Category: Insights

Industry Insights with Antonio Grasso

Appearition was very fortunate to have the opportunity to chat with the insightful and thought-provoking Antonio Grasso to chat about all things digital transformation, digital technology adoption and the rapid development of technologies enabling it’s users to perform powerful tasks.
Antonio Grasso is the founder and CEO of Italian company Digital Business Innovation srl. Antonio is a expert in the digital technology world and highly regarded as one of the top digital transformation influencers on Artificial Intelligence, cyber security, digital transformation, Internet of Things, and blockchain. He is an advisor, enterprise and public sector consultant and mentor to numerous startups.

The following Q&A has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

A: Antonio, tell us a little bit about how you’ve been spending your time during lockdown. Unfortunately in Melbourne we have just been placed into further lockdown measures. Italy faced challenges early on in the pandemic. What was this experience like for you?

AG: I am very fortunate because so much of my work and documents is stored in the cloud, so it has not been so much of a change whether I work from the office or home. Although some activities stopped, the majority of my activities were performed and fulfilled as normal.  Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was travelling and attending events and suddenly everything has moved online. In terms of my work I consider myself a very lucky guy as I have been able to continue as usual, however many others have struggled due to the closure of shops, restaurants, recreational activities and entertainment. So, yes I am very lucky in this context as it has not changed too much for me.

A: You are well known in the digital technologies space and highly regarded for your work and advice. What drives you to play in this space and what brought you to work in this exciting area?

AG: I have always had a strong passion for technology. 37 years ago when I was a software developer, I began to feel a strong link with my work and the desire to explore. About 10 years ago, digital technology began to emerge thanks to digital infusion like the introduction of iPhones. No longer was it just a mobile phone, but now a computer – small yes, but very powerful. About 3 years ago, I started to share information on my social media channels and that was amazing because it was a shift in my job. Now, I split my time between running my company and online activity with my followers, 50:50. I publish educational posts, I create infographs, I try to give other people something to think about, something to discover. My relationship with technology, it’s a passion, it’s something that I have in my heart and in my mind.

A: When you were growing up, was there a certain turning point in your life that influenced your passion for technology?

AG: In the 1970’s when I was young, we had no digital technology. I was always interested in machines; so I pulled apart and destroyed every machine I played with to discover the inner mechanisms. In the 80’s and 90’s, I began to work with many other types of technologies. At the time computers and hard disks were very big compared to now. So it was different, but the relationship was the same every time – always keen to discover what was happening inside.

“My relationship with technology, it’s a passion, it’s something that I have in my heart and in my mind.”

 

A: You have worked in the digital technology space for many years now. Across your years in the technology space, what has been the greatest piece of digital technology advice you have been given?

AG: When I started 37 years ago, computers and software were a lever – you know a lever helps you do your task better and faster. If you need to do reports, accounting, invoices, payments, you can begin to do this all very fast with the software. That was the previous technology, but now we are starting to see a shift. The role of technology is changing, it is no longer just a lever that helps you do your tasks better but an enabler. So, my advice is to think about the role of technology, not only, does it leverage you to do things faster, but also, what it can enable. What new product can enable you to do something you could not do before. When we think of digitalisation, it allows your product or service to become digital. For example, the streaming of video is changing the entertainment movie market, as it is creating something that before did not exist. This is possible thanks to digital infusion.

Digital infusion is phenomenal at bringing technology to our fingertips. Not only is it bringing technology as a lever but also as an enabler. An enabler for new things, new markets, new opportunities. So the approach needs to be holistic, a 360 degree approach. With purchase automation you can fulfil the customers purchase very quickly due to new technologies. It is creating new opportunities; new sources of revenue, new products, it’s amazing.

 

“The role of technology is changing, it is no longer just a lever that helps you do your tasks better but an enabler.”

 

A: How consumers interact with your business has changed. With that, traditional product development methods need to change. A world class digital experience is expected. What should business leaders consider when it comes to product development? What technologies should be at the forefront of consideration?

AG: It depends on the industry, one side does not fit all in this case. When we talk about product development, one thing that comes to mind is one of the latest developments of the digital twin. The digital twin is something that is unbelievable, it really helps the product development stage. When you develop a product, you need to also develop a prototype, this prototype is usually physical. The digital twin is a technology that you can create a digital representation of your product. This type of technology in product development is unbelievable and once again we come back to the leverage in technology to do better and enable you to do something you could not do before. Augmented reality is something that can aid in customer service or workforce. This enables you to give a workforce a different kind of training. With AR you can put the necessary knowledge at the fingertips of others when needed, right there, right now.

A: At the moment, what do you think is the most interesting trend in digital technologies?

AG: One very important and exciting thing is confluence. This requires bringing together two or more emerging technologies to create new outcomes. If we talk about emerging technologies, we have some technologies that are horizontal or AI that can work on all kinds of industries with different approaches and different outcomes. There is also blockchain security. If you say AI adoption in my company has a value of 2 and the blockchain has a value of 3.  But if you put the two together these two technologies would not equal 2+3=5, the result is more like 7. This is because they work together to create more than just the single technology. It is something that is happening now, but in the future it is something that will be happening with even more integrated technology.

I wrote an article about confluence robotic optimisation and the confluence of AI  that explores the software that can do so much more than just reading emails. It can read the emails but also send the invoices. It is programmed so if ‘this’ then ‘do that’ or ‘if that’ then ‘do this’. But, if you inject this model with deeper learning it can use technologies such as AI to do it. So, when you inject the technology with another emerging technology you create something bigger. This is an area of technology I’m very passionate about.

 

If you would like to read more from Antonio Grasso and his work in the technology industry you can find Antonio at:

Twitter  Facebook  LinkedIn  Blog

 

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All About Blockchain

Blockchain technology allows digital information to be distributed but not copied’. It’s a  growing list of records, called blocks, which are linked using cryptography. Outside of the widely known ‘Bitcoin’ application, blockchain as a technology has lots to offer for several industries. Appearition’s Developers Simon Galanakis and Sujanth Sebamalaithasan talk about the technology, its application and the future:

  1. Blockchain – as a technology seems scalable. What are the sectors that can adapt to it?

Blockchain as a technology is useful when you keep an open and transparent record and history of data. This is so that people can look at the history and trust it if it is true. No one can manipulate it if that is the case.

Blockchain will be able to benefit sectors that require large data sets to be stored with a high-level of encryption. Some industries include:

Banks and finance

Medical sectors – patients medical records

Industries using copyrighted content or sectors like film or software where patent plays an important role.

Law firms where client details need to be stored securely

Property ownership and management

  1. Blockchain and AR – do you see a plausible future? If so, how?

There is definitely a future (for blockchain and AR). There are a number of areas that we need to explore where blockchain could work with AR. If AR is treated as an object or a commodity, for example, an AR experience in a bottle – in which you can scan for a promotional video. If you consider that to be one package/entity, something that people want to share or retain ownership and for that to be genuine, you can employ blockchain. It is possible to record the particular details (eg. who created it, when it was created) that make up an AR experience in that blockchain.

  1. AR and blockchain – is it possible to keep the AR data/commodity, private/free from misuse?

Yes, it is possible. Conceptually it is a block – and if the block is used to play a video (An AR experience) and suddenly shows only a picture – it is a change in experience. If someone tries to tamper with the history of this block saying it was originally designed to showcase a picture – that’s a situation when blockchain can come into the picture and vouch for what was originally planned.

When used privately blockchain is not very useful. It will gain value when people start creating Augmented Reality (AR) products and begin to own them, share them and want to track its usage.

For instance, people create and upload videos on YouTube, which only YouTube can control and view the analytics and claim its accuracy. Whereas, if you want to de-centralise a control – it can be done by allowing every AR experience to be posted into the blockchain record. This is potentially a way in which we can track it. The concept of blockchain application needs to be considered here. Its power is very useful when you want to ensure that records are not tampered with; especially publicly visible records, that are available to others.

The idea of the blockchain is that it is an ever-growing ledger. Think of it as one big file, which continues to grow as blocks. The data is out into the blocks. In the example of Bitcoin, it is close to 160 gigabytes now. It is how big the blockchain is. As more and more transactions occur, it is going to have problems as it continues to grow. So, I think it is going to become a technological issue that needs to be solved. There are some solutions being proposed currently. Like, Hard Fork – decentralised ledgers, Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) – digitised version of cryptocurrency rather than the crypto version.

Right now, the scalability for blockchain with all the services around the world (for Bitcoin), when a new node/server wants to come on board, they must download 160 gigabytes of data for the first code. Then it is going to work on just partial data received all over the internet. The rise of the internet and email system in the 90s, meant people could only send a few emails and can only have a few contacts or a few hundred megabytes in their inbox. These days, some email servers offer unlimited storage for these data. I think the role of technology is evolving to keep up the demands of blockchain. It needs to be seen as not really the kind of one-stop solution kind of tool, it is just another tool in the tool world that can potentially solve a particular business problem.

  1. What are some things one needs to be cautious about when using this technology?

If an individual or an organisation tries to build their own blockchain, then they need to create their own node/service. The idea of the system or its integrity is the fact that you have more than 51% of all nodes of the network belonging to a particular chain or block is valid or correct. If you’re constructing your own blockchain, you need to manage your own nodes. Again, that kind of defeats the purpose of decentralised responsibility. You’ll still own the blockchain, you’ll still manage the nodes, so it kind of defeats the purpose. I’d question whether it is useful. When many people acknowledge this technology and start to use this in their day to day life then blockchain technology will become more stable.

  1. Business IPO and blockchain – Can you please elaborate?

Business IPO means initial public offerings. Companies who need capital to expand their business, usually do the IPO and distribute the company’s shares to the public. Likewise, in the Cryptocurrency environment, companies who are involved in this technology use ICO (initial coin offerings) to collect their capital before starting the project. The public who backed these projects will get cryptocurrencies and some useful benefits if that project successfully implemented

  1. How do you see blockchain aiding digital transformation?

Digital transformation is driven by four main factors, Internet of Things, big data, business platform models and collaborations between businesses. Using blockchain technology we can easily improve the above factors. Blockchain is increasing the trust between the unknown participants which can give a more collaborative environment to businesses. It helps to secure data and protect from anonymous access. Securing information is the major challenge in the digital world so blockchain will take a major role in digital transformation in the near future.

Learn More About Blockchain

Want to learn more about blockchain? Check out this TED Talk by Bettina Warburg

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The importance of Easter eggs

Introduction

The process of adding Easter eggs inside projects is about creating informal inside jokes very well hidden, which aren’t usually revealed to clients or users. Most often, those do find about them by themselves after doing unexpected actions on the application, such as going through fake walls, series of key presses, opening the application at a specific location and/or time, etc.

Many companies, even the biggest ones out there, have been implementing Easter eggs in their products. One of the latest examples of this is Google’s Easter egg at the release of the Marvel Studio’s Avengers: End Game. Upon searching for Thanos and clicking on the glove, a script will run and automate the destruction of most of the web page, as shown on the video below.

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Why are they so important?

Even before getting released, those have a clear impact on development. Towards the end of development, employees are usually feeling burned out, in need of both sleep and laughter. Easter eggs easily help brightening the mood of the office, since those are often created out of jokes or silly ideas which grew out of proportion.

After release, they usually are a fun way to tease your users and clients, depending on the type of person you have in front of you. Telling them “there’s an Easter egg in the app, have you found it yet?” make them curious and most often will get them to search the application and use it a lot more often. Additionally, asking your client to add an Easter egg themselves is something we would recommend. For instance, on a project we’ve worked in the past had put their initials on their main 3D model on the production build. Later, they could ask their users whether they’ve found it or not and have it as a joke.

Lastly, years after developing the project, rediscovering them is one of the best feeling. Easter eggs usually creates a lot of memories and good times, and often are associated with the core of the project while being a very discrete and pointless feature.

Example of Easter eggs

One of our developers really likes secrets and Easter eggs in general, and secretly stuffs every project with those without telling the rest of the team. While a lot of trust must be involved in this process, depending on the culture of your work environment, those can be well received.

One example of something they did, was to add one of their character inside a secret room in one of our demos and removed the collider on the wall so you can walk right past through it. That kind of harmless detail can easily make somebody’s day.

Another example is adding additional needless information in the repository commits descriptions. It’s important to ensure that all the commit information is self-explanatory and accurate but adding a little weird sentence here and there can’t do any harm (unless the repository is meant to be transferred to the client).

Sample from one of our repositories commit list.

A very common type of in-company Easter egg is the misuse of code comments. While most of the comments are either formal and useful, some may include screams of agony or just plain weird content. Those are usually picked up during project review or project de-dusting, and often catches developers off- guard. A silly example of this type is this type of comment.

One of our developer hates series of clothing curvy brackets.

Conclusion

In short, based on the type of culture present in your company and the context of the current project, there is no reason why you shouldn’t add Easter eggs here and there. Do keep in mind that those should remain harmless for the sake of staying a joke rather than becoming a source of problem or arguments.

Have a wonderful day!

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My Search for Last Stars

In 2011, a few days after I bought my first and only DSLR, I was quickly running out of subjects to shoot. I had shot the garbage filled lake behind my house and the few birds that come to visit it. I had shot the trees and the crows that inhabit so many times that I had lost count. Lying down stewing in the oppressive humidity that only Chennai’s summer could offer I was rummaging through my head, trying to find a new subject to test the new camera’s capabilities. Then it struck me. What grander model can I get to pose for my camera than the night sky itself? And with that thought I took my camera and the tripod that came with it to shoot the night sky.

What comes to your mind when you think of the night sky? The full moon in all its glory? Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry night? A starlit sky? When was the last time you went out and looked at the night sky?

After multiple shots at varying exposures, and with every photo growing frustrated with what I was getting on my camera. I set the camera to the maximum exposure setting it had, 30 seconds and clicked the shutter button. The camera opened its shutter, the screen went dark and the sensor started capturing all the photons of light that came its way for the next thirty seconds. This is the image that I was staring at after the camera closed it shutter and finished processing what it had captured for the last thirty seconds.

It was only then did I look up and see the sky instead of giving it just a cursory glance.

Two questions popped in my mind with what I was seeing. Firstly, “Why is the sky orange?”. Secondly “Where are all the stars?”. The first question got answered when I turned around and saw the streetlights lining the road. Shining bright and orange, the sodium vapour lamps seemed to be everywhere, and were painting the sky a garish shade of orange.

Dejected at not getting the shots I thought I’d have; I went back in and did some research and found out that the stars’ light were overpowered by the very sodium vapor lamps that were painting the sky orange. On further research I found a site which gave a visual representation of the amount of light radiated into the sky across the globe. And this is what I found.

The map is of South India and any place which isn’t black has some amount of light radiating into the sky, with red being the places with the most light. The areas marked green, had some light pollution but was still a problem to get a good shot from.

A few months later in 2012, I was at my grandma’s place for a family occasion, and as is the norm during these get togethers, me and my cousins were lying down outside the house at night, as there were way too many people to be accommodated inside. Tamil Nadu was going through a severe power crisis during that time and power cuts were an everyday occurrence. While the power cuts were scheduled in the urban centres, they were very frequent and unscheduled in the rural areas. And luckily one of these unscheduled power cuts happened during that night, and the power cut brought an instant change in the sky we were looking at in the cold January night. I was for the first time in my life, taking in the sight of an unpolluted(almost) night sky.

While staring awestruck at the sky, I noticed a small streak of silver running across the sky, which I happened to dismiss as a jet stream at first, and then it struck me. What I was looking at wasn’t a jet stream, but I was in fact looking at our galaxy, The Milky Way. While researching about the night sky in search of the perfect photo I had also stumbled upon the information that the Milky Way is visible from earth to the naked eye if the sky is clear, there is no moon in the sky and you are in a dark enough place. That was my first and till this date remains, sadly, my only live sighting of our galaxy.

Fast forward a year and a half in 2013, during my second year of college, where I was studying Game Development, I had somehow been made one of the two administrators of the college photography club called “Shooterz”, which was the seed for a Photography department to be launched in the college a couple of years later. Through that club I was enrolled into a competition called “International Photocross”, as part of a team of three people, which was a competition held across a few countries by a Russian college. We were given ten topics and two days to get a photo for each of the topic. One receiving the topics, we split the topics amongst ourselves and went to get out photos. One of the topics for that year was “Space Near Us”, and I knew exactly what I wanted to shoot for that topic.

I packed my kit, and went to my grandma’s place, a drive of around 200 kilometres. I arrived there in the evening and waited for night to fall and another unscheduled power cut to occur. Although night fell, the power cut never arrived. A few hours of waiting, and I needed to get back to Chennai for the next day. So, I went to the darkest spot I could find turned my camera at the sky and started clicking one uninspiring photo after another. Lady luck was not kind that night, I couldn’t land a single picture where I could even see a glimmer of the Milky Way on the display of the camera. Giving up hope I pointed the camera in the general direction of my grandma’s house, which was a few kilometres away from where I was shooting and started shooting photos.

Out of sheer luck the angle I was making placed the town of Neyveli in my shot. Neyveli for those who don’t know is the location of a state-owned thermal power generation station. And while it was busy generating electricity, the premises were lit up for the night shift to work, and it happened to be glowing against the night sky. While it was partially responsible for hiding most of the stars and the milky way from sight that night, the shot I had captured, with a few stars rising above the orange glow of a busy town, with streaks of light at the bottom provided by vehicles travelling along a highway, proved enough to be adjudged best in category.

I have barely touched my camera after finishing college, hardly finding time for it, this photo has remained the best photo of a night sky I have taken. My search for a place from which I can click a picture of the stars lighting up the sky with the milky way in the backdrop continues to remain in my bucket list.

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Designing Intitutive UX for AR

Introduction

The AR (Augmented Reality) technology is constantly improving with a host of new technologies like big data, machine-learning, IOT, Artificial intelligence, etc. The digital experience has been radically transformed by coalescing the physical and digital worlds, where the user interface has extended beyond the screen with a flexible immersion level.

Jared Spool famously wrote “Good design, when it’s done well, becomes invisible. It’s only when it’s done

poorly that we notice it.”

Applications based on Augmented Reality adopt a series of well-defined user experience design principles that are generally consistent, although there are scenarios where there is a need to make design decisions according to the associated industry, style and objective of the application.

Environment

One of the biggest challenges of the UX design in an AR application is determining the environment in which the application intends to run. Some applications are built to interact with the user’s entire body, such as a retail application that allows the user to virtually try on clothes. Similarly, there are many AR applications which are meant to be used in public spaces.

The key is to keep the environment familiar and intuitive. AR provides users, experiences that traditional applications cannot. A new axis is introduced to our digital experiences — we are integrating the physical world through cameras of the various devices. Digital and physical interaction provides an opportunity to explore a dimension where the boundaries are blurred.

As such, user testing is critical in order to predict how different environmental factors will enhance or inhibit the positive user experience. Environmental factors which are pivotal for a positive user experience are the user’s vantage point, colors, sizes of objects, lighting and shadows, moving objects, living beings, and walls.

Interactions

The interaction of the user with the objects, media, and the UI is in the social sphere by default. When considering how to interact with the environment, it is important to primarily consider what hardware the users will be engaging with. The interactions through mobile are different than HoloLens interactions. The interactions should always be designed to align with the goal of the immersive application’s experience.

Developing empathy for the users enables the designer to preemptively address the limitations that certain users might encounter during their experience. By virtue of taking the time to envision the user’s needs, the designer can make the interactions holistically accessible and useful for all the users.

Presence of cues

Cues play an important part in developing a strong UX experience, as they offer direction for users. Simultaneously, cues are designed to hide or reveal certain features dependent on gestures made by users. Visual cues present the users with off-screen elements such as buttons, which the user can hover over for additional features. Cues are simple clues that inform the user what elements of the UI are designed to be interacted with, and how to interact with them.

Audio cues are useful as well, allowing users to command the application to do something just by speaking. Similarly, an application could be created to recognize certain sounds which can trigger it display hidden features.

Color and text

Vuforia Chalk app

The science of Color theory works the same way in AR, just like how it influences us in print, mobile, web, and the other elements of our life. Consider the environmental context, the culture of the users, and the psychological effects of certain colors while selecting the theme of the application. Lighting is an integral characteristic which defines the effectiveness of the immersive experience to the user, if the users are enjoying the experience or leaving them unconvinced. Projection of shadows from the objects enhance the visual effects and brings them to life. For text, it is important to ensure it is relatively large and easy to read, but not overpowering. Choosing a font that works well with the color scheme and environment is important.

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Blissful Bir

“I wondered why it was that places are so much lovelier when one is alone.” Daphne Du Maurier

 

Going to Himachal Pradesh, India for a trip is like a treat to yourself. You’re sure to make memories that’ll be forever. Sometimes it is necessary to clear out the mundane things to fill it with nature and positive energy. And there’s no better place than Himachal to fulfil this need. And the best way to do that is to go to Himachal on a lone trip.

Bir Billing

Bir-Billing is in Himachal Pradesh and is known as the second highest take-off spot for Paragliding in the world.

Travelling overnight from Delhi, I finally reached Bir on Saturday morning where the bus stopped at the Tibetan Colony. As I stepped out of the bus, my soul immediately began to create a connection with a beautiful place.

We reached our hostel after a 10-minute walk. I started exploring the place once I was done with the check-in formalities, as the place really fascinated me with Its amazing sitting area outside. While I was having breakfast, the sight of colourful parachutes soaring high in the sky caught my attention and I started feeling butterflies in my stomach wondering- there I am going to be too in the next few hours.

After a while, we drove straight to the take-off site. The moment to glide over the snow- capped peaks of the Himalayas arrived. While my pilot was setting up the parachute, I rested there for a while being a bit nervous, scared and sceptical. But above all, I was ready for another level of adventure. My pilot was ready and so was I. This was the time when I wasn’t feeling nervous anymore but the thought of being airborne for the next 30 minutes got me super excited.

Up Up Up in the air!

From a scenic Billing, I jumped off the cliff. With not a very smooth take off, I was in the air in no time. It is another world from the top.

The ride was about 15-30 minutes long, and it was more thrilling than I had expected, as I got to fly up high above the beautiful mountains, soaring through the cool wind, making my way freely like a bird. Bir-Billing was the perfect place for me to experience the joys of paragliding, and it is no surprise that it is among the top ten paragliding spots in the world.

Trek to Billing

 

After the glide, I came back to our hostel, I joined other two travellers who were heading on a trek to Billing

It’s amazing how the weather switches when you are in the mountains, in the blink of an eye. Suddenly, I felt the cold air welcoming me as we got down and prepped to begin the trek.

It’s just going to be 7 km,’ said our captain beaming a smile and trying his best not to intimidate us with the distance or the terrain. And we walked through the trail that hung to the mountains, with the valley that began getting steep on one side.

We made it to billing in 4 hours just as the sun was calling it a day, setting behind the gorgeous snow-capped mountains. I was able to get a glimpse of the trail sprinkled with snow. Not just that, it was a landscape dotted with powdery snow. The mountains topped with sheets of snow towered over the valley that stretched for miles. The clouds above these peaks tried to kiss adieu for the day with their colours changing by vibrant rays of the setting sun.

The serene valley witnessed the riot of colours in the sky. The backdrop changed like a slideshow from a bright yellow that turned pinkish, then becoming red and slightly purple, before turning grey and blending perfectly with the night sky.

The Sky Village – Camping site (Billing)

We were offered Maggi and Chai as soon as we arrived at our campsite– the best things to cherish after a hike! We sat by the bonfire as the passing night became colder. A delicious and wholesome meal was followed soon. The night sky was embedded with as many stars as you can imagine.

The next day I woke up to some amazing views of the valley and went for a short walk in the quiet woods nearby. We all joined for a scrumptious breakfast that included hot paranthas and Masala Chai. Later in the day, we took a cab back to our hostel.

The trek was truly an escape into the wilderness. It was especially the best experience for a traveller like me, who got a chance to meet amazing people and enjoy the experience without having to be concerned about safety or doubts about escaping to the wild!

Monastery

The other best thing about visiting Bir is its sprawling peaceful and welcoming monasteries. The monasteries are so welcoming that with your camera they barely deny you access to any place or click anything. They even allowed visitors to be part of their prayers and let them sit next to the monks. If you’re in luck, you might be able to share a cup of hot Tibetan tea or some of the snacks they make.

Local Market

Your visit to Bir Billing is not accomplished fully until you visit & shop from the famous Bir road. Its local stalls have traditional clothing and ethnic food is someplace you will surely appreciate.

It was a short trip, but I came back with so much

When you travel solo but find ‘friends’ to drop you to the bus to bid you goodbye: you had an excellent trip!

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Appearition Enterprise Jam #1

Introduction

Last month, we had decided to start an enterprise App/Game Jam internally. The concept behind a jam is to run a 48h straight event with the objective to create a prototype by the end of it, allowing as much freedom as possible to a given team while they respond to a given theme.

This jam’s theme was “Rewards“.

Why though?

To begin with, the main goal of this jam was to reunite the developers and designers at Appearition together and have them work in a single team. While we had worked together on various occasions and projects, we never had experienced a single project with all of us working towards a single outcome at once.

Although, each of us knew what others do, a jam (along with the pressure it provides) offered us the best way to bond further and learn more about out various skill sets, especially secondary skills and things we prefer doing in a project. During this jam, some of us found out that one of us had artistic skills, another with a preference for developing UI rather than code, and another with a strong desire to learn game programming. Participating in this type of event helped learning about each other’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as working as a team to achieve the single outcome.

While most projects we do are on an individual scale or a bigger scale, this was a great opportunity to test how we would come up with solutions for different time zones and remote work for a project with a tight deadline and heavy pressure.

Lastly, this was a great opportunity to change from what we usually do, which is more along the lines of R&D, enterprise application development, proof of concept, etc. Quite a few of us had never worked on a game before, or not for a long time. Being able to develop a prototype for a different type of use and audience was a challenge to us, as well as being refreshing.

Doing the jam

We started the jam with 6 of us:

  • 2 Programmers (1 lead and 1 mechanic developer, both actual developers)
  • 1 Game Artist (R&D developer but could do game art)
  • 2 UI Designers (one pure UI Designer, one who prefers UI design over development)
  • 1 Project Manager

We used Slack as our main communication tool and ZOOM and Skype for group calls. We started the jam all in a call, were briefed about the theme, then decided to individually explore the theme and return as a group to discuss our findings. Once on the call, we proposed several ideas, projects, talked about them and expanded them. After making sure each of us had something to work on, we started working. The team was divided in two locations: two people
in one house in Australia, and the rest of the team would meet at the office or at somebody’s place.

We agreed to work on an Appearition Simulator, which would be a game inspired from Game Dev Tycoon (2012, developed and published by Greenheart Games), where the player starts as our CEO, takes on projects, expands the team and builds the whole company from scratch. Part of this idea also helped explaining what the origin of Appearition was, and how it became what it is today.

The prototype of the game was meant to be a 2D horizontal management game, where the player controls several employees by selecting them one by one and giving them orders individually. Our CEO would receive calls about a client wanting a project, along with requirements and modules.

Client project panel. Gives some background on the project and client, including salary, time and tasks. The client stats affect the flow of the project, change of requirements, etc; and are meant to improve as we educate them.

Once accepted, all those requirements would appear on a blackboard as tasks (like a Kanban workflow, to-do, QA, done, etc) of different field of practice. Each of those tasks could be assigned to employees, who would have skills and preference in said field.

Task board, where employees select tasks. Here, there is a lvl5 R&D task, lvl0 UI Design and lvl0 Q&A. Those values aren’t meant to be absolutely accurate.

Upon project completion, each team member would receive skill proficiency, happiness if they worked on skills they liked, and food. The company would also get the money from the commission, and the client would gain trust in our company. If the project was not finished in time, the company would not earn a cent and every employee would lose happiness.

Our CEO currently working on a task. No time for sitting animations!

The outcome

Unfortunately, we did not have sufficient time to push the project to a prototype level within the 48 given hours, mainly due to the way we worked as a group and had seek an extension in order to complete it.

However, the primary objectives were more along the lines of team-bonding and having a good time with colleagues by doing something different, and we did great on that. Additionally, most of us learned a lot from working on a non-enterprise project, since this isn’t what we’re used to.

Through most of the jam, we were using Slack to post work in progress of what we were each doing in order to keep the team informed. Once any of us had any struggle or was done with their task, we would get in a call together and keep ourselves updated. On the last day, we had a nearly constant group call ongoing to ensure that we were going to deliver properly and go through the problems we had.

Overall, we were happy with this opportunity given to us. On presenting this project to the entire company, we agreed on expanding this project as an introduction to Appearition, as well as a way to learn more about our colleagues.

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Why content is key for AR platforms

Content in the context of Augmented Reality (AR), is defined as the presentation of existing information in a format applicable to the current world-view. This takes the form of visual and/or audio but can also take on other sensory formats such as touch or even smell.

This distinction between content and information is important to understand when considering the functional applications of AR platforms. In simple terms, an AR platform will not create information but rather consume it from existing sources and create, package and deliver it as AR content.

AR platforms such as Appearition’s Experience Management System (EMS), rely on the availability of information to create and deliver contextually relevant content to connected clients. AR platforms should, therefore, be regarded as mediums for connecting to existing data stores and aggregating and formatting that information based upon the context of the intended audience.

There are several challenges facing AR platforms today. At the outset, any effective platform must provide an intuitive user interface that is accessible and available to non-technical users. More often, it will be business staff who will be interacting with the platform to manage and create information and content.

  1. Access to information

A key concern of AR platforms is access to information. This demands connection and integration to various types of data stores. It comes with adherence to security and authentication protocols, data privacy laws and compliance and the support of various types of data formats such as CSV, XML and JSON.

With this concern comes the fundamental need of having a scalable, robust and highly responsive infrastructure for reliable functional performance.

  1. Contextualising information

Once information is available to the AR platform, it is important to be able to classify and group it. This will become an integral step in content creation as it will be important to link the context of the audience with the context of the information.

Meta-data is a common concept used in IT systems to help with classification. You can apply meta-data to existing information and then filter and query that when creating content.

  1. Delivering a good user experience (UX)

A well delivered UX has these two common properties: relevance to what we are doing and is quick to load. The former is something we have already touched on above. The latter is about network latency and is best understood when we think about today’s websites. According to studies, more than 40% of users bounce from websites that take more than 3 seconds to load. This is directly related to internet connectivity speeds and the amount of content being delivered to the browser. The same principle applies to AR experiences, however, instead of the latency concerns of HTML, AR is concerned about the speed of recognition, the stability of tracking and the download and rendering of immersive content such as 3D models or 360-degree videos.

A critical factor for AR is a reliable and fast wireless network connection. Whilst the current 4G technology does enable us to watch videos and images seamlessly, when it comes to immersive AR experiences, content is much bigger and heavier than standard website content. As such, we eagerly look forward to 5G which aims to revolutionise our world again with quick access to immersive content.

Whilst the promise of 5G is very much a future aspiration, there are strategies today that can be considered when designing and building AR solutions with latency in mind. Can you anticipate and pre-download AR content before the user has asked for it? Can you place content closer to the user to minimise too many hops around the world? Can you break up the content into smaller chunks and stagger how and when it’s presented?

Conclusion

In many respects, we are exposed to information all the time and in different ways. Since the dawn of humanity, we have exchanged information by communicating and interacting with each other. We then became exposed to printed information in the form of books, newspapers and magazines. In more recent times information has emerged in the form of TV and radio. Finally, the invention of the internet and social media has exploded our access to information at our fingertips. We use information all the time to make important decisions at work, school, home and in social settings. Filtering and deciphering this information in a way that is relevant to what we are doing now, has always been and will continue to be a struggle.

AR content is the means to access and view contextually relevant information in our world.

Simon Galanakis is a passionate advocate of effective AR experiences and is currently Appearition’s Platform Architect and Senior Solution Designer.

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Using Machine Learning to leverage the power of Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality (AR) in its current definition is the overlay of digital information on a real-world view. In practical terms, it is the process of recognising specific physical objects in a device’s camera and superimposing digital content such as video, audio or 3D models.

Visual recognition is one aspect of AR which encompasses image, object, scene and facial recognition. Computer vision technology is used to identify shapes and patterns through a complicated set of mathematical models. These models and processes are all facets of Machine Learning (ML) that drive Artificial Intelligence (AI).

ML is the science of “teaching” the system to look for commonalities and patterns and assessing the probability that a match is found. Effectively, with a set of mathematical models in place, the system is fed a collection of information that represents a positive match. For instance, if we want to teach the system to identify a cat, we provide thousands of images of cats and let the system process and find common visual patterns across all the images.

This is known as deep learning where the outcome is a system that can recognise and track almost any pattern. With this capability, we can inject a virtual projection into the area that is being recognised and tracked to deliver, what is called, an augmented reality experience.

The power of AI and ML is being able to make decisions based on the real-world scenario. Let’s consider its application in a security surveillance system. A machine that has been trained to detect weapons, such as knives and guns, can be used to observe CCTV security vision. In real-time, it can look for patterns in the scene that resemble its definition of a weapon. If identified, a notification alarm could be raised for someone to act.

Pattern recognition is not limited to visual only. Auditory, gesture and other data patterns can also be “taught” using ML. Continuing with our security surveillance example, a trained machine could be used to listen to sounds in the environment and detect patterns of shouting or offensive language being used.

The challenges

One of the hurdles in training a machine to identify patterns is sourcing enough material that is deemed a “positive match”. In these cases, systems are designed with feedback loops to allow machines to “learn by experience”. If for some reason the machine fails to detect what it is supposed to, it can be taught what was missing in the initial dataset and be trained to act on it the next time it occurs. All this is supported by an aspect of ML called “convolutional neural networks”. Different nodes that perform specific mathematical functions on the dataset are interconnected to achieve the specified outcome.

The opportunities

In a time when vast amounts of information is available at our fingertips, being able to recognise the world around us and decipher what is relevant will become critical. Whether at work, at home or in a social setting, successful real-world augmentation will rely on AI and ML observing and recognising our environment and adapting information to match our situation.

As hardware technology improves and wearable, handsfree devices become a reality, ML and AR will become an integral, yet ambient part of our lives.

Simon Galanakis is a passionate advocate of effective AR experiences and is currently Appearition’s Platform Architect and Senior Solution Designer.

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International Mining & Machinery Exhibition 2018

Appearition’s Ravi and Aswin attended the International Mining & Machinery Exhibition (IMME), a 4-day International exhibition organised by Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in Kolkata at Ecopark, Rajarghat. The is the 14th edition organized by CII. The exhibition had 400+ exhibitors from all over the world, especially, Australia, China, Canada, Czech Republic, UK, the USA among others. Mining in India contributes to about 2% of India’s GDP and about 10% – 11% of the industrial sector GDP [1]. A variety of stalls were set up ranging from machinery, spares and software companies.

Key topics of discussion:

Internet of Things which is becoming a part of our daily life has also set its foothold in the mining sector with many innovative solutions and systems providing a testimonial for the same. IoT is being used in a drilling system that uses IoT to share and analyse the condition of bearings and other parts.

Immersive Technology like Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are helping workers in this high-risk field with their simulation and virtual training capabilities. In machinery training instead of the need to train on real machines where mistakes might cost the business millions, a simulator would be much more cost efficient. Also, in the field of safety training, a VR based solution gives workers a chance to train in the virtual world as opposed to the real world, where the risk of injury is higher. A VR solution due to its inherent nature has more involvement from the users and is better suited.

The Mining industry is all set to embrace more frontier technology. This would continue to grow in the next couple of years with more corporates and verticals adopting the latest in terms of technology and solution.

Mining network:

The conference was the place to be to network with people creating the latest gadgets, developing the software and working with disruptive technology in the mining sector. It gave us a chance to experience the latest technology and understand the future of work in that sector.

 

[1] As of 2010

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