video will continue even if customer 110 moves away, so when customer 110 returns to view the video, the customer doesn't see from the same point as when customer 110 left. Optionally, animations can pause while they are not in customer's 110 line of sight. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, a store is comprised of more than one room in one or more virtual locations. Creation (406-414) is optionally repeated (416) for each room intended to be integrated into a store. Optionally, connecting passageways are created (418) in order to connect (420) the plurality of rooms. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, creation of connecting passageways (418) includes installing walls, a ceiling, and a floor. Optionally, passageways include means for traversing elevation, such as stairs, elevators and/or escalators. Optionally, when shopping trolley reaches stairs, elevator and/or escalators, trolley moves automatically up and/or down them. Optionally, elevation traversing means are included in a room of the store. Optionally, portals are used as alternative way of traversing online locations. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, portals are located at the "boundary" of a zone that is loaded into memory and a zone outside of what is loaded into memory. As customer 110 passes through a portal, a new zone representing the area of the virtual space where the customer has passed into is loaded into memory, allowing customer 110 to navigate through the new space. Optionally, a portal is represented as a door. Optionally, the line between zones is not visible to customer 110 and awareness of customer's transit between zones is only heightened upon loading of the new zone. Optionally, decorative elements such as plants, lights, seasonal decorations, sculptures and/or wall hangings are added (422) which enhance the appearance of the store, hi some exemplary embodiments of the invention, the process 400 of building a store ends (426) by adding (424) an entrance to the store where customer 110 begins shopping. Optionally, decorative elements are live links over a global communications network, such as the Internet. Optionally, decorative elements are semi-live, being downloaded with the store and/or periodically. Li some exemplary embodiments of the invention, advertising elements are added to the store. It should be noted that the various store building tasks (406-424) described can optionally be performed in any order. In some embodiments of the invention, textures, lighting and shadow, and/or adaptation to simple geometric shapes and/or sprites are applied to various elements added into rooms of a store. As described above, design elements are taken from graphics library database 206 in an exemplary embodiment of the invention. Optionally, design elements are created and/or are taken from a non graphics library database 206 source.

In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, a "wizard" style process 500 is used to build a virtual space, for example an online store. The wizard style process prompts a user to make a series of choices among a list of possible selections while progressing towards completion of the task for which the wizard is set-up to achieve, in this case the building of a store to be accessed online. Fig. 5 portrays an embodiment along the lines of a wizard which optionally corresponds to store building 312 of Fig. 3. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, the wizard software is accessible online at a URL address. Optionally, the wizard software can be run through a web browser, such as Microsoft® Explorer. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, the wizard process starts (502) by opening (504) the wizard at a website. An initial step for a user of the wizard is choosing (506) a floor plan for the store. Optionally, various assorted, pre-designed floor plans are presented to the user for selection. After selection of a floor plan, user is prompted to choose (508) an entrance for the store. As in other exemplary embodiments of the invention described herein, graphics data and various design options are optionally presented from graphics library database 206. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, user selects (510), (512), (514) textures for the walls, ceiling and floor, respectively, of a room in the store. For further customization, the wizard optionally prompts the user to choose (516) architectural elements, such as columns and decorative elements, and doors. Optionally, doors are animated in order to impart to customer 110 a feeling of realism. Optionally, trading equipment is selected (518) for placement within the store and for display of products, in an exemplary embodiment of the invention. Optionally, placement of the trading equipment is automatically performed by the wizard. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, the wizard uses predefined existing graphics library elements (e.g. stores with trading equipment located inside). Optionally, scripts used to automate the creation of pre-built stores. Optionally, the wizard presents the user with options regarding placement of the trading equipment. Depending on the user's choice (506) of a floor-plan, there may be more than one room for which the wizard needs to plan. Optionally, for each room included in the floor plan certain tasks of the design process are repeated (520). In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, (510-518) are repeated for each room. Optionally, user can choose to have every room included in the floor plan decorated the same. Optionally, rooms and/or specific elements of a room are made to match a particular style and/or theme. For example, a video store can optionally have rooms in action theme and/or rooms in comedy theme. The wizard design process 500 ends (524) by downloading (522) the empty shop for review by the user, optionally using the 3D virtual space maintenance tool. Optionally, someone besides the user reviews the design, such as a designer at administrative office 102. Optionally, instead of building a store, the virtual space is an apartment or house, a hotel, a museum, a sporting facility, a school or university, a garden or other outdoor locations, a public building, an office building, a warehouse, a factory, a hospital, a ship, a holy place (e.g. church, synagogue, mosque) and/or an airplane.

In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, a user is provided with a software tool which allows for the customization of a virtual space. For example, the tool is optionally used for trading equipment placement and/or decorative element placement and/or product placement and/or advertisement object placement and/or furniture placement. Optionally, the software tool is used by advertisers to design, update and/or place advertising in a virtual space. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, tasks are performed by a user using 3D virtual space maintenance tool which enables browsing of a graphic library (e.g. database), manipulation of objects and placement of objects inside the designed virtual space. The 3D virtual space maintenance tool is based on the same graphical engine as the software for displaying the virtual space with additional capabilities of object manipulation, placement and 3D orientation. The 3D virtual space maintenance tool allows the user to immediately experience and review the look-and-feel of design changes performed exactly as it would be viewed by a person navigating the space. Optionally, the changes are immediately available to a customer and/or viewer on-line. Optionally, changes are stored in the graphic library for further review and additional action.

In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, objects are copied from a first remote graphic library and/or database, and then situated locally for use by the graphical engine for display of the virtual space. Optionally, objects are situated locally on a user's computer hard drive. Optionally, the graphical engine performs operations on the objects, such as massifϊcation. In such an exemplary embodiment, multiple users can access the first graphic library and/or database simultaneously since objects are merely copied from the library and are manipulated on a local level. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, the tool is used to configure office space.

Optionally, the virtual office space being configured by the tool is a representation of a physically existing space which a user wants to configure taking advantage of the ease and/or flexibility offered by virtual configuring as opposed to actual, physical configuring. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, people who are planning to work in the office space are allowed to individually configure their own offices and/or work spaces. Optionally, individual configuration is performed by selecting various options from a set list of company approved features. By using such a tool for office space configuration, corporate standards and uniformity of appearance are more easily maintained.

Optionally, the user can move forward or backward in the wizard's order of tasks and make changes to selections already made in an exemplary embodiment of the invention. In some embodiments of the invention, the tasks (506-518) are performed in a different order than as described herein. Optionally, instead of choosing one of the wizard prompted selections, the user can upload a selection for use by the wizard. Optionally, the wizard, and the selections it presents to the user, is in communication with graphics library database 206. Optionally, each selection made by user rendered into the semi-ready store picture (2D or 3D) displayed to user as a visual feedback to the selection.

Optionally, user is provided with a "fat" client software which is installed to and operated without external input into a customer's computer, or other processing device. Optionally, user is provided with a "smart" client software which automatically updates itself as updates become available, but otherwise operate independently from other input. Creation of Product Models

As described in the context of Fig. 3, product models are used in order to display graphically the products that are for sale in an online store. Generally, a product model is a digital graphical representation of what a product looks like in the real world. A method of creating product models 600 is illustrated in Fig. 6. Product models can be any graphics file which is capable of representing a product for sale in the online store. However, in an exemplary embodiment of the invention, two kinds of models are used, sprites and simple geometric shapes such as boxes. Optionally, true three-dimensional models are used for some product models. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, sprites are used for cylinder, sphere, and/or cone based products. Sprites are also optionally used for soft packaged items, for example potato chips packaging. In some embodiments of the invention, more than one sprite is used to compose the product model. Optionally, sprites are dynamic. Simple geometric shapes, like boxes, are optionally used for other products. Optionally, simple geometric shapes are used for products whose containers exhibit a box-like shape, for example a box of cereal. In some embodiments of the invention, more than one simple geometric shape is used to compose the product model. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, object modeling using sprites and/or simple geometric shapes reduces hardware requirements such as video adapter memory and central processing unit speed as a result of smaller file size and fewer processor operations to be performed. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, sprites and/or simple geometrical shapes are used because a plurality of objects are capable of display, while using lower hardware requirements than true 3D objects. Optionally, sprites are used in conjunction with massification for object intensive spaces, in order to conserve on hardware requirements. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, product model creation begins by taking pictures (602) of the product in its packaging. Optionally, pictures are taken of a product without packaging or both with and without packaging, for example a perfume bottle and its package. Pictures can optionally be taken from any angle to the product. Optionally, any number of pictures can be taken of the product. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, five pictures are taken of the product from the front, back, right, left and top. Lighting conditions and camera settings are optionally adjusted according to the needs for an adequate rendition of the product. In another exemplary embodiment of the invention, only one picture is taken of the product. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, a product rotates while being continuously imaged in order to allow the selection of certain frames of the continuous image to be used for model creation. Optionally, a moving image of the product is used for the creation of a product model.

Once pictures are taken of the product, processing of the pictures is performed in order to make them ready for application to base models (e.g. sprite, geometric shape). Processing of pictures for the textures of simple geometric shapes (604) involves a plurality of tasks, in an exemplary embodiment of the invention. One such task is performing a color gamma fix on the pictures taken of the product. A color gamma fix corrects for color distortion which occurs during image acquisition and/or display, in an exemplary embodiment of the invention. In addition, any background captured in the picture is optionally removed. Similarly, the product picture can be cropped to eliminate unnecessary elements from the picture such as hard to model packaging, in some embodiments of the invention. Optionally, the image size and the canvas size of at least one picture are changed. Other tasks can be performed on the picture such as sharpening and/or color enhancement. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, once a particular picture is processed for use with a simple geometric shape, the image is saved in a format adapted for being small in size but still maintaining a maximal image quality for the given image compression. Optionally, the image is saved on graphic library database 206.

In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, lighting effects are applied to images in a pre-processing stage to eliminate the need of dynamic lighting conditions and/or real-time processing as a part of an engine render cycle or static light map usage. Lighting effects preprocessing is used to reduce video memory requirements and for boosting performance while keeping lighting effects seemingly real. Individual textures are optionally provided with pre- processed lighting effects without regard to their actual placement in a virtual space, in some exemplary embodiments of the invention. Optionally, textures are provided with some pre- processed lighting effects and some lighting effects which are as a result of dynamic lighting and/or static light map techniques.

In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, the image is re-formatted (608) for placement in an online shop using software adapted for changing the image format. An example of acceptable software for this use is DirectX® Texture tool offered by Microsoft Corporation. Using the software, the image is optionally formatted to DDS format dxt3 or dxt5, and resaved (614) on graphics library database 206. Formats such as dxt3 and dxt5 offer quick video adapter processing times, quick loading times into video adapter memory and the ability to be stored in a compressed state, even in video adapter memory relative to other formats in use presently. Texture processing for use with sprite objects (606), in an exemplary embodiment of the invention, commences with choosing the object contour of the product being modeled. The color gamma is changed to grayscale, in an exemplary embodiment of the invention. Optionally, the two-dimensional shape of the object is filled with white and the background is filled with black, for enhanced image definition. The graphic is then saved to graphic library database 206, in some embodiments of the invention. Optionally, the file is saved as an 8-bit bitmap file. Optionally, transparent or semi-transparent objects are provided by alpha channel modification using graphical software to change a white part of the image to gray. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, the texture for use with sprite objects is re-formatted (610) for placement in an online shop using software adapted for changing the image format. An example of acceptable software for this use is DirectX® Texture tool offered by Microsoft Corporation. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, an initial step is opening the texture image file and changing the surface format to A8R8G8B8. A mask (the bitmap file) is optionally applied to the image next. The file is then saved in DDS format and then changed to dxt5 format. The file is then resaved (614) on graphics library database 206, in some embodiments of the invention. Optionally, a true 3D image is used as a product model.

In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, processing is performed so that the quality of the image is preserved while the image is optimized for presentation over a global communications network. Optionally, quality is preserved so that an average customer can read text within the image. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, color fidelity and/or resolution for an object image are retained, but not for the image itself. Optionally, quality retention is accomplished by reducing color fidelity no more than 20%. Optionally, quality retention is accomplished by reducing image resolution no more than 20%. Optionally, there is no reduction in quality to the average customer in a 256 x 256 display. Once the image files are prepared and in .dxf format, they are applied (612) to an appropriate model (e.g. sprite, simple geometric shape), in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention. Software adapted for such a task is used. An example of acceptable software is 3ds Max®. As each product model is created, it is optionally indexed (616) using a standard indexing system, such as UPC Code or something similar. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, some or all product models are examined for quality control whether the product model was created manually or automatically. Downloadinfi and Using an Online Store Referring now to Figs. 7A and 7B, a flowchart 700 demonstrating a process for downloading software for displaying and using an online store is shown, in an exemplary embodiment of the invention. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, the software and data for download is less than 15MB. Data optionally includes room layouts, objects and/or materials to be located within rooms, advertising, decorative elements, object and/or material lists, information on objects located within the room, etc. Optionally, the software is less than 30MB. Optionally, the software to be downloaded is less than 45MB. The process starts (702) when customer 110 browses (704) to a retailer website that has created a three-dimensional online store as described herein. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, customer 110 clicks (706) on a link on the website in order to enter the online store. Optionally, customer 110 is automatically directed to the online store, depending on the individual set-up of the website. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, a "bootstrap module" is downloaded to customer 110, the "bootstrap module" then determining (708) if the client-side software necessary for navigating using a graphic user interface 1000 exists on the customer's computer. Optionally, detection of necessary client-side software is conducted from a remote location. Software can optionally include one or more of a set-up manager, a configuration utility, a graphics engine, GUI, configuration files, display drivers, DirectX® and/or other software providing the same functionality, transport module, logical module, data access layer, dispatcher and/or an update manager. If the software does exist on the customer's computer, the software determines (710) if any software updates are available. Optionally, an update manager performs this determination. If an update is determined to exist, the update manager downloads (712) the update, in an exemplary embodiment of the invention. If no update exists, the process moves on to determining (724) if the specific store is enabled on the customer's computer. However, going back to the determination 708 of whether the necessary software exists on customer's computer, if it does not, in an exemplary embodiment of the invention the setup manager and configuration utility are downloaded (714) to prepare for software installation. A determination (716) is made by the newly downloaded software regarding the sufficiency and/or compatibility of the hardware and software on the customer's computer. If it is determined that the compatibility and/or performance characteristics of the computer are unacceptable, then the process ends (734) optionally with an appropriate message displayed to the user. If acceptable compatibility and performance characteristics are found, then the drivers loaded onto the computer and/or the hardware and/or software located on the computer are optionally tested (718) for compatibility. If acceptable compatibility in the drivers is found, then the process advances to determining (724) if the specific store is enabled on the customer's computer. If incompatible drivers are found, the configuration utility updates (720) the drivers, optionally with customer 110 permission, in an exemplary embodiment of the invention. Optionally, an "outdated" store data file is available for transmission to customer 110 which utilizes the legacy drivers. Once the drivers are updated, the setup manager downloads (722) the remaining portions of the software, and optionally creates a desktop shortcut. Optionally, the desktop shortcut provides a means for executing the software. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, the software is started by clicking a link at retailer web site. Optionally, the software is started by navigating through the functions of the operating system loaded onto customer's computer. For example using a Windows XP® system, the software can be executed by navigating through the "start menu". In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, a list of available and/or favorite and/or recently added shops is displayed. In some embodiments of the invention, the store list is updated (710). In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, a process for downloading and/or updating is automated. Optionally, customer 110 participates in downloading and/or updating. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, the online store runs in a Java applet or ActiveX control.

Subsequent to the installation of the necessary software and approval of adequate hardware, the software determines (724) if the particular store where customer 110 entered is already installed on the customer's computer, in an exemplary embodiment of the invention. If the store is previously installed, the software determines (726) if an update is available. If an update is available, in an exemplary embodiment of the invention, the update manager downloads (728) the update and optionally installs it. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, only those files which are new or updated versions of those present on customer's computer are downloaded to customer 110. Optionally, files are transmitted in a compressed format, for decompression at the download destination. If the store does not already exists, update manager optionally (730) downloads updated shop. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, upon update completion, the setup manager starts (732) the client and the client loads the store into the graphics engine. If it is determined (726) that no updates exist, the setup manager starts (732) the client and the client loads the store into the graphics engine. Using an Online Store

Turning now to Figs. 8A and 8B, a method 800 of using an online store, such as described herein, is shown in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention. The method starts (802) by turning on the customer's computer and/or starting (804) its operating system. The specific shopping software application is then started (806). Optionally, the computer is already on just prior to the shopping software application installation and therefore starting (804) the computer is skipped. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, the software is started by clicking on a desktop shortcut which had been created previously. Optionally, the software is launched using software-starting techniques afforded to the customer by the operating system. Optionally, the software is launched by navigating to an online store enabled website whereby the website automatically launches the software or customer 110 initiates the launch by clicking on a link located on the website. Upon link activation, shopping is performed via a direct connection between customer 110 and server farm 104. Optionally, website server 106 acts as an intermediary. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, any purchases made by customer 110 in store generate a purchase order, which is transmitted from server farm 104 to website server 106 and/or retailer representative 108 for processing and delivery. Retailer representative 108 and/or website server 106 replies to customer 110 with order completion information and/or delivery information and/or other relevant information. Optionally, reply is made via server farm 104. Optionally, retailer website and three-dimensional online store files are provided from the same location. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, item purchases can be made with a single click on the item in graphic user interface 1000. Optionally, purchases are made off of a textual list of items for sale. hi an exemplary embodiment of the invention, if no active communications connection is detected by the computer, customer 110 is prompted to establish one. Optionally, the software resumes operation if a connection is subsequently determined to exist. Optionally, the software prompts the user to exit the program, hi some exemplary embodiments of the invention, shopping is conducted entirely off-line and upon connection to a communications network, details of a purchase order generated by the off-line shopping activity is transmitted for processing. Optionally, upon connection to a communications network, a store is loaded for navigation by customer 110. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, customer 110 browses the store in an off-line condition, while not connected to a global communications network and/or not connected to server farm 104. Optionally, customer 110 makes purchases in an online store based on the locally stored version of it, and then connects briefly to transmit the purchase order to retailer and to optionally make payment and/or schedule delivery. Any problems with the off-line order and the online status of the store are optionally presented to customer upon connection with store, allowing customer the opportunity to resolve the problems. hi an exemplary embodiment of the invention, a duty free store is provided to a shopper, for example on a CD, for browsing while on an airplane flight, hi some exemplary embodiments of the invention, this browsing is conducted off-line. However, the shopper can view the store, and its contents for sale, and make purchases in the off-line condition. At some point after the browsing occurs, for example at the end of the flight, the shopper can provide data files which indicate which purchases were made. Optionally, these data files are recorded onto the CD originally provided to the shopper. Optionally, the off-line order can be printed or hard copied or transmitted to a retailer using an alternative method. Optionally, browsing is performed online.

Once the software has been started (806), it determines (808) if it is the first time the software has been started on the particular computer. If this or another copy of the software has been used before on this or another computer by the same customer, customer 110 logs (812) onto the shopping service and/or store. If the software has never been used before, in an exemplary embodiment of the invention, customer 110 registers (810) to use the software and/or to create an account. In an embodiment of the invention, customer provides profile information such as name, address, contact information (e.g. phone numbers), billing information and/or demographic information during registration. Optionally, registration (810) is wizard based. The customer logs in (812) once an account has been registered. Modifications of the customer 110 information submitted at registration are optionally performed after login (812).

In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, customer 110 chooses (814) a service and/or a store from a list. Optionally the list is arranged in a pre-determined fashion. For example, the list optionally presents customer's favorite stores. Optionally, stores and/or services are presented in a three dimensional virtual directory. Another example of a predetermined list could be stores that are located in the geographical vicinity of customer 110. Another example of a pre-determined list could be stores that are new to the customer but have been determined as being of interest to customer 110. Such a determination is optionally based on past shopping habits of customer 110. While the selected store loads, information is optionally displayed (816) on a customer's screen such as ongoing specials and/or discounts, new items for sale, announcements, delivery information or simply a screen showing the logo of the retailer. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, upon completion of the load the three-dimensional online store appears (818) on a customer's screen. Optionally, a representation of a customer's shopping trolley is also portrayed. Optionally, the contents of the electronic shopping cart 1028 are restored from a previous save, optionally to a data storage device of customer's 110 computer, of the contents, for example, from a previous shopping trip if the shopper wants to buy substantially the same items and save time, or if the shopper had to stop in the middle of a shopping session. Li some exemplary embodiments of the invention, customer 110 is provided with a wish list, which notifies customer 110 of particular products when they become available, Optionally, customer 110 provides a graphic image of a particular product and image recognition abilities of the software are used to determine if that product is available for purchase.

In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, customer's 110 refrigerator and/or pantry contents at home are displayed in conjunction with a store. In this manner, customer 110 sees what needs to be refilled and can purchase replacements at the store. Optionally, customer's 110 computer tracks the refrigerator's and/or pantry's inventory. Optionally, inventory tracking is achieved by using UPC Codes.

Shopping in an online store in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention is accomplished similarly to shopping in a real store enabling an enhanced version of a real world-like shopping experience. Customer 110 can travel (820) around the store environment viewing items, such as products, and selecting certain products for detailed description and/or additional information and/or purchase. In an embodiment of the invention, at least 20 items or products are displayed. Optionally, at least 50 items or products are displayed. Optionally, at least 100 items or products are displayed. Details regarding the techniques used to display an online store in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention are described in relation to Figs. 9A and 9B, below. Natural zooming capabilities are built-in to the system. A customer optionally zooms-in/out on a product/group/ advertisement/other by simply moving closer to or moving away from the subject optionally at any angle. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, features are implemented which take advantage of the fact that the laws of nature do not apply. For example, customer 110 can select a product and have information about the product appear on the customer's screen and/or on information display 1010. Optionally, the quantity of a previously selected product can be updated using an electronic shopping cart 1028 without navigating back to the shelf on which that particular product was found. Another optional feature is "floating" advertisements which appear suspended in midair to customer 110. Audio like music and/or announcements are optionally played in the background. Optionally, audio effects are triggered by customer movement into a trigger area and/or using any other trigger option described herein. Optionally, volume is varied in order to generate an audio effect on customer 110. Optionally, other shoppers' verbal reactions and/or responses are reproduced for the customer providing the effect of other peoples' presence and/or for making a product of subject more attractive to him. Selection (822) of a specific product to buy is achieved by drag-and-drop operation into the trolley 1002 in an exemplary embodiment of the invention. Optionally, customer 110 can click on the product and select buy from a menu. Optionally, when customer 110 clicks an object, customer 110 gets a personalization menu which then affects what customer sees regarding that object, like selecting its color, and/or whatever other variables are defined for it. Optionally the whole store can be personalized. One example is a "single" can ask to see only small portion products. Another example is that a man can select to not see female intimate products for sale. The customization may be automatic or it can be based on request, cookies, rules defined by the software, etc. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, products displayed on shelves correspond to products determined to be desired by customer 110. Determination is optionally based on past buying behavior, associated products of products bought previously, customer feedback, and/or detected interest of customer in a product. Optionally, customer 110 can double click on the product to perform the purchase. Optionally, customer 110 can modify the quantity of units of the product purchased. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, a customer accesses a list and/or notepad function of the software which itemizes products to buy and/or notes regarding shopping. Optionally, a list of items bought in a previous shopping visit is available. Optionally, a list 1028 of items currently in the trolley 1002 is made available. In some embodiments of the invention, customer 110 can review a list of items in the trolley and modify the quantities of particular products being purchased. Optionally, products can be "returned" prior to checkout, emptying the product from the cart. Optionally, products can be added to a wish list for the next time/for a specific price level/waiting to be in stock, etc. Optionally an invitation/recommendation to friends/others can be sent using the system.

Optionally, more than one customer is displayed within the store, hi some exemplary embodiments of the invention, additional customers displayed in the store are actual customers, also shopping within the online store. Optionally, customers communicate with a "virtual" but real salesperson, hi an exemplary embodiment of the invention, the salesman answers customer questions about the store, how to use the store and/or its products. Optionally, the salesman runs promotions and/or conducts surveys. In some embodiments of the invention, software is provided to automate these tasks, hi some exemplary embodiments of the invention, a computer performs the whole task with an optional human presence and/or telephone link as a supplement. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, customers can "chat" with one another, optionally using text and/or voice. Customers can use chatting features to give and/or receive information regarding products, give and/or receive information regarding the software and/or its functions, for social purposes or any other informational and/or entertainment purpose. Optionally, chat rooms are provided which are visual in nature, similar to the store. Optionally, the chat rooms are three dimensional. Customers are optionally provided with avatars which are a digital representation of their person while in the virtual environment. Optionally, these avatars are customizable. Optionally, objects such as advertisements, signs, products, and/or scenery, are located in the chat room in order to stimulate chatting customers.

In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, once customer 110 is satisfied with the products that have been selected for purchase, customer 110 proceeds to checkout (824). Checkout can optionally be accomplished by "walking" out of the store in the graphical interface, hi some embodiments of the invention, checkout is commenced upon the selection of a menu item. Optionally, a checkout button is displayed along with the store on customer's computer screen. Payment for the products selected is accomplished in any manner known to those skilled in the art, including by credit card, an online payment service like PayPal®, direct withdrawal from a bank, etc. hi an exemplary embodiment of the invention, customer 110 is prompted to supply any information which is missing in order to finalize payment details. Upon payment confirmation (826) customer 110 optionally schedules a time for delivery of the purchased products. Optionally, a delivery time is automatically selected. Optionally, no delivery time is selected, such as in the case of customer 110 picking up the purchases directly. The shopping process 800 ends (830) with the purchased products either being delivered (828) or retrieved by customer 110. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, an informational website is browsed using a seemingly three-dimensional graphical user interface such as described herein. For example, a news website could optionally be provided with separate rooms with different topics. Optionally, the rooms are topically divided by regions. Optionally, topics include finance, sports, leisure, news and/or weather. Within the rooms are optionally located subdivisions of a topic.

Improved Graphics Display Techniques and Performance

In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, object and/or material templates are used in order to speed up loading times, improve bandwidth requirements and/or reduce file sizes, hi some embodiments of the invention, an object template file contains information regarding the object which is used by a graphics engine to render and/or display the object. An object is optionally anything that is displayed within the virtual space. Basic information included in such a template includes textures and shape. Optionally, information includes size parameters for the object, hi some exemplary embodiments of the invention, an object template is built of several smaller object templates. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, only one object template is used for each instance of the object within an online store, and alternatively or additionally, for other online stores. For example, an object template exists on a database at customer 110 location for a box of Frosted Flakes® cereal. Each time a box of Frosted Flakes® cereal is displayed within the online store, the same object template is used, hi addition, the same object template is optionally used in other stores where the same box of cereal is displayed. Implementation of this template based technique for displaying objects involves associating every object template file with a placement identifier. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, an online store file contains an indexing system directing placement of objects within the online store based on each object's placement identifier. Optional additional information includes x, y and z-axis coordinates and/or object orientation information and/or material template information (described below). Using this technique, rather than storing one large file including 10 individual objects for displaying them on a shelf, each object associated with its own textures and other information and thus increasing overall file size, one object template is stored as an individual file and referenced multiple times, having been indexed multiple times within any store definition file. Optionally, object templates are stored as files in customer's computer file system. Optionally, object templates are stored elsewhere, such as at server farm 104.

A similar technique to that described above is used to optimize use of material templates, in an exemplary embodiment of the invention. Materials, generally, are texture combinations, hi some exemplary embodiments of the invention, materials provide surface effects such as gloss, shine, matte and other similar qualities. As with the object templates, material templates are optionally used to speed up loading times, reduce bandwidth requirements and/or reduce file sizes. Rather than storing multiple instances of the same material and loading them into memory, an indexing system is optionally used to allow storage of one instance of a particular material, which is then retrieved each time it is indexed while loading the store into video adapter memory. Optionally, materials are added to a previously loaded material list upon first use of the material. Materials that are already loaded, for example because they were used for a previously loaded object, are indexed and applied to new objects which call for the same material. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, grouping materials by kind of material minimizes render state switching, rendering of the group of materials being performed all at one time. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, the angle at which an object may be viewed is limited. Optionally, such view angle limitation is to optimize object file sizes. For example, if an object is allowed to only be viewed from the front and top, file size is optimized because the sides, back and bottom surfaces do not need to be displayed. Furthermore, in such an exemplary embodiment, the surfaces which cannot be viewed do not need associate textures and/or materials. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, objects are located within the virtual space such that only a portion of the object needs to be displayed. For example, an object is optionally placed at the end of a shelf, the shelf being closed off on that end. In such an example, it is likely that at least three surfaces would not have to be shown that otherwise would if the object was displayed in the open, for example on a table. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, associated with an object is information regarding the angles at which the object can be viewed. Upon customer's 110 attempt to view the object from an angle which is not allowed, the visibility pyramid optionally stops moving, thereby preventing movement of the visibility pyramid to an angle which is not permitted. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, the graphics engine utilizes the geometry files, configuration files, textures, materials and optionally audio and/or video to display a store. One visible unit is optionally several store rooms and/or the room contents, depending on the number of polygons and/or textures affiliated with the rooms while those parameters affect the minimal client computer hardware configuration. Optionally, the maximal size of one visible unit chosen to enable reasonable performance on video adapter with 64MB of memory. Optionally, the maximal size of one visible unit chosen to enable reasonable performance on video adapter with 128MB of memory. Optionally, the maximal size of one visible unit chosen to enable reasonable performance on video adapter with 256MB of memory. Optionally, the maximal visible unit size defined dynamically on the client computer depending on available graphical resources. One reason for loading multiple rooms as a single unit is to allow motion through the rooms without pausing for loading the room information. Optionally, initial geometry file size is limited in order to minimize loading time.

In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, textures with pre-processed lighting effects are used when displaying an object and/or virtual space, such as a store. Previous techniques of displaying a virtual environment utilized either a static light map or dynamic lighting methods. These lighting effect techniques suffer disadvantages for online applications over a pre-processed lighting technique, such as provided in an exemplary embodiment of the invention. For example, static light maps require large memory resources, including RAM and hard drive space, in order to be properly displayed. In the case of dynamic lighting effects, processing must be continuously performed in order to determine the lighting component of each pixel being rendered. This typically reduces display speed and requires powerful computer processor hardware. In contrast to the above two methods, textures incorporating pre-processed lighting effects occupy not much more memory than textures without the lighting effects, and furthermore, no computer graphics processing is necessary for determining what lighting effects go with which textures, since they are already integrated. Therefore, in an exemplary embodiment of the invention, an online space created using the methods and apparatuses described herein use textures with pre-processed lighting effects. These pre-processed lighting effects are incorporated into textures and are displayed when the graphics engine uses the textures. For example, when designing a virtual space, it can be known before displaying that space the approximate lighting conditions that will be present on a particular object. This approximate light is pre-processed as part of a texture to be applied to the object, thereby eliminating the need for dynamic lighting or a static light map. Pre-processed lighting is optionally a component of a template, such as those described herein. Optionally, pre-processed lighting effects are not used. Optionally, a combination of pre-processed lighting effects and/or dynamic lighting and/or static lighting map techniques are used.

In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, some information is available to a customer 110 "on-demand". For example, as customer 110 navigates a virtual environment detailed information on an object displayed in the environment is optionally retrieved from a non-cached source and/or a source that is external to the virtual environment's files necessary for display of the environment. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, upon a request from customer 110 a browser is optionally launched which retrieves information from a source, such as the Internet, and displays it in the browser. Optionally, the browser is integrated as part of the GUI, even if the data displayed within the browser is not. Optionally, data is retrieved without a request from customer 110. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, a distinction is made between data which is made readily available to the customer's computer and/or customer 110 in order to provide a realistic virtual experience as described herein, and data which is provided "on-demand" to customer 110. By making such a distinction, transmission time and hardware resources are conserved by not providing the on-demand information to customer until it is requested. A specific example of "on-demand" information is a price comparison feature which, in some exemplary embodiments of the invention, enables customer 110 to view the price of a chosen item at a plurality of sellers. Optionally, the chosen item is compared to other, similar items. Optionally, prices of the chosen item and prices of similar items are displayed to user. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, this information is retrieved on demand and displayed to customer. Optionally, this information is retrieved from the Internet. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, this information is displayed in a browser integrated with the GUI. Optionally, price information is presented to customer 110 in a graphic, such as a bar graph, and/or with symbols representative of certain numerical amounts. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, on-demand information is retrieved when customer 110 "mouses over" an object where on demand information is available. Optionally, customer 110 activates a control, such as a button located on the GUI, to commence the retrieval.

Referring to Figs 9A and 9B, a flowchart 900 is presented showing a graphics processing and display method for objects and/or materials in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention. When customer 110 initiates the loading (816) of a store, the graphics engine loads (902) into memory object textures along with object indexing information. Material templates that are indexed to a current visibility pyramid, the pyramid described herein, of the store being opened are also loaded (904) into display adapter memory. hi an exemplary embodiment of the invention, each object that is to be displayed in the store is read (906) from a description file of the store. The description file optionally includes information pertaining to each object including name, x, y and z-axis coordinates within store, orientation, object information which can be read from within the graphic user interface 1000 and the like. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, it is determined (908) whether an object identified in the description file has an object template associated with it. An object template is optionally a product model as described herein, the creation of which is described in reference to Fig. 6 and elsewhere. If an object template exists, it is determined (910) if the object template was loaded (902) previously. A pre-loaded object template is used (912) if it is available. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, if an object template was not loaded (902) previously, then the template is loaded into the display adapter memory. Going back to the determination (908) whether an object identified in the description file has an object template associated with it, if an object does not have a template, the object properties are optionally loaded (916) from the description file. Vertex and index buffers are built (918) in the display adapter memory for newly loaded object templates and objects. By using this technique object management and disposal managed at hardware level enhances performance. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, objects are registered (920) inside the engine upon conclusion of building (918) the vertex and index buffers. Optionally, registration of an object signals to the graphics engine to commence analytical processing of the object. Once an object is registered (920) with the graphics engine, any predefined behavior of the object is determined (922). Exemplary predefined behavior includes rotation for rotating objects, door animation for sliding doors, and slide list for sliders running video. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, a "camera" which represents customer's point of view is initiated as an object with predefined behavior. Optionally, two cameras are provided and their views are combined to provide a three-dimensional effect. Objects which are determined (922) to exhibit predefined behavior are assigned (924) a functional behavior controller, which directs the engine to display the object according to it's predefined behavior. The object processing cycle for each individual object ends (926) after a functional controller is assigned (924) to predefined behavior objects, however, for each object that is referenced in the description file, the process (906-926) is repeated (936).

In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, after the object processing cycle ends (926) it is determined (928) if an irregular space partition file exists. This information is calculated once while loading a visible unit for the first time and is stored in a file. The file is used to provide this information to the engine each time this visible unit is loading instead of recalculating it each time. If an irregular space partition file does exist, the space partition file is loaded (930) into customer's 110 computer memory (RAM), in an exemplary embodiment of the invention. Optionally, if it is determined (928) that an irregular space partition file does not exist, a space partition file is calculated (932) and saved in a file for use by customer's 110 computer. Upon the loading of an irregular space partition file into RAM, the rendering cycle and analytical processing commence (934).

In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, upon the completion of the rendering cycle and analytical processing (934) at least a portion of a three-dimensional virtual area, a visible unit, is available for customer navigation. Optionally, one visible unit comprises a plurality of rooms containing a plurality of objects. Optionally, a visible unit contains at least 3 rooms. Optionally, at least 150 objects and/or 450 textures and/or materials are displayed in a visible unit comprising less than 45MB. Optionally, at least 750 objects and/or 2,250 textures and/or materials are displayed in a visible unit. Optionally, at least 1,500 objects and/or 4,500 textures and/or materials are displayed in a visible unit. Optionally, more than 1,500 objects and/or more than 4,500 textures and/or materials are displayed in a visible unit. Optionally, the visible unit comprises less than 30MB. Optionally, the visible unit comprises less than 15MB. Optionally, each object has at least one texture and/or material associated with it. hi some exemplary embodiments of the invention, an average ratio of one object to three total textures and/or materials is used. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, an average ratio of one object to four total textures and/or materials is used. Optionally, an average of more than four total textures and/or materials are associated to each object. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, a visible unit is expanded upon after completion of the rendering cycle and analytical processing (934). An exemplary technique for expanding a visible unit involves utilizing discrete zones, and/or a portal, in order to load/unload a visible unit/scene to be displayed. Optionally, techniques involving smart resource loading and/or unloading based on object/material template usage and material color switching (the same material can switch its color from one to another without registration/un-registration in display adapter memory) are used. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, a visible unit is constructed based on limited number of reusable templates. As the visible unit is expanded and additional areas are loaded, any number of new objects/materials are optionally loaded/unloaded on the fly, as dictated by the configuration of the new room and the hardware capabilities of the customer's computer. Additionally or alternatively, objects are placed within new rooms by assigning new x, y and z-axis coordinates to them, as dictated by the configuration of the new room.

As described herein, the initial start position of the camera is defined (330) during the creation of the store. Optionally, the start position of the camera can be modified after creation of the store. Optionally, any angle of visibility pyramid can be changed by a customer manually and/or automatically based on relevant customer data like demography etc. Optionally, customer 110 can reset the pre-defined camera position via an options menu. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, a map of the store with customer's 110 current location, and optionally visibility pyramid, is displayed on graphic user interface 1000. Optionally, customer inputs a search for a product (textually, verbally, by selection from a list of items etc.) and directions to the product in the store are optionally displayed on the map and/or in the store. Optionally customer guided by a moving and/or flying object or virtual assistant or voice assistance to the product location returned by the search. Optionally, a shortcut passageway to the product opens within the store, allowing customer 110 to take a shortcut to where the product is displayed within the store. Optionally, items listed in the search are shown on a nearby shelf. In some exemplary embodiments, points of interest such as checkout and/or doors to other rooms and/or places where promotions are being held are displayed on the map. hi an exemplary embodiment of the invention, initiation of the camera prompts the software to access a configuration file and cut the area visible to the camera to a visibility pyramid defined in the configuration file. The visibility pyramid is optionally defined as originating from the camera and being proscribed by a far plane (which would form the base of the pyramid), top and bottom planes and left and right planes (defining the sides). The top, bottom, left and right planes intersect at the camera, however optionally define a 4-sided far plane. Optionally, a near plane is defined parallel to far plane and on which the intersection point is located. The visibility pyramid optionally changes dynamically depending on number of visible textures and/or polygons and/or other parameters affecting visible area that can be reasonably handled by the customer's computer video adapter.

The rendering cycle is commenced after the visible area has been cut, in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, cutting can be described as removing from a list of objects to be displayed any objects whose bounding boxes fall outside the pyramid of visibility. Various techniques, such as described herein, are optionally employed to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the rendering cycle and/or analytical processing, hi an exemplary embodiment of the invention, product models and, optionally, other objects are classified as either sprites or simple geometric shapes, such as described above in reference to Fig. 6. Another optional example for economizing involves using various state-of-the-art file compression formats such as dxt3 and dxt5, as made available by Microsoft® Corporation, which reduce file size and thusly download time, display adapter memory usage, graphics processor usage, and display times, hi an exemplary embodiment of the invention, calculation of an object position relative to the visibility pyramid is performed on an object, not pixel, level. Optionally, rendering is performed only on the objects considered within the visibility pyramid. Optionally, an irregular space partition is used, dividing the visible space into smaller parts until maximum polygon count or minimum cell size reached, simplifying and streamlining the analytical cycle (used for collision management and other calculations). Additionally or alternatively, alpha test and alpha blend optimizations are used to shorten the rendering cycle time for all transparent objects. Optionally, a hardware vertex index buffer is used for streamlining the rendering process, hi some exemplary embodiments of the invention, Microsoft® DirectX driver level filter combinations are modified to enhance image quality while substantially preserving performance levels. Another technique utilized in an exemplary embodiment of the invention for economizing rendering involves facing a two- dimensional object towards the viewer at all times in order to provide the appearance of three- dimensions without use of real 3D models. Optionally, dynamic sprites are used to create this effect.

Various techniques are used to enhance the quality of viewing object images, in accordance with some exemplary embodiments of the invention. For example, movement of the camera is optionally limited with respect to certain objects depending on the quality of the object. Lower quality objects are optionally unable to be viewed up close, whereas high quality images are optionally viewable from a close distance. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, image quality while moving the camera to look up and down is maintained by slightly moving the camera's distance off the floor up or down depending on the angle of inclination or declination. Advertising In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, advertising is integrated into the software and/or the customer 110 experience. All advertising techniques, both real world and internet-based, have the potential of being optionally used in conjunction with system 100. Advertising is optionally presented to customer at any time software is running, from the initial launching of the software client (806) to closing the client. Optionally, additional advertising is presented to customer 110 anytime after exiting the store, using any available methods of communication known to those skilled in the art. Examples of advertising used with system 100 include:

1. static posters- conventional poster type advertisement, two-dimensional image or text, "hung" on a substantially flat surface; 2. rolling posters- as above, but includes multiple static posters which alternate based on a predetermined time interval;

3. montage advertising- advertising which includes multiple images, possibly related, in close proximity to one another;

4. video segments- a television style commercial or advertisement, optionally in high quality but in small file size;

5. audio segments- audio advertisements, such as the kind heard on the radio or in supermarkets which advertise ongoing specials and/or upcoming promotions, optionally, when customer moves out of range and then back in, advertisement continues where it stopped as a result of customer moving out of range;

6. three-dimensional poster- a seemingly three-dimensional image displayed on a substantially flat surface like wall, floor, ceiling, optionally interacting with the customer;

7. three-dimensional object displaying an advertisement- an object displayed in three- dimensions, such as a sphere, on which an advertisement is located, or a product constructed as a real 3D model, static or rotating/moving, optionally of large size;

8. a 2D and/or 3D maze advertisement- a game-like experience where a customer can try to navigate successfully through a labyrinth the walls of which display advertising, optionally customer leaves the store while participating in the game, optionally, customer is presented with a "return to store" button which allows customer to resume shopping;

9. a 2D and/or 3D puzzle based advertisement- another game-like embodiment of advertising trying to combine fun with advertising messages, for example jigsaw puzzles are optionally used that when fully assembled constitute an advertisement;

10. a 360 degree advertisement- advertising which is displayed all around customer and which is optionally modified to remain around customer as customer moves through store; 11. a combination static and animated advertisement- an advertisement in which a specific portion of the advertisement is animated for stylistic or for highlighting a feature of the advertisement;

12. flying/swimming/jumping advertisements- advertisements of any described herein or known in the art, but seemingly suspended in air; 13. "clickable" advertisements- advertisement of any described herein or known in the art, whereby customer 110 can click on the advertisement and/or particular clickable/active areas inside the advertisement for more information and/or to add the product being advertised to the shopping cart;

14. walk-through advertisements - advertisements the customer walks through acting as a portal to another virtual space;

15. static/dynamic multi-colored light ads- lights are optionally similar to "neon" lights and/or an array of lights, lights optionally, blink, flash, appear to change color, etc.; 16. lottery/raffle/other gambling style advertisements (e.g. Click to buy the right cola bottle and win);

17. trigger activated- described herein, behavior of customer activates the presentation of an advertisement (e.g. Genie coming from a lamp for sale); 18. advertisement guiding the customer to the product- optionally appears to float in the air, optionally follows movement of customer;

19. market research tool- products are optionally placed in variations of packaging and/or are optionally marketed in a variety of ways while studying customer reaction to packaging and marketing; 20. proactive advertisement - advertisement performs an action which is designed to draw a customer's attention, for example calling the customer's name; and, 21. virtual products market/shops- real consumer products that are not affordable to the general public are optionally offered as virtual products for virtual use (e.g. Ferrari will sell a virtual car manufactured in limited amount with serial number, service book etc.).

Advertising can be embodied in a plurality of formats in an exemplary embodiment of the invention, including moving video, still images, audio, two dimensional images and/or video, and/or three dimensional images and/or video, and/or text/images/video on shopping trolley 1002. Optionally, vibrations are imparted to customer 110 via force feedback input devices. Optionally, scents are imparted to customer 110.

In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, advertisements dynamically change size depending on behavior of customer 110. Optionally, advertisements alter other graphic or audio attributes based on customer behavior, such as contrast, colors, volume, orientation, etc. For example, as customer 110 moves purposefully towards an advertisement and/or looks at, it can enlarge in size in order to facilitate viewing of the advertisement by customer 110. Optionally, as customer moves away from an advertisement and/or seems to lose the interest in it, it can reduce in size. Advertising optionally is displayed all the time, regardless of customer's 110 behavior. Optionally, advertising is triggered by customer's 110 behavior. Examples of behavior which triggers advertising include moving into a trigger area, choosing a product for which an advertisement is attached, selecting that advertisements, or at least some advertisements, are to be displayed in an options menu, clicking on an area designated for advertising, and moving towards an advertisement (or by any trigger as described herein). Similarly, advertising is optionally turned off by customer 110. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, advertising is turned off via a selection in an options menu. Optionally, an advertisement which starts running due to action and/or behavior of customer 110 is turned off due to motion away from advertisement by customer 110. Optionally, an interactive switch within the displayed store is located such that customer 110 can operate

5 switch to toggle an advertisement on and off.

In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, advertising is personalized to customer 110. Personalization optionally factors in customer demographics, buying history, product/advertising viewing history, customer interest (for example survey answers and/or previous interest in specific advertisements), a combination of any of the preceding, and/or

[0 current browsing behavior of customer. Examples of how advertisements can optionally change include changing color, content, and/or audio. Optionally, an advertisement is displayed after customer has looked at a product and/or product family and/or aisle for a specified amount of time. Based on information collected about customer, advertising can be optimized to attract the most interest and to be more effective for customer 110 in an exemplary embodiment of the

15 invention. Examples include advertisements for products known to be purchased by customer, styles and/or formats of advertisements known to be attractive to customer, changing the gender and/or age and/or tone of voices related to advertisements or announcements, altering background music, changing advertising colors according to customer preferences, and/or playing video clips likely to be of interest to customer. Optionally, any of the types of 0 advertising described herein and/or known to those skilled in the art can be personalized for customer 110. Optionally, any virtual 2D and/or 3D image can appear for advertising a product and/or giving customer service based on the activation of a trigger, such as those described herein. Optionally, an image can disappear based on the activation of a trigger, such as those described herein. 5 In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, walking into an advertisement allows customer 110 to enter a room pertaining to the subject matter of the advertisement. For example, walking into an advertisement for Scope® brand mouthwash exposes customer 110 to a room of Scope® brand products, and/or other products offered by the manufacturer of Scope®. 0 In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, customers give feedback on particular advertisements. Feedback optionally comes in the form of surveys or other similar methods known in the art. Optionally, advertisements are interactive. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, a customer can affect the advertisement in some fashion. For example, a customer can. optionally use a weapon, like a gun, on the advertisement and shoot it up. Optionally, the customer can throw something at the advertisement, like a rotten tomato. Optionally, the advertisement interacts with the customer. For example, the customer can give flowers to a person displayed in an advertisement and/or the person in the advertisement can accept the flowers and/or to act and/or react in any other way (e.g. speaking to the customer). Optionally, a customer can have a person displayed in an advertisement switch clothing in order to gauge the appearance of clothing "on" someone. hi some exemplary embodiments of the invention, a customer uses a menu for interactivity. Alternatively or additionally, a mouse and/or a keyboard and/or joystick and/or any pointing device and/or controller are used as input devices for interactivity. Optionally, icons are provided in graphic user interface 1000 for interactivity. Optionally, a drag-and-drop interface is used. Optionally, voice activation is used. Optionally, tactile activation is used. Optionally, brainwave activation is used. As described above, virtual reality input devices are optionally used. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, feedback is gathered from customers with/without a proactive response from customer, as in the case of a survey or throwing a tomato. The software is designed to track various parameters pertaining to customers' interactions with advertisements in addition to other feedback techniques already known in the art. Parameters optionally include, but are not limited to: 1. length of time viewing an advertisement- wherein customer exposure to an advertisement is measured in time;

2. distance from advertisement when viewed- used to indicate distance at which advertisement is effective and impression made on customer at various distances;

3. angle of incidence to advertisement when viewed- used to indicate minimum angles of incidence at which advertisement is effective and impression made on customer at various angles;

4. effective advertisement ratio- optionally, effective advertisement ratio considers how well customer can see an advertisement based on a quantification of at least one of a plurality of effective advertisement ratio factors including actual advertisement size, customer distance from advertisement, angle at which customer views advertisement, graphic quality of advertisement, viewing time and/or other factors;

5. eventual and/or past purchase of the product displayed in a particular advertisement viewed by customer- used to measure effectiveness of advertising; 6. whether customer clicked on the advertisement- used to measure ability of advertisement to stimulate customer interest; and/or

7. whether customer interacted with advertisement- used to measure ability of advertisement to stimulate customer interest. Statistics regarding quality and quantity of advertisement exposure are optionally stored on customer's computer, to be retrieved or automatically sent out. Optionally, the store reconfigures once statistics are sent out and/or optionally analyzed. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, a numerical scale can be assigned to "grade" various statistics, for example effective advertisement ratio factors. Optionally, statistics are communicated to elements of system 100. Optionally, statistics are communicated real-time. Optionally, a periodic reminders system prompts advertisers to update the advertisement. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, advertisement updates are automatically downloaded from advertisers by system 100 for display to customers. Optionally, download is from an advertising server. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, customer and/or shopping statistics are presented to a shop owner in order to afford the owner the option of designing very targeted discounts, gifts, coupons and other promotional sales gimmicks based on these statistics. An Exemplary Fire Evacuation Use

It has been noted that instructions for fire evacuation are typically indicated on a 2- dimensional map, for example on the back of a hotel room door, or are verbal or are not given at all. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, fire evacuation procedures are demonstrated in a 3D format in order to more effectively communicate to a person how to evacuate a building from that person's location. Optionally, the 3D evacuation is displayed on any of the display devices and systems described herein. For example, for someone who works in an office building, the evacuation procedure is optionally displayed on their computer. For someone who is staying in a hotel or on a cruise ship, evacuation procedures are optionally displayed on their in-room television. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, an evacuation procedure is customized based on the location of the person requesting a display of the evacuation procedure. Optionally, the 3D evacuation procedure is retrieved from a remote location from the display. Optionally, the 3D evacuation procedure is stored at the display's location. Optionally, the 3D evacuation procedure is downloaded to the display upon the sensing of an emergency. Referring to Fig. 11, an exemplary method 1100 for giving emergency evacuation instructions is depicted in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention. Optionally, emergency evacuation instructions pertain to a fire-related emergency. Optionally, emergency evacuation instructions pertain to a wind-related emergency. Optionally, emergency evacuation instructions pertain to a water-related emergency. Taking advantage of a virtual environment, effects are optionally added to the evacuation procedure in order to enhance realism and/or efficacy of the drill. For example, other people are optionally displayed in the virtual evacuation environment. Optionally, smoke, light, water, and/or fire are displayed in the virtual evacuation environment. Application software is optionally launched (1102) on a computer in order to view the emergency evacuation instructions. Optionally, a television user selects to begin displaying the evacuation procedure using a menu displayed on the television. Optionally, a television user selects to display the evacuation procedure using a remote control or other similar control device, such as those described herein. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, the person selects (1104) the location from where the evacuation procedure will originate. Optionally, selection (1104) is performed by identifying a start location on a map. Optionally, selection (1104) is performed automatically for the person. Optionally, selection (1104) is performed by entering text, for example "Room 252", into a data entry blank. Upon the selection (1104) of an origination point for the evacuation procedure, a 3D rendering of the surroundings and/or floor plan and/or environment is displayed for the person on a display, such as a television or a computer monitor or any other device described herein or known to those skilled in the relevant art. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, rooms and/or sections of an evacuation route are constructed using methods and apparatuses described herein such as templates, objects and/or template libraries, placement identifiers, software code and the like. In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, the person controllably navigates (1106) the evacuation procedure, optionally in response to prompts or indicators provided by the software. Optionally, control is performed using an input device, such as a keyboard, a mouse, a joystick, a remote control and/or other similar devices, some of which are described herein. A person optionally navigates through the displayed evacuation procedure until such time as to be considered evacuated. Optionally, the evacuation procedure which is displayed to the person is navigated automatically by the software. Optionally, the proper evacuation route is indicated to the person participating the drill, using for example arrows displayed on the floor and/or in the air pointing out the correct evacuation route. Optionally, the person participating in the drill must first conduct the drill with indicators and then properly perform the drill without them. Optionally, the route navigated by the person is recorded for rating the person's performance. Optionally, the person is presented (1108) with alternate evacuation procedures depending on the particular circumstances of the emergency. In some exemplary embodiments of the invention, the person causes a hard copy of the evacuation procedure to be produced (1110) for reference. Optionally, this is done via a printer attached to a computer. Optionally, a printing option is selected from a menu.

It will be appreciated that the above described methods and apparatuses may be varied in many ways, including, changing the order of acts of the methods, and the exact implementation used for the apparatus. It should also be appreciated that the above described methods and apparatus are to be interpreted as including apparatus for carrying out the methods and methods of using the apparatus. Furthermore, in an embodiment of the invention, methodologies described herein are performed using a software programmed apparatus, such as a computer, the computer being provided with at least a controller and, optionally, a user input means and/or interface.

The present invention has been described using non-limiting detailed descriptions of embodiments thereof that are provided by way of example and are not intended to limit the scope of the invention. It should be understood that features and/or steps described with respect to one embodiment may be used with other embodiments and that not all embodiments of the invention have all of the features and/or steps shown in a particular figure or described with respect to one of the embodiments. Variations of embodiments described will occur to persons of the art. Furthermore, the terms "comprise," "include," "have" and their conjugates, shall mean, when used in the disclosure and/or claims, "including but not necessarily limited to."

It is noted that some of the above described embodiments may describe the best mode contemplated by the inventors and therefore may include structure, acts or details of structures and acts that may not be essential to the invention and which are described as examples. Structure and acts described herein are replaceable by equivalents, which perform the same function, even if the structure or acts are different, as known in the art. Therefore, the scope of the invention is limited only by the elements and limitations as used in the claims.

Claims

1. A computer-implemented method for providing a shopping experience to a user in a virtual commercial environment, comprising: displaying in a graphic user interface an interior of the virtual commercial environment in seemingly three-dimensions; displaying at least one template representing an item available for purchase by the user, in the interior of the virtual commercial environment; allowing the user to navigate within the interior of the virtual commercial environment in at least three dimensions to view the at least one template using the graphic user interface; and, providing the user with a checkout for completing a purchase of at least one item.
2. A method according to claim 1, wherein the virtual commercial environment a store.
3. A method according to claim 1, further comprising displaying advertising to the user within the interior of the seemingly three-dimensional virtual commercial environment.
4. A method according to claim 3, wherein the user interacts with the advertising.
5. A method according to claim 1, wherein a plurality of templates representing a plurality of items are simultaneously displayed in the interior environment.
6. A method according to claim 1, wherein the item available for purchase is a tangible item.
7. A method according to claim 1, wherein the item available for purchase is a service.
8. A method according to claim 7, wherein the template is a graphical representation of a service to be performed.
9. A method according to claim 4, wherein, a density of displayed templates in the interior environment is similar or greater to the density of products visible to a shopper in a corresponding non-virtual store.
5 10. A method according to claim 5, wherein at least 20 items are displayed in the interior environment simultaneously.
11. A method according to claim 5, wherein at least 50 items are displayed in the interior environment.
0
12. A method according to claim 5, wherein at least 100 items are displayed in the interior environment.
13. A method according to claim 1, wherein the at least one template has been previously 5 massified.
14. A method according to claim 1, further comprising tracking the user navigation within the interior of the virtual commercial environment.
»0 15. A method according to claim 14, wherein user navigation is correlated to advertising displayed within the interior of the virtual commercial environment.
16. A method according to claim 14, wherein the virtual commercial environment is modified based on the tracked user navigation.
25
17. A method according to claim 1, wherein at least 750 objects and at least 2,250 textures/materials comprising less than 45MB are displayed simultaneously in the virtual commercial environment.
0 18. A method of collecting information related to a user of a seemingly three-dimensional virtual commercial environment, comprising: prompting the user to enter profile information in a registration form; and, tracking user behavior within the seemingly three-dimensional virtual commercial environment; and generating a user account including profile information and information from the user behavior tracking. 5
19. A method according to claim 18, wherein profile information is comprised of at least one of: name, address, contact information, billing information or demographic information.
20. A method according to claim 18, wherein tracking user behavior includes at least one 0 of: observing the user's shopping habits, monitoring the time spent viewing an advertisement located within the virtual shopping environment, or whether exposure to an advertisement led to an eventual purchase.
21. A method of presenting a user with a personalized advertising in a seemingly three- 5 dimensional virtual commercial environment, comprising: displaying a three dimensional environment; and presenting advertising to the user based on at least one factor.
22. A method according to claim 21, wherein at least one factor includes: tracked user >0 behavior; demographic information; buying history; product viewing history, or advertising viewing history.
23. A method according to claim 21, wherein a format of the advertising is at least one of the following: video, still images, audio, two dimensional images and/or video, and/or three
25 dimensional images and/or video.
24. A method according to claim 21, wherein the advertising changes dynamically depending on tracked user behavior.
0 25. A method according to claim 24, wherein a change can include at least one of: a change in color, a change in content, or a change in audio.
26. A method according to claim 24, wherein tracked user behavior includes viewing a product, a product family or an area of the virtual commercial environment for a specified amount of time.
5 27. A method of building a seemingly three-dimensional virtual commercial environment using a "wizard", comprising: prompting a user to choose a floor plan for the virtual commercial environment; prompting the user to choose an entrance for the virtual commercial enviromnent; prompting the user to select at least one texture for at least one of a walls, ceiling or 0 floor of the virtual commercial environment; prompting the user to choose at least one architectural element; and, assembling the floor plan, the entrance, the at least one texture and at least one architectural element to build the virtual commercial environment.
5 28. A method according to claim 27, further comprising prompting the user to select trading equipment.
29. A method according to claim 27, further comprising prompting the user to select a style or theme for the virtual commercial environment.
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30. A computer-implemented method of displaying in a virtual environment, comprising: creating a plurality of seemingly three dimensional templates; storing said plurality of templates on a database; assigning to said templates respective placement identifiers; 5 placing said placement identifiers within software code, said software code providing instructions for creating said virtual environment; and, commencing a render cycle which includes retrieving said at least one of said plurality of templates from said database for each said respective placement identifier.
30 31. A method according to claim 30, wherein at least one template is an object template.
32. A method according to claim 30, wherein at least one template is a material template.
33. A method according to claim 30, wherein placing said identifier further includes coordinate information for placement of said template within said virtual environment.
34. A method according to claim 30, wherein placing said identifier further includes 5 orientation information for placement of said template within said virtual environment.
35. A method according to claim 30, wherein said virtual environment is a store.
36. A method according to claim 30, wherein said virtual environment is downloaded via a 0 global communications network.
37. A method according to claim 30, wherein at least one of the plurality of templates is stored on the database in a previous session.
5 38. A method according to claim 30, wherein the database is located locally.
39. A computer-implemented method of measuring effective advertisement ratio of an advertisement presented in a seemingly three-dimensional virtual environment, comprising: indexing the location of at least one advertisement presented in the virtual environment; i0 tracking at least a part of a visibility pyramid as said visibility pyramid navigates through said virtual environment; correlating tracked location of said pyramid with said indexed advertisement; and, quantifying at least one effective advertisement ratio factor of said advertisement based on said correlating. .5
40. A method according to claim 39, further comprising displaying result of said quantifying for analysis.
41. A method according to claim 39, wherein said advertisement is a visual advertisement. 0
42. A method according to claim 39, wherein said advertisement is an audible advertisement.
43. A method according to claim 39, wherein said virtual environment is a store.
44. A method according to claim 39, wherein said virtual environment is accessed via a global communications network.
>
45. A method according to claim 39, wherein an effective advertisement ratio factor is related to time in visibility pyramid.
46. A method according to claim 39, wherein an effective advertisement ratio factor is 0 nearness to center of a far plane of said visibility pyramid.
47. A method according to claim 39, wherein an effective advertisement ratio factor is perceived change in motion of said visibility pyramid due to advertisement.
5 48. A method according to claim 39, wherein an effective advertisement ratio factor is relative performance of said advertisement to other advertisements.
49. A computer-implemented method of reducing graphic distortion induced by viewing away from a horizontal plane in a virtual environment, comprising: 0 monitoring a visibility pyramid for departure from said horizontal plane; tabulating the amount of departure of said visibility pyramid from said horizontal plane; and, altering elevation of said visibility pyramid in relation to said amount of departure of said visibility pyramid from said horizontal plane. 5
50. A method according to claim 49, wherein said virtual environment is a store.
51. A method according to claim 49, wherein said virtual environment is accessed via a communications network. 0
52. A system for providing a seemingly three-dimensional, graphic environment displaying at least 750 objects and at least 2,250 textures/materials in a visible unit, comprising: at least one server, wherein said server stores files relating to said virtual environment; said files comprising less than 45MB; and, a display apparatus, whereupon said virtual environment is displayed.
53. A system according to claim 52, wherein said graphic environment is a store. 5
54. A system according to claim 52, wherein said graphic environment is accessed via a global communications network.
55. A system according to claim 52, wherein said files comprise fewer than 30 MB. 0
56. A system according to claim 52, wherein said files comprise fewer than 15 MB.
57. A system according to claim 52, further comprising a video adapter with at least 64MB of memory.
5
58. A system according to claim 52, wherein the video adapter has at least 128MB of memory.
59. A system according to claim 52, wherein the video adapter has at least 256MB of >0 memory.
60. A computer-implemented method of displaying a plurality of the same object in a virtual environment, comprising: creating a template associated with said object; 25 storing said template on a database; defining a group of said object representing said plurality; locating said group within said virtual environment; and, commencing a display render cycle which includes retrieving said template from said database for each said object of said group. 0
61. A method according to claim 60, wherein said virtual environment is a commercial environment.
62. A computer-implemented method of optimizing object display in a virtual environment, comprising: determining at least one disallowed angle of view for said object; creating a template associated with said object, whereby in said template no textures i and materials are located on areas of said object that will not be visible due to falling into the at least one disallowed angle of view; and, displaying said object from at least one angle of view not included in the at least one disallowed angle of view.
3 63. A computer-implemented method of conducting an evacuation procedure in a virtual environment, comprising: selecting an origination point; displaying said evacuation procedure from said point; and, navigating said virtual environment using said evacuation procedure.
5
64. A method according to claim 63, further comprising displaying indicators for highlighting the correct evacuation procedure in said environment.
65. A method according to claim 63, further comprising displaying at least one alternative '.0 evacuation procedure from said point.
66. A method according to claim 63, further comprising providing a hard copy of said evacuation procedure.
5 67. A method according to claim 63, wherein said displaying includes providing visual effects including one or more of wind, water, fire, smoke, and/or people.
68. A method according to claim 63, further comprising analyzing said navigating for performance evaluation. 0
69. A method according to claim 63, wherein said virtual environment is a building.
70. A method according to claim 63, wherein said virtual environment is a ship.
71. A method according to claim 63, wherein said virtual environment is outdoors.
72. A method according to claim 63, wherein said virtual environment is downloaded via a i global communications network in the event of an emergency.
73. A method according to claim 63, wherein selecting is performed automatically.
74. A computer-implemented method of conserving display hardware resources, 3 comprising: approximating lighting effects on a plurality of objects in a virtual environment; integrating said approximated lighting effects into a texture associated with each of said plurality of objects; and, displaying each of said plurality of objects with said approximated lighting effects 5 textures.
75. A method according to claim 74, wherein said approximated lighting effects textures are used in conjunction with a dynamic lighting technique.
!0 76. A method according to claim 74, wherein said approximated lighting effects textures are used in conjunction with a static light map.
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