Tag Archives: augmented_reality

UX field trip to Inition Studios for a 3D extravaganza

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Estimated reading time 2–4 minutes

I don’t manage to get to many London IA events, so I was very pleased to be able to attend a UX field trip a little while ago, arranged by the wonderful Alison Austin, UX practitioner, who has a knack for spotting interesting people doing fascinating things. She arranged a visit to Inition Studios, which gave us the opportunity to get our hands on a selection of their gadgets and devices. Inition and their sister company Holition deal with all things 3D. I wasn’t sure what 3D printing had in common with 3D film-making but a lot of the modelling, data management, and underlying software is essentially the same.

One of Inition’s researchers has a background in ergonomics and worked on systems for representing aeroplanes in virtual 3D models with the aim of devising new systems to help air-traffic controllers. Huge amounts of data need to be processed by the controllers, and combining 3D and 2D visualisations can show different aspects – for example a 3D model of the planes in the air, with 2D lists of data such as speeds etc. However, it is – thankfully – very difficult to get air traffic controllers to experiment with new devices – so it not easy to get new systems and methods adopted.

Many of Inition’s devices just seemed to be a lot of fun. They had an infrared camera rig set up to capture movement, so you could control a footballer on screen by kicking a pretend football. There were some haptic feedback devices that felt “heavy” when you tried to pick up a virtual block on screen, 3D cameras so we could watch ourselves on 3D TV, and lovely augmented reality devices. I tried on some virtual earrings and necklaces, and picked up and “painted” a virtual car. There were elaborate 3D cityscapes that could be used by architects and skeletons that could be useful in training doctors.

Animation can be triggered by QR codes, so we saw a plinth in the real world that when viewed on an i-Pad appeared to have buildings and cars and other objects on top of it.

For me, the most enchanting was a 3D display containing two 3D worlds – one with a complex artificial robotic arm that you could manipulate and deconstruct, another with games, mirrors you could move through, and figures you could move and play with. It reminded me of a Dali dreamscape. You moved these virtual objects with a pen controller that you waved towards, but not touching the screen itself. I am glad games were not so beautiful and sophisticated when I was a teenager as I don’t think I would have ever left the house!

Augmented reality

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Estimated reading time 3–5 minutes

I went to a British Computer Society talk on Augmented Reality a few weeks ago. The BCS audience is typically highly technical, but the talks themselves are always accessible and entertaining. People often wonder why I am interested in augmented reality, because they assume it has nothing to do with information, but to me it is all about information. I would love to be able to serve up archive content to someone’s mobile phone using location data – a clip of a scene from an episode of their favourite programme that was filmed in that location, or an old news report about an event that took place there. Managing vast data sets containing huge amounts of content in a searchable form will form the backbone of many augmented reality tools and applications. If this isn’t an area that information scientists should be exploring, I don’t know what is!

The speakers were Professor Anthony Steed, Head of Virtual Environments and Computer Graphics at UCL, and Lester Madden, founder and director of Augmented Planet.

They explained the difference between visual search, true augmented reality, and virtual reality. Visual search is using an image as a search term (as in Google Goggles) and then returning results. Because this can be done via a camera, the image can be one that is in the searcher’s immediate environment, and the results can be returned as an soverlay on the original image. True augmented reality is not just adding graphics to an unrelated camera feed, but is responsive to the real surroundings. Virtual reality is an entirely computer-generated environment.

3-D models of the world are being built, but keeping them up to date is proving a challenge, and crowdsourcing may be the only pragmatic option. Another technical challenge suggested was how to render the augmentation visually indistinguishable from “real” vision, which raises all sorts of interesting philosophical and ethical questions about how we handle the behaviour of people who become confused or cease to be able to tell the difference, either temporarily or permanently. At the moment, augmented reality is quite distinct from virtual reality, but eventually the two will presumably meet. However, nobody seems to think that is likely anytime soon.

In the meantime, there was a rather lovely video of an augmented reality audience, designed to help people who have difficulty speaking in public. Apparently, this is a particular problem for those people in the software industry who are not natural extroverts but find that their careers can only advance if they get out from behind the screen and start talking at conferences, trade shows, etc., where audiences can be quite hostile. University students are hopeless at pretending to be a hostile audience – they are too polite, apparently (this week’s events notwithstanding!) – and actors are too expensive. Avatars, however, can be programmed to look bored, chat on their mobiles, get up and walk out, etc., and real people tend to have similar emotional reactions to the behaviour of avatars as they do to other humans, making an augmented reality theatre a perfect place for practising speaking and building confidence.

Augmented reality is also finding practical applications in the construction industry, to create visualisations of buildings before they are constructed, in medicine to help surgeons, and for improved videoconferencing. There are also many ways that augmented reality can be used to sell things – show me information about the restaurant or shoe shop in this street. Amusingly, identifying unique buildings is quite easy, but for the branded chains disambiguation is proving a challenge – their outlets look the same in every town – which brings us back again to familiar information science territory.

There is also a BCS blog post about the event.