Tag Archives: Augmented reality

Virtual Rome wasn’t built in a day

Guest blog by Dr Matthew Nicholls, University of Reading

I was delighted to present with CONTEXT at the Berlin IFA+ Summit. My own work with digital visualisation and 3D modelling in higher education sits very well alongside CONTEXT’s work surveying the amazing possibilities that Virtual Reality is now opening up. I work at the University of Reading, where I have built a large detailed 3D model of ancient Rome. I use this to generate still and animated images of the city, and also teach my students how to make their own digital reconstructions. Recently I have started using VR in my teaching and public work, turning my digital models into immersive, walk-around experiences. Stepping into these spaces in VR, no matter how well I think I know them, is a truly transformative, engaging experience.

romevirtual

Having to peer around physically, viewing the buildings in proper 3D, makes their scale and splendour much more intuitively visible than viewing them in more traditional 2D illustrations, and opens up the possibility of ‘stepping back into the past’. The potential for engaging students, as both users and creators of this sort of content, is terrific. It seems that the public agrees: I was very interested to see that the recreation of historical events scored highly in CONTEXT’s survey of what sorts of VR experiences are particularly appealing to potential users.

When not presenting, I explored the enormous IFA fair. The VR displays, naturally, were particularly interesting. Here the global market for gaming is the big driving force, enabling huge investments in hardware and software that will also benefit educational users like me. Oculus’ tour bus offered a sample of games and experiences in their Rift headset, including being chased by a T-Rex in a deserted museum, and playing a vertigo-inducing realistic rock-climbing game. Samsung’s lavish exhibit combined headset displays (using their Gear) with motion experiences, including a roller coaster and kayak ride (both using hydraulically-actuated seats), and a bungee jump into a virtual volcano.

Combining real-world motion with virtual graphics has potential for gaming, and also for fairground-style rides like these. It helps overcome two problems long associated with VR – that moving around in a virtual world without real-world physical movement can be disorientating or uncomfortable, and that VR can be perceived as an anti-social sort of activity. I enjoyed all of these ‘rides’; although the amount of physical movement involved was naturally smaller than the huge rollercoaster or bungee arcs suggested by the VR graphics, it seemed to be just enough to fool the body into accepting what the headset was showing.

ride

And of course it had a very high novelty fun factor; as these things become more common, it will be interesting to see what seasoned gamers come to expect in a genuinely thrilling experience. I wonder whether augmented reality, blending digital and real world elements (including other players), will eventually open up more convincing or exciting realms of experience than pure VR.

Elsewhere in the fair VR really seemed to have come of age, and was incorporated into various CONTEXTs – in gaming, naturally, and also in (for example) headsets for drones. Drones are now cheap enough, and easy enough to fly, that they are becoming accessible to non-specialists. I can foresee archaeological uses, for example; drones are already being used in some digs for aerial exploration and also the harvesting of images for photogrammetric site surveying and reconstruction. Feeding real time stereoscopic imagery from a drone into a VR headset would provide a really immersive, exciting vista to the pilot (who would need somewhere safe and secluded to stand while flying it!).

As a university academic in ancient history, this was a very different conference to the sort I usually attend, and very enriching. It’s clear that as the accessibility of VR and 3D continues to increase, both in terms of falling prices and ease of use by non-specialists, the potential for educational uses in many subjects is going to be enormous; it’s exciting to be part of it at the outset.

 

 

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AR GO! Augmented Realities and Retail

On 12th July 2016 the share price of a tech company leapt up by $7bn – 25% in a single day – on the back of a free-to-download mobile phone app which is now installed on more phones in the US than Twitter or Tinder. The same app has resulted in multiple accidents, robberies from players lured to secluded locations, and unintentionally steered an unsuspecting woman to a fresh corpse. For those of you who have not yet heard of Pokémon GO, you almost certainly will very soon. Using a smart phone with a built-in camera, players can look at an area to spot and interact with the eponymous Pokémon which are superimposed over the environment on the screen. These creatures can then be used for trading or battles with other players. App users can also visit real locations which have been tagged on the in-game map as places of interest for trading and virtual activities.

The app is reported to have been created as an April Fool’s joke by creators Niantic, previously owned by Google. Indeed, Niantic’s CEO, John Hanke and many of his team are veterans of Google Maps and Google Earth. Much of the magic which allows for GO’s functionality is based both on this experience and a vault of user data collected from Niantic’s last game, Ingress, where players marked interesting places for use in the game. Niantic have also used geographical environmental data such as bodies of water to determine which Pokémon creatures should appear in that area. Hanke has more recently suggested that augmented reality (AR) headsets could also be used with the game, and wearable devices which vibrate when a player is near a Pokémon are already being marketed.

Context Pokemon

Pokémon in my office

Nintendo, who last year invested $30m in Niantic and now enjoying the equity fruits mentioned above, are generating revenue through in-app purchases – a common feature for free-to-play apps – but also in new ways which have great significance for high-street retailers. With their previous title, Ingress, businesses could pay for places of interest to be located inside their retail stores, drawing in players with promises of in-game goodies. The beauty of this system is that players do not have to give permission to be shown advertisements, and are inadvertently and willingly pulled into a retail space. Several US retailers are already looking into virtual awards for players who enter their location tied to a geomarketing deals with Niantic.

Hype aside, the mapping and tagging functions are by no means perfect and have already caused controversy. Criminals in the US have been using the app to target unsuspecting players heading to game locations, and Baltimore prison was recently discovered to be an in-game gym. As the Pokémon catchphrase goes: Gotta catch ‘em all!

AR combined with GPS and digital mapping is already being exploited in other sectors such as healthcare. Sweden’s Brighter have created a virtual bicycle experience, jDome, which allows dementia sufferers to pedal through their early neighbourhoods and has recently been adopted by care homes all across Scandinavia. The potential of these technologies for a gamut of industries was espoused at CONTEXT’s VR Summit last week by a number of leading experts including the University of Reading’s Dr Matthew Nicholls who over the last seven years has constructed a virtual model of ancient Rome: “VR allows people without a £250,000 research budget to pick it up and use it. Visitors to the department find it extremely compelling and it’s a great way of bringing an ancient space back to life”.

For Nintendo, the blurring of physical and virtual reality for gaming is nothing new; following the success of the Wii, and by combining this with their highly profitable franchises and the ubiquity of smart phone devices they have created a Pokémonster (sorry for the pun, but share prices speak for themselves), and one which could play into the hands of the brick-and-mortar retailers wanting feet through the door.

by JW

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