Monthly Archives: February 2016

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Blending Reality in Classrooms for the Benefit of All

Long gone are the days of rote learning around the blackboard with the teacher holding a half-broken piece of chalk. Classrooms have become more hi-tech, with interactive whiteboards now a standard centrepiece for group learning, and increasing numbers of teachers eager to experiment with the latest touchscreens and mobile devices. Could virtual reality (VR) be the next big thing?

VR training has already been widely adopted by commercial companies, games developers and the military. Even in the medical field, more devices and apps are catering to improving the skills of doctors and surgeons using both virtual and mixed reality.

Interest in VR is growing exponentially into other sectors, such as education, because of the rapid technological advances in the hardware (see this recent blog for our review of the field). Portable headsets are now making immersive experiences possible in everyday settings.

The advantages of VR in education

Researchers in the field have already seen the benefits of VR in schools.  It seems, when used correctly, that this approach can strengthen the overall learning experience.

It’s often stated that the typical person can remember 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see and up to 90% of what we do or experience. That gives some clue to the revolutionary effectiveness of VR—what we call active participation learning.

Advantages include:

  • Simplifying learning by more direct communication of concepts and less symbolism, reducing the cognitive load when students are learning.
  • Enabling the student to have a completely personal learning experience.
  • Increasing attention span as a result of doing something enjoyable and motivating.
  • Providing the ability to see and experience things/places that couldn’t otherwise be accessed.
  • Encouraging group activity and interaction—and even global link-ups.
  • Offering students a boost to their digital literacy and computing skills.
  • Boosting a teacher’s ability to be creative with content in a brand new medium.
  • Improving opportunities for students who struggle to make sense of traditional forms of communication, e.g. children with dyslexia.

VR for teaching science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM)

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There are huge opportunities for VR across the breadth of education but STEM subjects may be set to benefit the most from immersing students in content.

The success of Minecraft goes some way towards demonstrating this. This videogame—which involves creating structures inside 3D environments—made the leap into schools as educators realised its potential. Minecraft has been successful in improving visual-spatial skills and collaboration between students as they build scale models and “walk through” the structures they have created.

VR takes that one step further by immersing students in a virtual world. In a VR environment, students can walk around mathematical graphs and 3D surfaces, explore examples of complex engineering up close, and experiment in a laboratory without fear of doing anything dangerous or costly. It is possible to take a tour through the human body, from the perspective of a blood cell or molecule.

The World of Comenius project, for example, is using Oculus Rift headsets and Leap Motion controllers to deliver educational content. Still in development, the final program may include experience such as playing around with atoms at the quantum level, meeting people from history and exploring their world, or swimming around inside a cell.

The Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Initiative has created a VR experience in which students can snorkel down the Conasauga River to explore its biodiversity and the issues of pollution and conservation.

Immersive 360-degree videos are proliferating on Facebook and YouTube, giving viewers a sense of depth in every direction. New consumer gadgets such as Samsung’s Gear 360 camera will make creating these types of videos straightforward for anyone, too.

Short documentaries are already being made specifically for viewing in VR, which temporarily transport the viewer into complex and difficult situations such as civil unrest in Hong Kong and the Ebola epidemic.

A new kind of learning experience

Using VR in education may actually alter the way in which we learn as it blurs and redefines the boundaries of formal education. Experiences can start to reach far beyond the classroom.

VR is a way to not only consume content but also to create content as part of the learning experience. Students can get involved with programming, problem solving and exploration of this new technology.

New VR learning platforms will offer teachers and students the ability to create avatars and create multi-player sessions to achieve a previously unattainable level of socialisation and outreach.

VR technologies such as 8i will allow 3D videos of teachers to be seen in VR—allowing students not only to see and listen to them, but also to walk around them and feel that they are sharing the same room. This remote, emotional connection would be ideal for tutoring at a distance, virtual classrooms and eventually live streaming conversations.

In the future, as augmented reality (AR) becomes accessible the opportunities are even more exciting, because students could visualise holographic-style media overlaid onto their real world surroundings.

Making VR a reality

It’s true that the vast majority of VR and AR technologies already on the market—or soon to be released—are relatively expensive pieces of kit, mainly targeting developers. Yet, as uptake increases, prices are set to become more affordable.

Low-cost routes into VR are available through simpler devices such as Google Cardboard that can be purchased for around £10 and make use of normal smartphones. Google’s Expeditions initiative is aiming to bring “virtual field trips” to every classroom.

At PAULEY, we’re passionate about integrating new forms of virtual, augmented and mixed reality into education to give pioneering educators an exciting opportunity to accelerate learning. With VR, here are truly no boundaries to where we can go and what we can learn.

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The Future of Mobile is Augmented

At the moment, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are focussed on industry and gaming applications, with the average consumer unlikely to start buying into the technology until 2017.

The rise of these technologies is unstoppable. AR market revenue is now forecast to reach $90 billion by 2020, eventually outcompeting VR, which is likely to reach $30 billion. At the moment, VR is more openly available and has emerging uses beyond videogames, in viewing films and sporting events.

Ultimately, we’re likely to see the two technologies merging into a new “mixed reality”. There’s huge opportunity for smartphone manufacturers to consider this by creating devices fitted with AR cameras and sensors.

So what kinds of AR and VR technologies are already out there? It’s the major developers like Microsoft, Google and Samsung that are grabbing the headlines, but there’s much more going on in the field of augmented reality than you might first think. We’ve summarised the key players and emerging competitors here.

VIRTUAL REALITY

Virtual reality (VR) transports the user out of their everyday world and immerses them in a 360-degree environment. It gives users the chance to experience things that would be impossible in real life. While VR is generally more affordable and accessible at the moment, most headsets have to be tethered to a computer, limiting the range of interaction. Motion sickness can be an issue for some users but developers are working to overcome this.

The Oculus Rift headset is now available for pre-orders. At a pricey $599, the kit does include the headset, an XBox One controller and wireless receiver, remote and two VR games. Oculus also powers the mobile VR Samsung Gear (see next section).

Rumoured to be launching in Autumn 2016, PlayStation VR will bring VR gaming to a big audience and has the opportunity to turn it mainstream. However, many of the details are still under wraps.

On the other hand, the OSVR system (Open Source Virtual Reality) is designed to bring developers together to push forward the boundaries of VR. Focussed on gaming, it can be run on anything from a mid-tier gaming PC upwards. Its open source nature means that anyone with the right skills can build their own headset and adapt it as they see fit.

The HTC Vive is likely to be opening for pre-orders soon, and the waiting list is open for FOVE.

Setting itself up as the VR playground of the future, The Void team is working on its own RAPTURE head mounted display. This is very different to other VR experiences, because players move around a specially-created physical environment. Players on location in this “virtual entertainment centre” will also be equipped with haptic vests and guns, which offer real-time, physical feedback to events happening inside the game.

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AUGMENTED REALITY

Augmented reality (AR) superimposes interactive digital content into the real world. Unlike VR, AR systems are standalone and don’t need to be tethered to a computer. But this evolving technology is much pricier, putting it out of reach of the average consumer for the foreseeable future.

The big names in augmented reality are focussed on creating immersive, highly interactive and collaborative experiences, utilising gesture tracking and other technologies suitable for a broad range of applications.

It remains almost completely shrouded in mystery, but if successful, Magic Leap could open up AR to consumers—potentially transforming the industry. Recently gathering hundreds of millions of dollars in a series C funding, the company is working on an AR device that projects virtual images onto the real world.

Microsoft’s AR platform, HoloLens, is a holographic computer built into a headset. Completely self-contained, it allows the user to see, hear and interact with holograms being projected into their surroundings. High-definition lenses and spatial sound technology will create the immersive experience they promise.

Microsoft will be launching a developer’s edition of the device in early 2016, at a price of around $3,000. The company are already working with industrial partners on developing commercial applications for the device.

Set to launch any day now, a demo of Meta at a recent TED conference certainly went down well with the crowd. It showcased realistic holograms that can be turned, pulled apart and manipulated in mid-air, and the ability to collaborate with another user. While the demo involved use of a headset tethered to a computer monitor, the company say the computer will no longer be needed by next year.

Using an Android-based platform, the Atheer AiR system looks set to provide a rich AR experience. The headset is fitted with a 3D camera for gesture interaction, dual RGB cameras, stereo 3D displays with a wide field of view, microphone and suite of sensors.

The company sells a cloud-based software suite alongside the headset for building AR programs. While the first packs are shipping out in 2016, they’ll set you back a whopping $3,950.

Designed for the construction industry, the Daqri Smart Helmet AR system uses an Intel computer and visor for projecting information in front of the user’s vision. The Daqri Smart Helmet is also fitted with a 360-degree video to allow the wearer to scan his or her surroundings. It’s already being piloted with over 100 industrial partners.

Step-by-step work instructions, thermal vision readouts, live telecommunication with colleagues and data visualisations can be displayed to the wearer with the aim of creating a “safer, more productive, work environment”.

Smart glasses

As well as these immersive, interactive headset AR systems, there are a number of “smart glasses” in development that offer a more straightforward interface by way of heads-up displays, including LAFORGE Optical, Vuzix, Epson’s Moverio BT-200, K-Glass and the “world’s first augmented reality headphones,” ORA-X.

These approaches perhaps aren’t as sophisticated as the immersive, interactive holograms proposed by HoloLens and Magic Leap, but they’re accessible and potentially useful for both leisure and commerce.

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THE FUTURE OF MOBILE MIXED REALITY

Mixed reality—merging of the best aspects of the real, virtual and augmented worlds—is the future. It’s feasible that we’ll have the opportunity to bounce between VR and AR experiences. And users will want the ability to do that packaged up into one, affordable product.

Take one look at mobile VR and the most accessible device—the Google Cardboard—uses a normal smartphone and can be purchased for as little as $10. Even other options such as the Samsung Gear VR  and Fibrum have much more affordable price tags and offer the convenience of utilising the user’s own smartphone.

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Demand from consumers is likely to see the accessibility of mobile devices merging the real world with the holographic interaction of AR and the complete immersion of VR.

Here at PAULEY, we’ve re imagined the smartphone, equipping it with cameras and sensors to scan the user’s surroundings and detect gestures. We recommend Smartphone manufacturers offer the ability to provide VR and AR experiences with online content and live streaming – resulting in a single mixed reality device.

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PAULEY Takes Gold For Innovation at Learning Awards 2016

At PAULEY, we’re delighted to have won the highly coveted gold award for Innovation in Learning along with the National Training Academy for Rail (NTAR) at the prestigious Learning Awards 2016 run by the Learning and Performance Institute.

The Learning Awards—held on February 4th at the Dorchester Hotel on Park Lane—celebrated and honoured the best of the best in the learning and development industry. Recognised as the L&D sector’s premier awards ceremony, this year saw a record 400 entries from all over the world. Now in their 20th year, the Awards are judged by an independent panel of industry experts looking for exceptional vision and depth in providing learning solutions with a proven business impact.

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Beating Refined Data Solutions, Filtered, Ernst & Young LLP, Johnson & Johnson and What Goes Around to the top spot, our award-winning solution combines touch screen technology, CAD and Oculus Rift virtual reality.

In the official programme, we were praised for making “an impressive contribution to the delivery of learning”. The judges commended our ability to combine different technologies to make “cutting-edge, engaging and realistic learning”. They also praised how our solution successfully integrates and accelerates learning in the workplace and is very scalable due to the use of affordable equipment, available to everyone.

We created powerful VR interactive online courses from over 4,000 documents to create a unique, game-changing learning experience with the aim of engaging and inspiring the next generation of rail industry engineers and apprentices being trained by NTAR.

We reformatted existing paper-based and PowerPoint slide course materials to NTAR branding and made them suitable for use on 90-inch touchscreens, desktop PCs, laptops and mobile devices such as tablets. Some courses create VR environments using Oculus Rift hardware—a first for the rail industry—meaning that trains can stay on the rails where they are most needed.

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Simon Rennie, NTAR’s General Manager, had previously said that our innovations “demonstrated intuition and innovation in developing and delivering an interactive and immersive training experience, which adds greatly to how NTAR will bring alive its training.”

After winning the award, he added: “It was essential for us to adopt this kind of innovative technology—it provides not only the impact factor required for a flagship training organisation, but also delivers highly portable content that can be delivered consistently and at high quality at multiple locations.  The approach has allowed us to invest predominantly in content (as opposed to hardware) and it has been a pleasure working with PAULEY who have provided intuitive and hugely engaging learning material.”

We believe that winning this award demonstrates that we are the industry’s front-runner for transforming paper-based content and dull eLearning into a highly immersive learning experience that is far superior to classroom learning and that delivers tangible business results.

Our win goes to show that 2016 is shaping up to be the year of VR. We expect to see many more learning providers beginning to experiment with this technology as it becomes increasingly accessible.

If you’re interested in finding out more about how we can help you innovate your learning, get in touch for a chat today!

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