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Shaping future minds

Disruptive technologies like Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are changing the face of enterprises as we know it. Appearition is constantly working towards educating young minds in these technologies and making them future ready.

Appearition along with our partners Real Time Learning and Epson was a part of a day-long session to educate kids between the ages 9 and 12 and provide an overview to their parents on Extended Reality (XR) (which covers the spectrum from AR to VR) – what is it all about and how one can use it.

The event was organised by ANZ bank for the children of staff over the school holidays in support of STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) workshops.

Sujanth and Brendan of Appearition provided guidance through the day, supporting hands-on learning with AR and VR.

A learning curve

Epson’s Dwayne Williams brought Moverio AR headsets to enable kids to experience AR. Several kids and their parents learnt in detail about the basics of the technology, its application and benefits.

‘Students experienced Virtual Reality and were amazed to see virtual structures outside of the gadget. We believe that when students get acquainted with these technologies, it helps provide a better understanding of potential careers when they grow up,’ says Brendan Ridge, Solutions Specialist, Appearition.

This is one of the many EdTech outreach programmes that Appearition has been championing in the recent times. We hope to inspire a lot more in the days to come.

Industry 4.0 – Time to reassess business plans

Mouli Ganguly, Member, Board of Advisors, talks on Industry 4.0, Digital Transformation and more:

  1. How has market reacted to digital transformation so far? What are some factors that seem to aid it/ factors that act as a barrier?

Introduction of computers in the 80s and internet in the 90s were digital transformations (DT). These transformations speed up an existing process in their own way.

Currently, with Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), Mixed Reality (MR), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data etc, we are heading to the third wave in digital change. With this change, content reach has become faster and more specific to the user’s individual & specific context.

There is a question of what is the hype and what is the reality? The hype is often an expectation that Everything will turn digital from day one. But the reality is it takes a long, long time.

Digital disruption is when the whole user experience changes. When you look at the current technologies like AR-VR, you are in an immersive environment. The second thing that changes in a business is convenience. It gets faster and better. Take for instance YouTube, people are not wholly dependent on it for video services. We have now got other video streaming options. From being costly and time-consuming to produce a video, now they’ve become so simple.  Within a span of five years, existing technologies have changed so much.

In the residential space, AR-VR is already there. If you look at smartphones or movies, almost every movie has a VR effect in it. Whereas in the enterprise phase, it is happening far more slowly due to change management issues. There are a whole lot of processes, policies, rules that play out. These multi-factor influences act as barriers, at times.

Take a look at this scenario:

On a personal level, if you see a 3-D glass that you fancy, you just go ahead and buy it and try it and see. But in the enterprise phase, we cannot change what we do on a day-to-day basis, immediately. It is a gradual process to adopt changes and involves formal change management. Enterprises don’t have individual decisions like personal buyer choices. A new technology adoption must act in a certain business standard. In an enterprise space, one person cannot just act on it or start using something. There are other people involved. This is a huge barrier in adopting or initiating digital transformation.

  1. If you were to chart a blueprint for an enterprise’s digital transformation, what actions would it typically involve?

Adopting new technologies to businesses happen if there is a clear benefit. Unlike personal choices, a business cannot adopt a technology or a process without a defined benefit. There should be a strategy or a growth plan that cites the benefits.

Benefits can be divided into three: Either the customer or staff experience the product or service delivers is much superior leading to increased loyalty and willingness to adopt from them. Since organisations measure customer satisfaction, this is an inclusive environment.

Next one on the list is Product or process improvement. Take for instance claims processing in an Insurance company. It is quite difficult organising in person, especially if the person has availed trauma insurance. In a digital world, you can have a number of different tools from virtual assistance to people working in collaborative environments to remote diagnostics with telemedicine, all of these improves the overall process.

Enterprises must include the market & customer in its product development. It is easier to create a digital product. One can quickly create a product and launch it and test it as a POC (proof of concept), before scaling up or canning it all together.  Therefore, the whole product cycle in the market is faster than before. Through failure, you learn, Fail fast and fail without incurring a high cost or brand damage and you will innovate with successful offerings.

Finally comes the cost reduction factor. Basically, several things drive digital adoption. You grow the experience, generate customers, grow staff loyalty and therefore get more market opportunities. You get market opportunities to get new products by reducing the cycle time to market, your process has changed, you change the format quickly. And as your cost reduces, you become more productive. This sort of drives some of the opportunity.

Now, what is the big risk that you face while doing so?

Benefits, use cases & training/change management needs are not clear. For instance, when we say I’ll improve the claims processing experience in an insurance company, one needs to clearly articulate what is the use case. What is the customer roadmap of the journey? How the customer uses the new digitised transformational services that you provide. Then one has to map it all the way. At each point, you have to state what is different. How or where will I be delivering this service and how will the business be using it. It is not a technology or process issue. Business must very clearly define the benefits they will get.

Now, how do you do it?

Firstly, create a simple proof of concept. And these concepts have been around for a long time, but very, very quickly you spin something up like Appearition is doing at the moment, we can create an experience for the customer to show them the actual benefits very quickly.

The next thing that comes is change management. You have to say, if we are going to do things differently, digital is to be applied on a day to day basis, how do you make sure that when either our customers or suppliers or staff use it, how’d they be trained, accept it and use it. And most importantly, everybody in the eco-system, i.e. the staff, customers, suppliers should be able to deal with the change. This change management leads to a fully functional prototype. Proof of concepts at a very low price, say 30-50k dollars, roughly, you show them how it is done, from there we move to a fully functional prototype. From the prototype, we get a use case development.

In our design, we use tools like machine learning, artificial intelligence, data from the Internet of things and analytics to continually improve the experience.

The last one, which must be designed in terms of the blueprint, is integration. Every organisation has a whole lot of legacies. Because nobody is working in a vacuum. The new systems have to interwork with the legacy in most cases. This becomes a difficult, costly & cumbersome process.

3. What are some of the opportunities and risks that enterprises will face whilst adopting it?

Whatever digital services one provides, one must draw the data from those existing legacies. One of the elements to add to the risk is realisation. Because, sometimes, some firms do not have a clear strategy on how they want to go digital. They just dump and start an initiative without a strategy. So, if you get an application up and running, it will look very nice and appealing to whoever designed it and they will think this will change the world. But if there is no change management to support it, the customers, the staff are not wedded to it. It hasn’t been well thought through.

 

Follow this space for Part-2 of this interview.

Why AR will be the next big thing?

AR Digital Transformation and the Indian Market

Ravichandran Lakshminarayanan, Member, Board of Advisors, Appearition India speaks on Augmented Reality, Digital Transformation trends and the Indian market and more:

Your take on the AR/VR market in India.

Though AR/VR arrived, so to speak, maybe about three years back, significant impact or adoption (usage) is yet to be seen, be it in the consumer space (though we have VR centres in some malls or VR headgear sold with smartphones) or in the enterprise space.

AR/VR is certainly going to be a game changer for industries like retail, real estate, entertainment, and tourism in India.

Education is another area where we will see significant AR/VR adoption. (I foresee not only schools & colleges taking advantage of the power of AR/VR, but many other formal and non- formal fora including corporate/industrial training will take advantage of these frontier technologies).

The mobile market in India – Smartphones undergo constant metamorphosis. What features do you think they need to adapt to stay abreast with the AR/VR tech?

India is a price sensitive market. Today there are more than 300 million mobile phone connections, in India. Mobile phone sales literally skyrocketed, only because device prices came down drastically.

Mobile phones are going to drive AR/VR usage and it is very important that the AR/VR capable phones are priced right for the Indian market.

Next is content in local languages like Tamil, Hindi, Telugu, Kannada. For AR/VR to drive mass usage/adoption, local language content will be a key.

Last but not least, the devices(phones) will have to be more user-friendly than they are now.

 Your take on digital transformation for businesses these days.

Today there is no business that can shun or stay away from digital transformation. The degree of transformation or rather what percentage of the business is digital versus non-digital may vary from business to business but there’s not a single business that’s 100% non-digital.

In the Indian context, this is so particularly after the introduction of GST.

Though it has taken time, businesses have understood the benefits of digital transformation.

How has the Indian market reacted to digital transformation so far? What are some factors that seem to aid it/ factors that act as a barrier?

The Indian market was quite reluctant to accept/embrace digital transformation, initially.

The reasons were:

  • the market did not understand what digital transformation is.
  • the market could not see value in digital transformation immediately
  • digital transformation was taking firms/players out of their comfort zone
  • firms were unsure of the payback period if they opted for digital transformation.

Slowly but surely as a few early adopters took hesitant steps towards digital transformation and started ‘seeing’ the benefits, more and more firms followed. Today, I dare say, there are very few firms, if any, that have not been touched at all by digital transformation.

Today everybody understands that digital transformation is not only inevitable but benefits all. Firms are still evaluating their ROI and hence the pace of adoption is not ideal yet.

There are obstacles and challenges, the foremost being connectivity not only in terms of speed and price but in terms of reach. There are still many areas in the country where connectivity is very poor or non-existent.

Technologies like 5G and other indigenous technologies and solutions, will hopefully, address this issue.

What are some barriers that companies face while venturing to a new geography?

In my opinion, the most important barrier is the culture. The culture in each geography is unique and the sooner companies understand the local culture the better for them. The next important challenge is to understand the local laws, business environment. There could be challenges in effective communication besides language differences. The pace at which things move, including the pace of business negotiations, can vastly vary. Distance and time could be a challenge, too. Finding and hiring people who are trustworthy and competent can be a challenge. Establishing franchises, signing up agents and other business associates may take longer than what companies ‘back home’ is used to.

What sort of obstacles did you face while setting up your e-commerce venture and how did you overcome them?

The very first challenge was not being able to register a domain name, from India.

(Internic was the only share registry and for registering any domain one had to pay $100; the only way to pay was online; this was not possible from India. I had to take the help of my sister in the US, who paid this $100 and we registered chennaionline.com on Aug 15, 1997.)

One of the foremost challenges for a startup in a sunrise industry, which the online space was, way back in 1997, was getting the right people to come on board. We leaned on friends and other contacts to get the initial few hires.

The next challenge was funding –VC/Angel funding culture, back then, was literally nonexistent. Raising capital as equity was very difficult if not impossible. Debt funding or in Indian parlance, a bank loan was the only option.

Banks lend against tangible assets – land, building, plant & machinery – and also insist on security for the loan. Here was a business that had no tangible assets (except some PCs and servers and switches and modems – assets that depreciated faster than the mercury rising in Chennai summer) and a business model that was at best vague (actually from the bank perspective, it was all Latin and Greek).

The Bank Manager professed he understood nothing but said he was impressed with my sincerity of purpose and sanctioned the loan. (“As a breed, we are risk averse, but if we do not take some risk to support highly qualified technocrats, when we get an opportunity, then we do not deserve to be sitting here”, he said!)

Though the potential of the web/online was fairly well established globally, India was slow to adopt or embrace this ‘new economy’ and hence every ‘pitch’ had to be from ‘ground zero’. One of our (founding team) important roles was to evangelise Internet & e-commerce; evangelise we did with passion and enthusiasm. This not only got us noticed but became a competitive advantage, too.

There were many more challenges including getting the right office space, etc.

There were so many Foreign Exchange rules & regulations that receiving or sending money out of India was a huge task. We did $ transactions wrestling with a plethora of forms and multiple agencies.

Do you see similar obstacles for firms these days, despite a bridge that filled the knowledge gap?

Certainly not. Thanks to information/knowledge available in one click, for anyone, and the more business-friendly environment, many of the earlier day business challenges do not exist. However, each new firm (or old firm) has a unique challenge. It is much like a baby’s growth – from conception to infancy to childhood to adolescence to adulthood – at every stage in the life of a firm, there are unique challenges. A successful firm is one which understands this and also understands every challenge is a possible opportunity.

Shaping the role of educators with technology

 

Digital transformation will impact job roles in future. Hence, it is important to shape the role of an educator. Market leaders predict that Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality (AR/VR) will change the basics of how teachers teach.

E-Learning

Immersive technology will enter e-learning and classroom learning in near future, making teachers mentors first, says Michio Kaku, Physicist and Author. A recent Technavio study predicts that online higher education market in the US is set to grow at a compound annual growth (CAGR) rate of 20% until 2021.

If teachers start using technology as a medium of instruction whilst teaching, it will enable students to learn the ropes of this at an early stage.

Some ways in which teachers can use AR/VR technology in classrooms:

  1. Smart class: Moving away from traditional projectors or picture projects, teachers can use AR to overlay an animal or forest picture for a social science class or produce a square or hexagonal shape for geometry.
  2. Presentation skills: Adding fun to Powerpoint, teachers can promote the use of AR/VR and prompt students to learn further by pointing at an object.
  3. Beyond classrooms: AR/VR can be used anywhere with just a small, handheld device. This can enable teachers to make field trips and lab visits even more interesting with prompters and overlays.

The Technavio report further says AR in education market will grow steadily at a CAGR of more than 82% by 2021. Educationists say, students are increasingly interested in learning things that are aided with an augmented overlay or e-vision. In such an environment, the students are completely engrossed in the space around them. These enhance students’ cognitive and interactive skills.

Based on an article published in Edtech and EdSurge.

AR/VR Magic in Education

AR/VR’s immense potential in the field of Education is picking up with several colleges inculcating it in their activities. A snapshot of how technology has added value to what they do:

Iowa State University

How does a player train at a centre on par to the field experience without having to visit one? That is where VR came-in handy for the students and faculty at the Iowa State University.

Virtual Reality Applications Centre

The University’s football coaches collaborated with the Virtual Reality Applications Center to recreate a live match effect just like at Jack Trice stadium to help players train.

The virtual action takes place in the C6, an immersive VR environment in the VRAC. The players wear a VR headset and practice in a live stadium setup with virtual opponents. This enabled students to place themselves in the centre of action.

Savannah College of Arts and Design (SCAD)

We might just be few steps away from an actual teleporting facility. In the virtual world, one can place themselves on the other side of globe at the touch of a button.

VR Recruiting Toolkit

People at SCAD have done just that, sending out Google Cardboards to 30,000 of their recruits last year, enabling them to view their campuses across the globe. The excitement of the students to view their home for next few years and the parental concern of where their ward will be resolved at the touch of a button.

Utilizing the other fruits of VR, the university took to AR to provide enhanced course catalog with AR videos and animations that aided course study for several students.

Texas A&M University – Virtual Campus Tours

VR campus tours have become tech fad at most universities. Texas A&M University unveiled immersive 360-degree VR tours at SXSW in March, showing how VR aides as a recruitment tool. The VR tours also relieve the management and students of having to work a mutually agreed date and time of tour as it enables tours from anywhere, anytime the student wants. Furthermore, the virtual tours provide a much-detailed over view of all the aspects in a campus as opposed traditional walk-in basic over-view.

Embrace excellence in the field of Education, setup your own AR/VR facility at just one click.

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Based on an article that was first published in Edtechmagazine.com

If it keeps on rainin, the levee’s gonna break.

It is common knowledge that as technology evolves, individuals are becoming more informed and driven to create content aligned to their passions. Think about the content you are seeing in your social feeds – your colleague’s oddball memes, Aunt Sue with puppy’s ears and your old school mate Trevor Lam and his latest “work of art” – everyone around us is getting more and more able to express their creativity and publish it too. Facebook Augmented Reality (AR) is going to allow people to express themselves a whole lot more.

 

Give everyone the power to share anything with anyone.

– Mark Zuckerberg

 

What is F8 – and why should you care?

The Facebook Developers conference (F8) was first hosted in 2007 – where the team at FB presented the social graph – or a rendition of the concept of a social network. Subsequent editions of F8 hosted similarly theoretical principles behind the evolution of the behemoth that FB is today. Essentially, this is the conference where they announce their next plans, and given how integrated FB is in our lives today – you might want to be aware of what’s ahead.

 

F8 2017: Facebook Augmented Reality

Earlier this week, at F8 2017, Mark Zuckerberg (Zuck!) shared an update on the next phase of FB’s 10-year product plan, originally shared in at F8 2016. Commencing with some warm up jokes about the release of Fast and the Furious 8 (the “other” F8 ) this week, Zuck proceeded to give us a snapshot of how FB plans to integrate AR into camera functions in their apps.

 

Click to read: Business Insider’s article on the release of the FB 10-year plan

Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote from Day 1 of F8

 

FB, AR & Cameras – how do they come together?

In recent times, the FB family of apps (FB, Messenger, Instagram & Whatsapp) have seen the integration of camera icons across the board – enabling functions such as video conferencing. While these changes have gone unnoticed by some, it is estimated that the FB messenger app has 1.2 billion monthly users.

 

Facebook-Messenger-Video-Calling

FB Messenger with camera Icon (Source: Forbes)

Click to read: Forbes article on Facebook Messenger passing 1.2 billion users

 

And how does AR fit into this equation?

Zuck went on to share a common understanding that AR is essentially used for three key purposes;

  • The overlay of data onto the physical reality around us – such as messages or information
  • The ability to add digital objects into our surroundings – like a virtual television or gaming avatars
  • Enhancements to physical objects around us – like buildings or human faces.

Facebook Augmented Reality will work by aggregating these tools – the cameras within FB apps will allow users to create AR “experiences” – and they will seem quite familiar once you see them. AR is not rare – we’ve all seen it in one form or the other – quite possibly most recently in the form of Pokemon Go.

Now, we all know that Pokemon Go was a huge driver in bringing AR to the mainstream – even if it was little more than a temporary fad for most. You’ve also undoubtedly heard us go on about how the popularity of the game was influential in the voluminous cash injection industry players received in 2016. But this could very well be, to quote Led Zeppelin, when the levee’s gonna break.

 

Where might you have seen AR in action?

Some use cases we’ve found interesting

 

So how does it all work exactly? (A splash of technical jargon)

This vision comes to life with the incorporation of some technological building blocks;

  • Simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) – a technique borrowed from Artificial intelligence – enabling users to integrate digital elements into the reality in front of them
  • 3D effects – capturing and interacting with scenes that you can explore and effects that you can adjust
  • Object recognition – technology that can identify items around you, that can then be targets for the overlay of digital content

 

What about Virtual Reality?

AR and Virtual Reality align quite well, and in that vein, FB is launching a platform called Facebook spaces – where you can interact with people in a virtual environment through the Oculus Rift.

 

Facebook spaces (from F8 2017)

Meanwhile, we’ve been doing our own experiments with the Rift too!

image1 (1)

 

 

Early days in terms of adoption – and the plan for an open platform

Zuck reiterated a key message around AR: It is yet in a rudimentary phase of development – and most of the use cases around us are still evolving too. Don’t expect the world to change overnight.

That being said, in offering an open platform and leveraging the huge universe that lives on FB – users will be able to create AR experiences on their own, and share them online. In doing so, new users will have access to parallel creations by fellow users from around the internet.

This spike in available content will invariably help everyone around us find AR experiences that fit their fancy – especially if this punt from FB is a good one – and at Appearition, we certainly believe Facebook Augmented Reality is going to be something special for all of us.

 

The Magic that is AR – QnA with Tomi T Ahonen

Over the past few years – you would have heard us refer to Tomi T Ahonen – a thought leader in the tech space with a distinct passion for AR and author of 12 books on mobile. We are delighted to share a brief QnA that Tomi was kind enough to do with us – 5 questions, 5 minutes (and a bit) – Enjoy!
 
1. How do you think augmented reality/virtual reality industry has evolved over the past 5 years and where would you like to see the industry in the next 5 years? 
 
AR is in an exploratory phase right now. The things that made Pokemon Go such a big hit last year, the individual elements had all been done already before, only Nintendo and Niantic managed to put in the ‘right mix’ of the right elements. But I do believe the future of AR will have us looking at Pokemon Go of 2016 as the ‘early dawn’ and the service be to the industry similar to what MySpace was to social media before Facebook. An initial successful ‘proof-of-concept’ vehicle but others will emerge far bigger and more successful than even this – bearing in mind that Pokemon Go was the most successful new game launch in gaming history. 
 
For the industry I think the next five years will see more validation of various business concepts that will be seen as viable and steady. I think the Ikea furniture catalog AR application is one of the most sustainable on a retail/commerce side; various user-assistance uses of AR in say the Audi user-manual for cars, are an obvious big area that can now get a boost when AR has been ‘validated’ by Pokemon Go. But in 5 years AR will have a Billion consumers using it, AR will be as normal for most users on their smartphones as going to Facebook or Whatsapp or Skype might be today.
 
TV is old news, mobile is now, but AR is the next big thing
 
2. Who, in your opinion, are the more influential players in this industry, and where do you see the most potential for development?
 
I think the big driver for AR is entertainment at least initially. It is a very ‘fun’ type of use of mobile, especially if you compare to say ‘payments’ and mobile money, which is far more ‘useful’ than strictly fun (who loves paying?). I would think that again, the Pokemon Go experience will drive other brands from Disney to Hollywood and TV, to start to deploy AR into their brand experiences. Imagine the next James Bond movie (isn’t it time 007 visited Australia?) – I could very well imagine a Bond-themed adventure ‘game’ with AR that included elements from the movie and set ideally in locations that the movie itself was shot. Or take any of the big action hero movies, the Iron Man, Superman, Spiderman, Batman etc type of movies – these would seem like naturals to go to AR soon. Any strictly animated movies and various currently-popular TV shows – they should already have some kind of AR concept under development to ‘be the next Pokemon Go’ haha..
 
If we think of tech companies, I don’t see anyone moving ahead of the pack so far. And on AR specialist firms, Layar had an early head-start but they don’t seem to (at least yet) have gotten to that ‘Google front-runner’ status of what we typically see in tech like Amazon in retail or Facebook in social media etc.
 
3. Everyone has been talking about AR extensively, particularly post Pokemon, but in your opinion, what are the top 3 benefits of this technology?
 
First off, AR is truly magical. As such, it appeals remarkably strongly to young people. I would guess that once the big ‘youth brands’ figure out that TV is old news, mobile is now, but AR is the next big thing – we will see news like Adidas made last week, when they said they will end TV advertisements because the youth are on their smartphones. I can foresee a time when especially youth-targeted brands start to set AR as their primary media/advertising channel. Secondly AR is ‘illustrative’ and by this I mean it can show us what to do, and how to do it. In any kind of learning situation, AR can project the video of the optimal performance and that can be incredibly powerful in helping illustrate how to do things. User guides and manuals will soon all be AR-enabled. Don’t make me read a manual. Show me how to do it. And the third big benefit is that AR is inherently digital AND inherently mobile. That means it is fully ready for the future digitally-converged world when our money and communciations and media and consumption and behavior and preferences etc will all be done through mobile and using digital means. AR could become ‘the next thing’ after video on mobile. This would be on the progression that mobile was first voice, then text, then pictures, now videos, and next… AR. But we have to see if that comes to be.
 
4. Given the relative ease of implementing the technology, what are some challenges faced by companies looking to adopt AR at an enterprise level?
 
A big problem for most businesses is to find a suitably frequent behavior that could be enhanced or expanded via AR. So if you bought your new car, and once had a problem changing the oil, and used the AR guide once – you will pretty much forget its even possible and won’t get the chance to explore and ‘enjoy’ it. Even as the car company may have built many dozens of AR use-cases to assist the car-owner. But in the case of Pokemon Go there is a lot of ‘repetitive’ behavior and ‘returning’ behavior, so you have to come back and nurture the eggs, and walk the distance to hatch the eggs, and so forth. They have done a lot of thinking on the human ‘addiction-building’ repetitive behavior. I often tell the story of cinema vs bus ticket in mobile payments. Most people go to the cinema only a few times per year. We don’t really ‘learn’ or ‘remember’ that we could pay for that ticket on our mobile phone. But if we commute to work or school every day by bus, we’ll learn in a few days how much more convenient it is to pay by mobile.
 
AR is truly magical. As such, it appeals remarkably strongly to young people.
 
5. Any final thoughts/advice to newcomers in the industry or people wanting to learn how it all works?
 
I do look for the magical. A Disney birthday cake that has Cinderella in it to sing to the 5 year old princess that special day. A penguin at a Tokyo zoo who shows the path how to get from the train station to the zoo, and the penguin waddles exactly like a real penguin, as it walks. This is the kind of magic we can experience in AR and we should seek more of that. And make sure the consumers can share and spread the fun with their friends, through social media etc.
 
Note: Check out Tomi’s Tedx Talk on Augmented Reality being the 8th Mass Medium
 

Developers’ Post: Top 5 Unity tutorials regarding AR/VR

Vuforia How To :

Vuforia is probably the most reliable and easy to use AR platform on the market. This video-guide will help you setup your own AR experience in a few minutes only. They made it really accessible, and whether you’re a developer or a company, having your own set of AR experiences will help you promote yourself and stand out.

Cardboard / Gear VR :

When it comes to VR, cardboard has always been the most accessible out there, followed by Gear VR (which is actually pretty good in quality). This video is, in my opinion, the one who explains best how to get started with basic VR, and create immersive experiences for your clients, fans, future employers or relatives!

Vive Setup & Input :

If you are looking to get into standalone VR projects, VIVE is probably the right headset for you. This tutorial will teach you how to get started, which is something that I feel needs far more attention than most developers give. It’s easy to forget sometimes, that the best virtual experiences need the best inputs.

Custom Editor :

If there is one thing on Unity which is underrated, it’s definitively Custom Editors. They allow a much faster production efficiency as a programmer, and will let some teammates which aren’t necessarily good at programming to handle the design of your game or application without a sweat.

 

Shader (Shaderforge, a Unity asset) :

Shaderforge for Unity, or Unreal’s material, or Blender or any node-based material systems are something that all devs should, sooner or later, get good at. When reaching late development, it’s noticeable that 70% of the efficiency issues can get fixed by making your own shaders, and that can eventually, become essential. The fact that they are node-based only makes it easier to work with, and enabled better results.

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Staff Blog: Mucking about with 360 VideoSphere VR Part 3

Interested in 360 VideoSphere (360 Virtual Reality)? This series shares what I learnt producing a short film aboard an old Sailing Ship for the Melbourne Fringe Festival[1].

In the last update, my team of volunteers were looking forward to shooting our first 360 VR short film. Then we hit a hurdle. Our cinematographer was unable to do any test shots or editing, due to incompatibility with his computer and the festival’s practice camera.

AWFUL AUDIO, OR AUDACIOUS?

The hurdle was followed by a face-first tumble into the mud when our sound engineer had an overseas job at the same time as the shoot. We could not reschedule; Melbourne Regatta Day aligned with our shooting window, and was too good to miss.

Plan B. We contacted other specialists, and they were keen to try 360 VideoSphere production, but there was not enough time to line up people and equipment. So we fell back to Plan C; use the Samsung Gear 360 camera’s inbuilt microphone. This would not be great if you’re recording a concert, or producing a narrative that requires directional sound to direct audience attention. Still, for our purposes we were pretty pleased with the quality.

body_image_1_article_3

NEW TECHNOLOGY? IF WISDOM FAILS TRY TENACITY

Conventional wisdom with emerging technology is test it early and iron out the inevitable problems. It’s wisdom for a reason.

Unfortunately, the festival’s production units were unavailable in advance. So, we could give up, or improvise and manage the risk. We decided to go for it, and as expected, encountered problems right away.

It is not possible to get behind a 360 camera and look through a viewfinder, but with the Samsung Gear you can use your phone as a remote viewer. A nifty feature, unless as in this case, Samsung block access to the app because you’re in a country where the Camera has yet to be officially released. The festival hadn’t identified this issue because like us, this was their inaugural spin on the 360 dancefloor.

Short of trying solutions like IP masking to make it look like we were in South Korea (where the camera was bought) we would have to shoot blind – so that’s what we did. For example, we climbed the mast and out onto a yardarm to attach the camera. Then, we recovered it after 10 minutes to physically connect it to my laptop and review the footage.

Sometimes even workarounds need a workaround. The case around the camera’s USB port was too small for our cable, and modifying the borrowed camera was out of the question. Our resident inventor, Andrew, borrowed the skipper’s knife and whittled away his own USB cable’s superfluous housing. I admit, I was sceptical but it fit neatly into the Camera’s port.

IN THE NEXT UPDATE

So after a long day shooting we had plenty of good footage.

However, 360 VideoSphere (360 VR) film is captured on multiple cameras. So, this composite footage must be “stitched” together before it can be edited. The results create some unique trials in the editing suit!

USEFUL LINKS

 

For an immersive experience and ease of use try using a Google Cardboard headset and selecting this icon in YouTube: google_cardboard_logo

 

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Staff Blog: Mucking about with 360 VideoSphere VR Part 2

All Goes Well, Until It Doesn’t

Interested in 360 VR (VideoSphere)? This series shares what I learnt producing one aboard an old Sailing Ship for the Melbourne Fringe Festival[1].

I was lucky enough to come across the opportunity at a VR (Virtual Reality) meetup to produce a VideoSphere short film, with the camera and expert guidance supplied[2]. I have produced traditional video, and was already intrigued after seeing two staff from ABC TV talk about their experience at an earlier Mixed Reality meetup[3].

When Amy Nelson and Astrid Scott explained how they produced the ABC’s first 360 production, I was struck by how accessible they made it[4]. They faced the challenge of placing their camera on a pole over an angry bull in the middle of a rodeo in outback Queensland. For other shots they had the camera operator hiding behind a barrel. Not because of the bull, but because hiding the crew behind the camera is not an option, when there is no “behind” the camera.

They were candid about accepting mistakes. They knew that many of the rules learned over the last century do not apply to this medium so new practices must be developed through experimentation.

So given this chance, my first thought was ‘brilliant!’ which is my reaction to anything related to Virtual and Augmented Reality. But I had no team, no 360 experience, and no time. So, it had everything going for it but common sense.

1830’s Cultural Heritage Meets 360 Video

The festival required a proposal. Cultural Heritage (i.e. history) kinda rocks and everybody loves old fashioned sailing ships, whatever their opinion of Johnny Depp’s (over)acting in Pirates of the Caribbean. However, not everybody can spend time aboard one, let alone to climb out onto a yard-arm high above the deck. I have been a volunteer aboard the Enterprize, an educational tourism ship, for the last few years, and this was a way to share the experience.

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The first step was to create a storyboard (a sequence of shots, like panels in a comic book) and get the festival and the ship’s management on board.

The next step was to put together a team. For the cinematography I called on Andrew Gotts, an old friend who has worked in video production. He enjoys experimental technology, and has a good head for heights. He suggested an editor, Nadia Nusatea, so that made three. We still required an audio specialist so I approached Darius Kedros who runs a VR Audio special interest group[5].

There were a few short weeks to learn the technology, shoot and edit. But we now had a plan, a team, and something to film.

Cameras and Audio Equal Trouble and Strife

Then, bad news. The practice camera provided was incompatible with Andrew’s hardware, and we could not borrow the production camera until less than a day before the shoot. Our choices were to quit, or go in blind.

Worse news. Darius would be overseas for an extended period. Understandably he did not want to risk his very expensive audio capture equipment with somebody else; particularly when it would be suspended over salt water.

Next week

In next week’s edition: All At Sea But Problem Solving: We improvise to solve our production problems and capture our footage, but even editing 360 creates its own obstacles

Useful Links

Many of these are Melbourne (Australia) based, but you can find similar resources wherever you are.

  1. Part 1 of this Series: https://www.appearition.com/mucking-about-with-360-videosphere-vr/ 
  2. Nathan Beattie’s VR Developers’ Meetup: https://www.meetup.com/Melbourne-VR/
  3. Leah Bunny and Emily Harridge’s Real World VR Meetuphttps://www.meetup.com/Melbourne-VR-Virtual-Reality-Meetup/
  4. ABC TV’s first 360 VideoSphere production: http://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2015-12-03/vr:-the-life-of-a-bronc-rider/6966832
  5. Darius Kedros and Sally Kellaway’s VR Audio Group: http://www.meetup.com/Melbourne-AR-VR-Audio-Meetup/

 

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Staff Blog: Mucking about with 360 VideoSphere VR Part 1

I looked about Antarctica in all directions. From the snowy landscape rising towards the centre of the continent to the waves breaking against the beach; a beach made of large pebbles, clearly visible at my feet.

VideoSphere (360 video) is real world footage that enables you to look in all directions including up and down even on a regular computer. Use a VR (Virtual Reality) headset and it will fill your field of view and move with your head. This means you are no longer limited to a window predefined by somebody else. I’m a history geek so I used it for Cultural Heritage. However, if it is broadcast live, at your sister’s wedding or a music concert, you can be 1,000 miles away, but see exactly what you would see sitting in the audience.

My first experience was with its sibling, PhotoSphere (which are 360 still images). I was “standing” on the Antarctic beach, while physically located in my kitchen in Australia, thanks to Paul Pichugin[1].

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360 Video in Practice 

If you have not come across VideoSphere it is only a matter of time. Mainstream news organisations, tourism and sporting bodies are already using it as more than a novelty. You can even produce it yourself for family and friends.

At the entry level, you can pick up a decent camera with respectable sound capture, such as the Samsung Gear 360[2], for under US$500 (plus software such as Adobe Premiere[3] and a computer with enough grunt to run it. If you’re a serious professional and have US$45,000 handy, you can pick up Nokia Ozo, a bargain down from its original US$60,000 price tag[4]

Another factor is sound. Capturing ambient noise is not difficult. If you would like to capture directional sound and edit layers of sound (e.g. voice, action, music, and ambient) to a high quality then you may need a sound technician with a directional sound rig, editing desk, and software.

Using VideoSphere Yourself 

If you’re interested in producing your own VideoSphere, having one done professionally, or are just curious about the technology, you can read this series. I’ll cover the lessons (and mistakes to avoid) that I learnt by producing this short film aboard an old-fashioned Sailing Ship[5] for the Melbourne Fringe Festival. You can watch the video below on Youtube with a Google Cardboard headset and selecting the google_cardboard_logo symbol. 

A quick aside on the furious debate – VR or not VR

You may encounter an argument that 360 should not be referred to as VR because you can look but not touch. I.e. you can’t interact the way you can with responsive computer generated (CG) content. It’s true, but it’s like arguing that a spider is not an insect. most people just don’t care. So, for the sake of simplicity I am bundling this into the Mixed Reality family.

Next week

Tune in next week for my next article: All Goes Well, Until It Doesn’t: Putting together a production in record time with technology so new it has not yet been released in the country has its risks

Useful Links
    1. Paul Pichugin’s Antarctica: http://immersiveimages.com.au/tours/antarctica/#s=pano10
    2. Samsung Gear 360 Camera: http://www.samsung.com/global/galaxy/gear-360/
    3. Adobe Premiere video editing software: https://helpx.adobe.com/premiere-pro/system-requirements.html
    4. Nokia Ozo 360 Camera: https://ozo.nokia.com/# 
    5. Melbourne’s Tall Ship Enterprize: http://www.enterprize.org.au/

 

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IndustryAR: Augmented Reality in Defence and Military

When it comes to defence and the military, every advantage matters. We live in a technological age where the most effective military is not one with the most soldiers, but the best technology. And the best technology right now is Augmented Reaaugmented-reality-600lity (AR) in defence.

The US military has already begun employing AR technology in its training cycles, most notably during an Infantry Officer Course in Quantico last year.

Young Marines got to test out a new AR-based system known as the Augmented Immersive Team Trainer (AITT). It’s a system that trains troops in calling in airstrikes and artillery barrages.

Traditionally, this form of training is difficult to conduct. Munitions and targets can only be used once and aircraft and artillery barges are prohibitively expensive, and often unavailable during these training cycles.

However, the AITT proved extremely beneficial in this regard. The expensive components such as aircraft, bombs and their resulting explosions, could be digitally created and overlaid on a real-world training battlefield.

These elements would of course be required to behave realistically, a fairly easy task. There was no need to worry about limited munitions, unavailable jets or single-use targets.

The added bonus is that unlike virtual reality, augmented reality in defence allowed troops to go through the actual physical motions of training. Soldiers require actual walls and stairs, real world obstacles to build up muscle memory.

Another advantage of augmented reality in military training systems is its mobility. Current USMC training requires Marines to go to a specific location and often requires the use of significant contractor support. With AR-based training systems however, these devices can be move around easily and the set up is usually far less complicated.

df4fad14-9444-11e4-_831351cThe reason why virtual reality falls short is that it takes away from the real world battlefield. It’s great for a fighter pilot in a cockpit simulator, as he essentially deals with buttons, joysticks and screens. He himself is static while it is his vehicle that moves in space.
Thus, apart from the massive G-forces, this is fairly easy to simulate through VR.

Also, similar technology such as Google Glass can sometimes be more of an impediment than an asset.

It is essentially another screen, just much closer to the eye of the soldier. There is still a cognitive load and time lag when a soldier shifts his attention to the screen. He will then need to mentally processes that information in relation to his real world situation. Augmented reality in defence does the processing for you. The information overlayed in an understandable format. In other words, you simply ‘see it as it is’.

 

Image source: (1) (2) (3)

 

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Augmented Reality & Virtual Reality in Rio Olympics 2016

We’ve come a long way from television broadcasts of sporting events where inclement weather, bad lighting or overexposure often resulted in dull, poor quality images. We now enjoy crisp, crystal clear footage of our favourite sporting events, on demand, in high definition.

With innovations in technology, the viewing experience of watching a sports broadcast is becoming increasingly just that, an experience.

The recent Rio Olympics was one such example. Not only was it broadcast in high definition (HD), some events were broadcast in the latest 8k Ultra high definition.

But more than clear images, the adoption of Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and 360 degree imagery is what really set this olympics apart.

Significant portions of the Rio Olympics were broadcast in HD in VR. From the opening and closing ceremonies, to selected events such as track and field, beach volleyball and gymnastics, approximately 85 hours of VR footage from Rio was made available for viewing.

Specially developed, custom-made cameras were rolled out specifically to capture this footage in all its glorious, ultra high-definition. Using compatible headsets and their mobile phones, for the first time, viewers could enjoy and experience portions of the Olympics, as if they were there.

blog-rio-img1No longer was the opening ceremony something to watch from one point of view on a screen. With a VR headset, your entire visual field became the screen, and the ceremony was not just in front of you, but behind and to the sides. It’s almost like you were there. And this is exactly what Production Manager for Olympic Broadcasting Services, Karen Mullins, wanted from this unprecedented method of sports broadcasting.

“VR is not about viewing in a traditional sense,” said Mullins. I’s about an ‘experience’ and we always tend to describe it as that, rather than as coverage.”

And what an experience it was. To watch the world’s top athletes go for gold on a flat screen is one thing. But to experience it as it happens around you, while in the comfort of your living room, is quite another. Even for those without compatible headsets, numerous providers had uploaded 360 degree videos of Olympic teasers, events and interviews on YouTube.

All one needed was to cue up a video and use a mouse pointer to scroll around for a complete 360 degree view. Even without a headset or VR goggles, it’s quite an arresting visual experience.

But technological innovations at the Olympics didn’t stop at virtual reality. A host of studios and companies employed heavy use of augmented reality in their presentation.

AR graphics seemed to dominate televised broadcasts of the Olympics. From simple graphics of data and stats, to touchscreen tables in front of TV presenters where Olympic basketball events appeared to be played out live and in miniature.

There was even a memorable 3D capture of sprinter Usain Bolt, who seemed to came alive in the studio, right next to TV presenters.

The Olympics were a notable testing ground for these new technologies, but it didn’t stop at just broadcasting.

The events themselves utilized a host of technological improvements, such as underwater lap counters, video referees for certain sports, real time GPS tracking for canoe sprints and rowing (to name a few).

There were also drones streaming images live from stadiums.

All things considered, “watching” a sports broadcast, in the traditional sense, might soon be a relic of the past. Increasingly, with technological advancements in VR and AR technology, sports broadcasts are becoming things to experience more than just watch.

The recent Olympics were most likely just a taster, a testing ground that showed us what was possible – that being a passive viewer is giving way to being an active spectator.

You no longer have to view a sporting event, you can virtually be there, look around and experience the action unfold around you, in dazzling 360-degree perfection.

 

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