Posted by: crudbasher | June 24, 2015

Is VR Reaching A Tipping Point?

I have been involved in VR for over 20 years. I am therefore writing this to try to help educators learn about why I think VR is going to be important.

There was a fad in tech a few years ago with 3d TVs and movies. This was a repeat of fads from the 60s and the 80s. I didn’t like it then and I don’t like it now. You see, adding 3d to a 2d surface doesn’t transform the experience. It’s not like the jump from color to black and white. The big problem with 3d on a 2d surface like that is you can’t move your head. This causes the view to slightly change in perspective which your brain expects. It’s called parallax. You don’t really get that with a 3d movie. The most important thing though is it does not create a new experience.

Virtual Reality is different. Our brain builds an internal representation of the outside world based entirely on the 5 senses we have. We take in this information but most people don’t realize how totally depended we are on it. For example, the sun is about 93 million miles away. It therefore takes the light from the sun about 8 minutes to reach the earth. Therefore if the sun had exploded 7 minutes ago you wouldn’t know about it yet. Ok, yes that is a bit dramatic. But it’s true. :)

What Virtual Reality technology will do is to completely replace your senses of vision and hearing, which are your most important of the 5. If it is done well enough, at high enough fidelity, your brain won’t be able to tell the difference and will incorporate the new information into it’s internal reality model. I can’t overstate how significant this will be.

When you see what VR looks like now, you have to put a bulky, heavy headset on to experience it. This will dampen the experience that’s true but keep in mind this is only the start. The original iPhone could not run third party apps and was only a fraction of the power of today’s model (and that was only 8 years ago). The technology is primitive right now but I have had remarkable VR experiences with much more primitive equipment. VR promises to be able to let you live new experiences. Let me give you a few examples.

A writer at Gizmodo got to do this VR game at E3. He said it was creepy. Watch it for yourself and see if he’s right. (the trick here is to imaging what you are seeing is real for you, not just a game on a monitor).

See with a VR headset on, you can’t look away. Oh sure you can look away, but you can’t leave the experience without removing the headset. This is what we call fully immersive.

Check out this VR horror game.

The player is scared to death because you are really there. At least your brain is saying you are.

Finally, here is a demo of you in a dinosaur’s nest. :)

It’s impossible to capture the true experience on your monitor and that is my point. VR is not a fad like 3d on a flat monitor. This technology is going to open up a whole new form of entertainment. We will be able to do things we can’t do right now and that is why it’s important.

The implications for learning are huge. This will capture the attention of children in a way that lecture and videos cannot do. They will start building their own experiences and will share them around. It will allow them to see things from a different point of view (literally). I think this technology will be as transformative as the smartphone was although it might take a little longer. Let’s see how long it will take for Apple to release a VR headset (I guarantee they are working on a few now). As for me, I am looking forward to finally seeing the technology finally catch up to the potential.

Posted by: crudbasher | June 19, 2015

Nationally Recognized Teacher Suspended From His Class

I haven’t been writing a lot lately. I’ve had something on my mind but when I saw this I just had to blog about it. I have written before about seeing Rafe Esquith in person and how impressed I was with his way of reaching his students. He takes low income kids and by the end of the year they are performing Shakespeare and playing in a rock band.

So what did he do that was enough to have him banned from his classroom? H/T Latimes

Rafe Esquith, a longtime educator at Hobart Boulevard Elementary School who has written several books on teaching and received multiple awards for his work, has not been allowed to return to school since district officials launched an investigation in March.

Three months later, L.A. Unified officials have not clearly outlined the allegations against the popular teacher, said his attorney Mark Geragos. But Geragos said he learned that the investigation stemmed from a complaint by another teacher after Esquith read to a class a passage from “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain.

Well geez. He read a passage from an American classic book. Tar and feathers my friends! Now I have to get my rage on.

Dear administrators who made this boneheaded decision. You treat your students like cattle and now we can see you treat your teachers the same way. In a ranking of district priorities, effective teaching must not even be on the list. Stop being a faceless bureaucratic machine and realize you are affecting lives, often in bad ways.

Thanks, A concerned parent.

This sort of thing is the best advertisement for homeschooling I can think of. Grrr

Posted by: crudbasher | June 12, 2015

A VR Star Wars Experience

I have often seen movies described as an “Experience”. While there have been certain movies that have moved me a bit, overall I prefer a real life experience to a film one. In real life you use all your senses to process what is happening. I feel like the more senses involved and the fidelity of that information helps to clarify a memory. This is why Virtual Reality is so intriguing. Rather than being a passive viewer, in VR you are actively participating in the experience. VR has been around for a while but it is only recently that the conflux of smartphone technology, video game technology and the Internet has made worthwhile VR feasible for a relatively low cost. This technology is going to impact the world in a substantial way including in the field of Education.

Do you have problems with your students falling asleep during class? Do they use their phones and laptops to do other things? They won’t in VR.

Check out a VR product being worked on right now. H/T theverge.com

There is a lot of excitement about the upcoming Star Wars franchise refresh, but Lucasfilm, Skywalker Sound, and Industrial Light & Magic have just announced what might be the coolest news yet. The companies have formed ILM Experience Lab, or ILMxLab, for the express purpose of creating virtual and augmented reality experiences, and they’re starting with the galaxy far, far away.

The Star Wars experiences created by ILMxLab will debut later this year alongside or even before the debut of The Force Awakens, according to USA Today. And just like ILM and Skywalker Sound work with other filmmakers, the new division will eventually offer its services to Hollywood as well.

Here’s the video.

Now just imagine using this to explore history, physics, and economics. This is a very cool technology and it’s going to be here in Q1 2016.

Posted by: crudbasher | June 8, 2015

Skype Adds Realtime Voice Translation

So all you teachers go away for the summer and this is what happens. :) When you get back this fall , Skype will have fully released a new realtime voice translation feature. For free.

Right now it only supports a handful of languages but you can see this is going to be improved quickly. With this technology the developing world can have access to the educational resources of the first world. I believe the change that will bring will be profound. Check back in about 10 years to see the results.

Awesome.

Posted by: crudbasher | June 4, 2015

Education Infrastructure

You don’t really stop to think each day about how many people and how much money are required in the US to put a student in a classroom with a teacher. For most states it is many thousands of dollars each year and despite this, a lot of it gets wasted in administration and other overhead costs.

This leads me to a piece written by Glenn Beck. Yes that Glenn Beck. You may not like him but I encourage you to read this article he wrote in the Huff Post.

In this article he talks about what has to happen in order to conduct an in person interview with him.

I sat down to be interviewed for a show that inexplicably named me as one of the most interesting people of the year. (It wasn’t a very interesting year, apparently.)

I sat there in utter amazement at the sheer scale of what needed to happen to pull this off. My segment was just a few minutes. It was a simple interview with Barbara Walters and myself. Yet, bustling around my office was close to 50 people, setting up and tearing down for hours and hours through multiple shifts. There was so much equipment, I wondered if the floors could hold it. There were handlers, caterers, and handlers for the caterers. They closed part of Sixth Avenue. There were more people in our offices to do a meaningless two-minute interview than worked in my entire company.

Sounds like a school doesn’t it? A mass of people and infrastructure in order to bring a student and teacher together. Now here’s the most interesting part.

The media of the future is nimble, fit, and intimate. It has no respect for its elders. It doesn’t care how it was done before. There is a very real power in realizing this. Those who cling on to power are most likely to lose it.

The winners in this environment will be those who can successfully empower their readers, listeners, and viewers. They want something authentic.

Now go back and read that a substitute “media” with “education”. Cool eh? He understands that there are different ways to do things now and yet some people are holding on to the past. Well they will be overtaken by events, or rather overtaken by the stormfront of change coming.

Posted by: crudbasher | June 2, 2015

New Massive Displays Preview New Classroom Tech

In 2012 I wrote in The Next Revolution In Computers Will Be Displays the following:

I like to take this to the next level so imagine if you could make flexible display tech like you print wallpaper? You would buy display wallpaper and cut it to whatever size you need. Imagine a whole wall (or 4!) of a classroom where the whole thing is a massive display. Each student could take over a small section of it or the teacher could use all the walls for a very realistic immersive simulation of anything. The graphics performance to do this already exists.

Well turns out that is coming.

H/T Koreatimesus

South Korean flat panel maker LG Display Co. showcased on Tuesday a detachable organic light-emitting diode (OLED) panel that sticks to the wall, renewing its pledge to focus on the high-end display as a future growth engine.

The 55-inch wallpaper OLED panel, presented as one of the company’s future displays at a media event, is only 0.97 mm thick, weighs 1.9 kg and can easily be stuck to a wall with a magnetic mat, or removed from it.

Of course it is very expensive technology right now but I think advances in 3d printing will make it possible to literally “print” strips of display that can then be mounted and connected to make a massive display of whatever size you need. If this can be done cheaply, it will change the way we interact with the Internet and might even make classrooms more interesting. :)

Posted by: crudbasher | May 28, 2015

Better Image Recognition Means More Automated Lessons

A disruptive technology I have been following is machine created content. This means creating new content, such as a blog post completely automatically. I see this as a key enabling technology for fully adaptive learning. This would mean having a computer teacher who can constantly create new lessons at exactly the required skill level for each student and also personalizing it for the individual. To do this you need to be able to quantify the knowledge out there. Turns out there is a lot of information locked up in pictures so any technology able to access that is of interest.

Google has been working on this for a while and it seems to be making progress.

H/T Gizmodo

Image recognition was already good—but it’s getting way, way better. A research collaboration between Google and Stanford University is producing software that increasingly describes the entire scene portrayed in a picture, not just individual objects.

The New York Times reports that algorithms written by the team attempt to explain what’s happening in images—in language that actually makes sense. So it spits out sentences like “a group of young people playing a game of frisbee” or “a person riding a motorcycle on a dirt road.”

This is cool technology but it is not perfect yet. Not even close. :)

H/T Guardian

Flickr is facing a user revolt after a new auto-tagging system labelled images of black people with tags such as “ape” and “animal” as well as tagging pictures of concentration camps with “sport” or “jungle gym”.

The system, which was introduced in early May, uses what Flickr describes as “advanced image recognition technology” to automatically categorise photos into a number of broad groups.

Heh woops. Still, this isn’t going away and will be commonplace in a few years.

Here’s a recent TED video showing how they are making this happen.

Posted by: crudbasher | May 7, 2015

High Accuracy GPS Enables Augmented Reality Field Trips

In most the stories of Virtual Reality (and Augmented Reality), the technology involved is intended to be used indoors, in a fairly small space. The tracking systems being used nearly always involve some external source mounted nearby. While this is a solution for indoor use, it is not a solution for outdoors. As we move around the world, it would be cool to be able to access Internet information about whatever we are looking at. To do this, we need a tracking system much more accurate than GPS. Well, it looks like some researchers might have cracked it with an improved way to read GPS signals.

H/T Arstechnica

The system relies on GPS, which is only accurate to a few meters on its own. To get to centimeter-accuracy, the project combines the GPS information with low-cost antennas typically found in mobile devices. Combining GPS with other sensors isn’t a new idea, but the system has always been too big and too expensive (a few hundred dollars) to fit into a smartphone. Besides nailing your location, the system can also determine orientation to “less than one degree” of accuracy.

That’s pretty cool stuff. Where it also gets really interesting though is with robots and drones. Being able to pinpoint your position outdoors will help robots navigate the world much more efficiently. In terms of education I can see this enabling augmented reality field trips. :)

What I like about this is it seems cheap to implement. I imagine this will migrate into an upcoming generation of smartphones. Is Apple already working on the marketing name for it? How about iPosition?

(as an aside I want to work in Apple’s marketing department. As far as I can tell, you just put an “i” on the front of normal terms)

Truth be told I am not sure if this is an actual FF game or just a tech demo. It doesn’t really matter I suppose.

One of the threads I have been following in technology is video game graphics. This tech is what is going to make realistic learning experiences. In previous videos I have talked about how this is all “realtime” and not pre-rendered. For people not used to video games that might not make sense. Well I am happy to report that in this video they actually explain it and show the difference.

Now something to note is this demo is running on very high end PC hardware. In fact the machine probably cost 5,000 dollars. Still, in about 3-4 years we will have that in our smart phones.

Therefore by 2020, you can expect to have simulations this accurate. So what are you going to teach? :)

Awesome.

Posted by: crudbasher | April 30, 2015

Another Big Obstacle To VR Seems Solved

You might be wondering why I often post about Virtual Reality. There are several reasons.

  1. I have actually worked in the VR field.
  2. The technology is finally ready to make it a practical, low cost experience
  3. I believe the most effective way to learn is one in which many senses are involved as a whole experience. This is a way to get out of the classroom, virtually speaking.

In order to create an effective VR experience you need to overcome several technical challenge.

  1. The human eye can see at about 8k pixels. This is about 16 times higher than HD. When you see an image like this, you can no longer notice any pixels.
  2. You need the tracking update rate to be at least 60 frames per second. Any slower and you will begin to perceive a lag between moving your head and the screen updating. This can cause motion sickness.
  3. The eye can see nearly 180 degrees in horizontal field of view. To make an immersive VR experience you need to get as close to this as you can. If not, you feel like you are looking through a window, or small opening into the world.

The first two of these are being addressed by various companies with better screens and with optical tracking systems. The third though wasn’t really being worked on to my knowledge. Well, it looks like now it is. :)

A new company on Kickstarted called Wearality has created some cool lenses to fit over a smartphone screen. Supposedly it can do about 150 degrees fov. If that is true, that is fantastic. Right now they want to put it on smartphones but I can see this being adapted rapidly for full VR headsets.

Incidentally I knew one of the guys who are working on this. He’s really smart. :)

Let’s hope this works out and we can finally get the VR show on the road (and into the classroom)!

If you want to read more about why I think Simulation is going to be huge in education read this.

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