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Matt Crosslin

Are We About to See Virtual Reality Go "Mainstream"

1 min read

Virtual Reality seems to be everywhere I look now in technology news. Does this mean that VR is about to leap from "cool futuristic idea" to "mainstream tool that most people are familiar with"? We will see. Just in the past week alone: Sony Playstation finally released their long awaited VR headset and suit of games (with reviews not always being that glowing), Occulus Rift released a pair of controllers (that did earn glowing reviews), Walmart started selling a headset/controller combo that turns your smartphone into a VR device for $19.98 (made out of plastic instead of cardboard), and a VR model was used to convict a Nazi War criminal. The real educational potential will be more in allowing learners to design their own experiences in VR, from creating 3-D models that they can then walk around virtually to designing and releasing various games and simulations.

Matt Crosslin

Visualizing Wearble Data: Is It a Good Idea?

1 min read

Finding ways to visualize wearable data is sometimes a tough challenge. How exactly do yo visualize physical attributes when the meaning of those numbers are different for each person? Then there are the ethical considerations of what should you be displaying and where you should display it. So this article about displaying stress levels for everyone to see seems more concerning than intriguing (see also the video above about bio-wearables). Anyone that has used a stress monitoring device of some kind knows they are not always accurate. But even when they are, would you really want that information broadcast to people around you? Maybe you would, maybe you wouldn't - we are probably all different. But there is also the very real concern of people that could see you are stressed and take advantage of that. Which I realize already happens without technology, but the concern over what data is being collected and who it is available to is a huge one to grapple with.

Matt Crosslin

Room Scale Virtual Reality with a Smart Phone

1 min read

If you are like me, the first time you used Virtual Reality, you probably ran into one of the more painful problems with VR: you can't see real life obstacles with a device that blocks your view. While it might seem that mapping an entire room into VR would be incredibly expensive, Occipital has found a way to bring that price down to $500. Occipital's Structure Sensor can apparently scan the room around you in 3-D, and bring the physical world into your virtual one. So now, instead of being a passive participant basically watching a VR movie unfold, you could possibly roam around in simulations with real movement (instead of moving virtually with a controller pad or awkwardly with an omni-directional treadmill). And while $500 is not cheap, its still less expensive than other options.

Matt Crosslin

Creating Touchable Holograms through 3-D Printing

1 min read

Anyone that watches SciFi knows that the big downfall to holograms is that you can't touch them. You just pass right through them, ruining the illusion. However, in real life there are several projects working on creating touchable holograms. The problem with these projects are - of course - the cost and availability of tools. But the general idea is that you use focused sound waves to create resistance at various points in mid-air to mimic the feel of virtual objects. New work is going into creating cheaper ways to do this, including printing tools that help shape sound waves in 3-D printers. Of course, this only works for static objects, but its still a new idea that will get more sophisticated over time. The video above really doesn't make much sense outside of the article, but it is pretty interesting at the end where they make drops of water levitate in mid-air.

Matt Crosslin

Turning Virtual Reality Into Simulator Rides

2 min read

One of the biggest problems with Virtual Reality that I keep coming back to (other than cost and ethical concerns) is the lack of interaction in most VR simulations. There are many ways around this, but many of them still involve tracking hands or movements. If you want to go sit on a virtual horse, you can't. Until now it seems. FutureTown has created a device that converts into a motor bike, a mechanical horse, and a standing ski/surfing simulation board (see the promo video above). Connect this device to your favorite VR headset, and its like you are almost there! Well, not really, but it probably does bring us closer to Holodecks. But it also highlights the problems with the whole idea: how expensive is it going to get to create a new set-up for every way you could use this? Cars, boats, biking, etc all have different contexts for motion. Will this be useful for education anytime soon? Not really. But I did get to play in something like this in a mall - basically, an eggshell that worked like a space ship while I fought off an alien invasion. It was pretty cool, bur practical? We will have to see.

Matt Crosslin

Artificial Intelligence Meets Instant Messaging in Google Allo

2 min read

One thing you have to give Google - they are always willing to try new things. Of course, I can't remember what the last new Google "thing" was that I read a few months ago, so that could be good or bad. But today Google announced Google Allo, a new messaging app. Its basically another version of testing or iMessage or (insert an messaging predecessor here). So nothing to get excited about there. However, they are combining it with a new Google Assistant to add some artificial intelligence to the mix. Basically, you don't have to leave the app to look up directions (or whatever the task may be) - you can tell the AI to look it up and it will display in the app. It will also give you some suggested responses based on the messages you get. Basically it lets the AI do the Googling for you (the video above covers the more cutesy aspects, but the linked article includes more interesting ideas and details on things like Incognito mode). Interesting ideas, but do I have to get all my friends on Allo to use it? That seems to be the downfall of so many new Google ideas. Its hard to get people in new apps that don't go viral like Pokemon Go.

Matt Crosslin

Will the Future of Augmented Reality be AR Contact Lens Connected to Your iPhone?

1 min read

The headline pretty much says it all: "Apple to meet with augmented reality contact lens firm EPGL, discuss possible iOS support." Articles like this are a sign that innovations are going mainstream. Or at least attempting - many still don't make it there. The biggest problem with augmented reality is that you have to hold a phone in front of you to experience it, turning your body into a wandering, distracted safety hazard (see Pokemon Go). or you have to buy an expensive pair of AR glasses like Google Glass (or not anymore - oppps). But would AR contact lens be more or less distracting? Probably depends on the design of the user interface. Or maybe they are just a temporary step towards having computers implanted in our heads? See the first few minutes of the H+ video above for what that would be like, and then the rest of the video see how scary it could become.

Matt Crosslin

Turning a Bus Into a Virtual Reality Ride

1 min read

Even though some ideas aren't very practical for everyday usage, they are still pretty cool nonetheless. One such project is the one where a team from Framework turned an actual school bus into a virtual Mars ride. It's a pretty intense project. They have computer screens that switch from clear to opaque, so that the windows of the bus can be windows as well as computer screens. Then the mapped the surface of Mars to the city streets. Then they made the simulation react to bumps and turns. Sounds really expensive, but the idea is a good one. Watch the video above to see the whole thing - the look on the kids faces are priceless.

Matt Crosslin

Making Virtual Reality More "Interactive"

1 min read

One of the problems with virtual reality is that it is virtual - the things yopu see and interact with are not really there, so you can't reach out and touch them. Which generally makes most VR experiences pretty passive - even adding a joy stick makes VR more like a game than a simulation. Of course, many companies are working on ways to add touch to virtual objects. One recent company is Dexmo, which adds an exoskeleton to your hands to enable simulated touch. While the set-up looks clunky, the idea that it is recreating the shape and consistency of virtual objects could be very useful in medical, educational, and manufacturing realms, among others. Apparently, no price is given, and the manufacturer wants to wait until VR software begins programming touch into their games and simulations. But this is still one step closer to Star Trek Holodecks (or at least the immersion suits described in Ready Player One).

Matt Crosslin

Teaching and Learning with Annotation Tools like Hypothes.is

2 min read

Web annotation tools are not really that new, but have mostly been utilized for contextualized commenting or personal note taking. A more innovative use of these tools is for constructive criticism or group critique. Tools like hypothes.is can allow people to annotate publicly or privately in a closed group. For example, see this problematic article on the relationship between teachers and students, and how many have critiqued the article for a fascinating discussion (this particular critique example was started by Dr. Maha Bali). Instead of commenting on articles at the end, people can comment on specific parts, and then interact with others who also comment. Probably a much better system than typical discussion forum assignments - and also ultimately probably what many instructors want discussions to be like in the first place. The video above goes into more detail about the vision behind open annotation. In general, it is an idea that can subvert commenting and distribute the power of commenting. Of course, it could also empower abuse as well. But the ability to comment on specific sections of a web page rather than just the end, and then to start a discussion with anyone or a private group is intriguing.