Posted tagged ‘augmented reality’

Cognitive Reality

7 December 2016

Yet another year has come and gone at the speed of light!

For me, 2016 has been the year in which the Virtual Reality rubber finally met the road, while Augmented Reality made a surprise splash into the mainstream via those pesky Pikachu.

As a consequence, VR & AR dominated much of my blogging attention this year. But they weren’t the be-all-and-end-all of the e-learning universe. Plenty of other topics occupied my mind, from 70:20:10 and 3D printing to the extended enterprise and our universally despised compliance training regime.

I hope you found something useful among my musings, and I invite you to catch up on any that you may have missed…

Pulp fiction cover entitled Amazing Wonder Stories: Cognitive Reality: Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and other stuff!

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality

Other stuff

Vintage spaceship

To those who celebrate Christmas, I wish you a merry one, and I look forward to reconnecting with everyone in 2017.

Pokémon whoa!

9 August 2016

When I was a teenager I was addicted to video games. Not stay-awake-for-three-days-and-die-of-starvation kind of addicted, but I would spend every conceivable moment playing.

While I enjoyed car games and classic shoot’em ups, my favourites were the more strategic kinds of games in which you could explore, think, and discover. There was always somewhere else to reach, something fascinating to find, another stratagem to try.

I ended up imposing a ban on myself in order to focus on my studies, and I did not lift a video gaming finger for years afterwards.

Then along came Ingress.

Ingress screenshot

Ingress is a mobile game developed by Niantic (an offshoot of Google). You choose to join one of two factions that are fighting for world supremacy by capturing virtual portals – which are represented by public landmarks in the real world such as statues and fountains.

Ingress is oft described as an augmented reality game, but I disagree. It’s an alternate reality game. And it’s addictive. There’s something about covering a swathe of land in deep green (or blue, if you’re one of them) which elicits that sweet dopamine of achievement.

The plot isn’t real, of course, but that doesn’t matter. The emotion is.

Eventually I had to give up Ingress because I could feel my dubious history with video games flooding back, and I was chewing through my data like a hot knife through butter.

Zubat over Sydney Harbour

It is in this light that I look on with amusement at Niantic’s latest offering: Pokémon Go.

I was vaguely aware of this game since I maintain a general interest in augmented reality. Then one day it exploded. Suddenly everyone was playing it!

I hadn’t planned to play Pokémon Go myself, but given its sheer popularity I felt it would be remiss of me as an e-learning professional to forgo an informed opinion. So I gave it a go.

Frankly, it isn’t my cup of tea. Indeed I find the game a bit childish and pointless. When you catch one Pokémon, you catch another, and then another… ad infinitum. So what?

Still, I can see why others enjoy it. All the key game mechanics are there: it’s intuitive to play; your first Pokémon is easy to catch; you level up quickly; and the Pokédex is an interesting element that taps into the collector’s mentality.

You can also earn ownership of a gym (reminiscent of becoming a mayor in Foursquare) and you can incubate and hatch eggs (reminiscent of the parenting responsibilities for Tamagotchi).

Pokémon Go players congregating undercover by the forecourt of the Sydney Opera House.

Predictably, Pokémon Go has provoked a torrent of criticism from non-players, and I say some of it is warranted. From public nuisances to privacy concerns, the game has also fuelled discourtesy, disrespect, and self harm.

Personally I don’t think that you are stupid just because you play Pokémon Go. However, I do think the game is a vehicle for stupid people to express their stupidity.

I also think the decision to assign churches as gyms was ill advised, though I realise there is a technical reason for this and thankfully some churches are using their lemons to make lemonade.

Pokemon Go screenshot

On the plus side, Pokémon Go gets people walking – that’s unusual for a video game, even a mobile one – and it has single-handedly introduced millions of people around the world to the concept of AR.

And if we needed it, it’s yet another reminder to L&D folks that people love games.

Educate everyone

19 April 2016

My all-time favourite example of augmented reality has been reinvented.

When I first saw BMW’s augmented reality glasses on YouTube over 8 years ago, I was excited. It heralded a new dawn in educational technology. A golden age in which learning & performance would be transformed.

Then… nothing.

For years afterwards, augmented reality seemed to be trapped in the mystical realm of what it “could” do in the future. Indeed it offered amazing potential, but with too few examples of the technology in use, not much reality was really being augmented.

More recently, Google Glass has been making in-roads, though I consider it more of a data display device than an AR headset. And Microsoft’s work on HoloLens is truly inspiring, but it’s not quite ready yet.

Then… BOOM!

At the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, Hyundai unveiled its Virtual Guide. Overnight, the Korean boffins made BMW’s augmented reality glasses a reality for the rest of us.

Now, I use the term “overnight” with poetic licence. Hyundai actually unveiled its AR app in the previous year. And yes, there have been other practical applications of AR done by other companies. Heck, they’re not even the first car maker to do it.

But all that is moot, because the point is this is the first time in a long time that I’ve been impressed by a mainstream brand. To me, Hyundai stands out from the myriad other car makers as a leader – not only in innovation, but also in customer service.

I compare them to Honda, for example, whose Civic can’t even play the songs on my Samsung smartphone.

Surprised koala

Hyundai’s app prompted me to consider the relationship between e-learning and marketing in the corporate domain.

Traditionally, e-learning (along with the rest of L&D) is inward focused; its specialists are charged with developing the capability of the organisation’s employees. In contrast, marketing is outward focused; its specialists are charged with attracting more customers.

Indeed there has been consideration of combining marketing with e-learning to promote and motivate employee development, but how about the reverse? How about combining e-learning with marketing to engage customers?

As Hyundai has demonstrated, e-learning can be used as a vehicle to establish a leadership position for the brand. Yet it can do more.

Consider an insurance company. Like cars, this is another sector that is usually considered boring by the general public and faces stiff competition. How about another TV advertisement featuring a loving family and a dog and… yawn… sorry, I can’t be bothered finishing this sentence.

Instead, how about a customer education strategy that teaches the public the fundamentals of insurance, providing a clear explanation of the concept, untangling its mind-boggling options and variations, ultimately helping regular folks like you and me make better decisions about our finances.

The strategy might involve a YouTube channel, an expert-authored blog, a moderated discussion forum, a free webinar series, a corporate MOOC… all open to the public.

Could someone consume your wonderful content and buy their insurance from someone else? Of course, some people base their purchasing decisions solely on price. But many don’t. With the trust and goodwill your education generates, I’d wager that plenty of prospective customers will prefer the brand that empowered them.

At the very least, you’d attract more customers with an education strategy than without one.

So don’t just educate your staff. Educate everyone.

My blogging year in the rear-view mirror

8 December 2015

As the year draws to a close, I like to reflect on my blog posts.

I invite you to scan the list below and catch up on any that you may have missed. It’s never to late to comment!

Rear-view mirror

Thank you everyone for your ongoing support.

I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year!

The joy of UX

8 September 2015

One of the funniest tweets I have ever seen was brought to my attention by Vala Afshar…

Seeing this little animation was one of those serendipitous moments, as I had that very day experienced something eerily similar.

I’ve written previously about how I’ve been toying around with the augmented reality app Aurasma. In A way with the fairies I described how I used this app to replicate Disney’s fairy trail in my local botanic garden.

Impressed with what the app can do, I turned my attention to using it in the workplace. I decided to start small by using it to promote a new online course that my team was launching. I took a screenshot of the main characters in the course’s scenario and provided 3-step instructions for the target audience outlining how to: (1) Install the app onto their mobile device; (2) Visit the relevant URL in their browser; and (3) Point their device at the picture. When they did so, the names of the characters would magically appear above their heads.

This wasn’t just a gimmick; it was a proof of concept. By starting small, I wanted to test it cheaply and fail quickly. And fail I did.

Deflated sports mascot

When I asked several of my tech-savvy colleagues to test it, every one of them reported back saying it didn’t work. Huh? It worked for me! So what could be the problem?

After much tinkering and re-testing in vain, I decided to ask a friend of mine to test it. Bang, it worked for her first go. As it turns out, my colleagues simply weren’t following the second instruction to go to the URL. In their excitement to scan the image, they did so immediately after installing the app – but of course without the link, the app had nothing to connect the image to my augmentation. So when I pointed out their skipping of Step 2 and they re-tried it, voila it worked.

Despite this rough start, another colleague of mine cottoned on to my trial and was keen to use the idea to jazz up a desk-drop he was creating. Upon scanning the trigger image, he wanted a video to play. Aurasma can indeed do this, but I was trepidatious because my experiment had failed with tech-savvy colleagues – let alone regular folks. But I decided to look on the bright side and consider this an opportunity to expand my sample size.

Learning from my mistakes, I re-worded the 3-step instructions to make them clearer, and this time I asked a colleague to test it in front of me. But again we ran into trouble. This fellow did follow Step 2, but when the URL opened the app, it immediately required him to scroll through a tutorial. Then it asked him to sign up. Argh… these steps were confusing… and I was oblivious to it because I had installed Aurasma ages ago and had long since done the tutorial and signed up.

But that wasn’t all. After I grandfathered my colleague to Step 3, he held out his smartphone and pointed it at the image like a lightsaber. WTF? He read the instruction to “point” his device literally.

Another lesson learned.

Facepalm

Steve Jobs famously obsessed over making his products insanely simple. Apple goodies don’t come with a user manual because they don’t need them.

My experience is certainly a testament to that philosophy.

Three steps were evidently too many for my target audience to handle. The first step appeared simple enough: millions of people go to the App Store or Google Play to install millions of apps. And indeed, no one in my test balked at that. (Although convincing IT to tolerate a 3rd-party app would have been my next challenge.)

Similarly, the third step was easy enough when re-worded to point your device’s camera at the image.

The second step was the logjam. Not only is it unintuitive to open your browser after you have just installed a new app, but dutifully following this instruction mires you into yet more complexity. Sure, there is an alternative: search for the specific channel within the Aurasma app and then follow it – but that too is problematic as the user has to click a tab to filter the channel-specific results, which is academic anyway if you don’t want the channel to be public.

I understand why Aurasma links images to augmentations via specific channels. Imagine how the public would augment certain corporate logos, for example; those corporations wouldn’t want anything derogatory propagated across the general Aurasmasphere. Yet they hold the rights over their IP, so I would’ve thought that cutting off Joe Public’s inappropriate augmentation would be a matter of sending a simple email request to the Aurasma folks. Not to mention it would be in the corporation’s best interest to augment its own logo.

Anyway, that’s all a bit over my head. All I know is that requiring the user to follow a particular channel complicates the UX.

So that has caused me to wind down my plans for augmented domination. I am still thinking of using Aurasma: we might use it in our corporate museum to bring our old photos and artefacts to life. But if we go down this road, I’ll recommend that we provide a loan device with everything already set-up on it and ready to go – like MONA does.

In the meantime, I’ll investigate other AR apps.

A way with the fairies

20 April 2015

One of the greatest hoaxes to be perpetrated last century was that of the Cottingley Fairies.

In 1917, 9-year-old Frances Griffiths and her 16-year-old cousin, Elsie Wright, borrowed Elsie’s father’s camera to take a photograph of the fairies they claimed lived down by the creek. Sure enough, when he developed the plate, Elsie’s father saw several fairies frolicking in front of Frances’s face.

The first of the five photographs, taken by Elsie Wright in 1917, shows Frances Griffiths with the alleged fairies.

A couple of months later the girls took another photograph, this time showing Elsie playing with a gnome. While her father immediately suspected a prank, her mother wasn’t so sure and she took the photos to a local spiritualist meet-up. From there the photos, and three others taken subsequently by the girls, eventually hit the press and became a worldwide sensation.

Although the photos were quite real, the fairies of course were fake. In 1983, the cousins (by now old ladies) finally confessed they were cardboard cut-outs.

Not everyone – it must be said – had been fooled. In fact, most probably weren’t. However one who took the bait hook, line and sinker was none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose involvement helped catapult the photographs to public attention in the first place.

It must also be said that as a devout spiritualist, Sir Arthur wanted to believe.

Disney Fairies Trail screenshot of Tinker Bell flying in front of a garden bed.

I was reminded of the Cottingley affair when I stumbled upon the Disney Fairies Trail app.

Developed in association with the Botanic Gardens Trust, the app promised to bring to life Tinker Bell and her flighty friends using our beautiful public spaces as the back drop.

Despite not being a member of the app’s target audience, I am an augmented reality advocate, so I downloaded the app and installed it on my iPad.

Its instructions were simple:

  • Choose a botanic garden.
  • Start the trail.
  • Use the map to help find all the fairy locations.
  • Your device will vibrate when there is a fairy nearby.
  • Use your device to find the fairy.
  • Tap the fairy to reveal their [sic] secrets.

I wanted to believe, so I hotfooted my way to the Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney to give it a go. Unfortunately the experience was less than optimal.

Disney Fairies Trail map

From the get-go, the map was so high level it was effectively useless.

After wandering semi-randomly around the park, I stumbled upon a tiny sign with an arrow promising that fairies live over there. Yet after crisscrossing my way all over the vicinity, my device never vibrated.

So I moved on. After a while I stumbled upon another tiny sign promising that the fairy trail continued this way, but after a short distance the path split out into multiple alternatives, none of which were sign posted.

After some more rambling, I finally stumbled upon a nice big sign declaring that fairies live here. Alas, still no vibrating – but I had a thought… perhaps the app doesn’t like my iPad? So I whipped out my Android smartphone and downloaded the app to it. It wouldn’t be as fun on the smaller screen, but I was determined to see a friggin fairy.

But it didn’t work on my smartphone either.

Deflated sports mascot

I should have read the customer reviews on the App Store before going to so much trouble. I clearly wasn’t the only one who had trouble with the app. And this bewilders me.

Unfortunately it was no surprise in retrospect when the real-life aspect of the experience didn’t work. To put my opinion into context, the Botanic Gardens Trust is the organisation that allows hordes of boot campers to bully tourists and locals alike off the park’s footpaths; and whose own staff choose the peak CBD lunch hour to drive their trucks and trailers along said paths.

But Disney! How could Disney fail to bring Tinker Bell & Co to life? The makers of masterpieces such as Toy Story and The Lion King evidently couldn’t engineer a dinky little augmented reality app that would work on my device of choice – or even on my device of second choice.

It just goes to show, if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. So I did.

Green fairy

I discovered the Aurasma app a while ago, and I’ve been toying around with it to get a sense of how it works.

The app allows you to upload an image or a video, which appears or plays when you scan a real-world trigger with your device’s camera, hence augmenting reality.

I haven’t yet encountered a burning need to use it for an educational purpose at my workplace, but when I had trouble with the Fairies Trail app, I decided to see if I could replicate the intended experience.

So I downloaded Green Fairy 3 by TexelGirl, uploaded her to Aurasma, and associated her with a rose in the garden. When I scanned my iPad’s camera over the rose… Voila! She appeared.

Green fairy appearing in the garden

As you can see via my screenshot, Aurasma supports the binary transparency of PNG files; with the background of the fairy image invisible, the real background shines through. The app also supports the partial transparency of PNG files; if I were to make the fairy 50% transparent, the real background would be partially visible through her.

My fairy was a static image, so she wasn’t moving. While Aurasma doesn’t seem to support animated gifs, it does support video. However there appears to be a conspicuous problem. My understanding is that MP4 format does not support transparency, and while FLV does, it won’t run on the iPad. I tweeted the Aurasma folks asking them to clarify this, but they are yet to respond.

Nevertheless, I discovered a work-around which is to duplicate the real background in the background of your video clip. That way when the video launches, it appears that its background is the real background. (I suspect this is how Dewars brought Robert Burns to life.)

Of course, this means the experience is no longer augmented reality, but rather an illusion of it. Though I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a hoax. Fauxmented reality, perhaps?

Which won’t be a problem, if we want to believe.

The Average Joe imperative

24 June 2014

There once was a time when I thought Second Life was going to take over the world. Well, the virtual world.

I was so impressed with the technology – and amazed at its availability for free! – that I saw it as an unstoppable force.

Yet more fascinating for me was its implications for education. Web conferencing was starting to become popular around the same time, and while these days Skype and FaceTime are de rigueur, back then webcamming introduced a sorely needed human element to distance learning.

However, I noticed something peculiar with web conferencing. While the webcam presented the human face, the learning experience remained undeniably isolated. We were all together, yet each alone.

Second Life was different. Its animations reproduced not only the full human form, but also the learning environment: chairs, tables, stage, etc. Now (at least visually) we were all together. The irony was that by making the interaction entirely artificial, it made it more real.

A virtual learning session in Second Life

Alas, Second Life had an Achilles heel. While it was drop-dead easy to participate as a consumer, it was relatively difficult to participate as a producer.

For a start, if you wanted your own space, you had to buy your own virtual real estate. But worse, it was surprisingly hard to make stuff. I remember trying to build simple objects using the developer tools, but I struggled. So I’d give up, go back to it later when I could steal some time, only to abandon it again. Until I finally gave up for good.

Now I’m a fairly tech savvy kind of guy. While I can’t hack into NASA, I’m confident enough to give any software a go and not be put off by shiny new toys. But I was put off by this. And so too, it would seem, was the rest of the L&D world.

Graph of Gartner hype cycle showing that all new innovations follow the same predictable trajectory from hype to eventual application

The moral of the story is deeper than the Gartner hype cycle.

In fact, while we experienced a peak of inflated expectations with Second Life, and then the trough of disillusionment, I don’t think as a profession we ever reached the slope of enlightenment, let alone the plateau of productivity. Sure, some educators such as Sydney Medical School are doing wonderful things on the platform, but that’s hardly universal.

So what happened?

To me it’s simple: Second Life failed to accommodate Average Joe. If Joe wanted to attend a virtual conference or a meetup, he could do so with ease; however, if he wanted to host a virtual conference or create a meetup venue, that was beyond him.

And so Second Life sailed off the edge of the virtual world.

Statue of Achilles Thniskon

Compare Second Life’s journey to that of other products that have emerged recently. For example, everyone says that Articulate Storyline looks and feels like Microsoft PowerPoint. Well guess what… that’s the point.

Love it or loathe it, PowerPoint is easy to use. So hundreds of millions of people use it.

Articulate’s master stroke was to piggyback the usability of PowerPoint for their own purposes. And the proof of the pudding is in its eating. I am seeing Average Joes everywhere who wouldn’t touch other authoring tools with a 10-foot pole expressing an uncharacteristic willingness to give this one a go. That’s not by accident; it’s by design.

I predict a similar fate for other emerging technologies, be it Tin Can, augmented reality, responsive e-learning, or whatever else lay on the horizon.

Address the Average Joe imperative. Lest your Achilles heel becomes your fatal flaw.