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PAULEY Showcases 3D E-Learning at Space Situational Awareness Conference

  • PAULEY sponsors first Space Situational Awareness Conference
  • Collective efforts to ‘clean up’ Low Earth Orbits is essential
  • Virtual 3D environments could help tackle the problem

PAULEY were delighted to sponsor the inaugural Space Situational Awareness Conference 2013. 

We were invited to showcase our virtual reality visualisation of space using our Oculus Rift developer kit. The 80 international delegates, from research laboratories to government departments and private companies, were queuing up at our stand throughout the two days to take the immersive trip into space.

We garnered some great feedback over the two days of the conference. But why might accurate visualisation of space be such an important asset in the years to come? And how could we help?

Situational space awareness gains urgency

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As Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity wins plaudits for its portrayal of astronauts fighting for survival after a devastating mid-space collision, we’re becoming increasingly aware of the complex machinery orbiting beyond our atmosphere.

The central plot of the film – in which debris from a destroyed satellite sweeps catastrophically around Earth – isn’t that preposterous. While the movie may portray spacecraft to be much closer than they are in reality, we are launching new objects into orbit all the time.

And collisions do happen. In 2009, the satellite Iridium 33 collided with an out-of-service Russian satellite, creating thousands of pieces of debris. While most of that debris is now thought to have burnt up in the atmosphere, the ISS had to perform an avoidance manoeuvre two years after the event.

“Situational space awareness can no longer afford to be ignored,” says our founder, Phil Pauley. “It’s essential that R&D, industry and military organisations continue to join forces.”

Out of sight, out of mind?

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In this modern, interconnected world, so much of what we do depends upon space satellites, from communications to weather forecasting, navigation and defence. There are around 1,000 active satellites in orbit today, with a net worth of €100 billion. They must be protected.

But there are threats to this status quo, in the form of naturally occurring space weather (predominantly solar flares and cosmic rays), asteroids and comets, and man-made space debris.

The debris issue is a growing problem. Causing most problems in low Earth orbits, debris is found where the majority of satellites used for observations, communications and military surveillance operate.

20,000 items of ‘space junk’ larger than a mobile phone are being tracked, and half a million smaller fragments are circling our planet. Travelling at speeds of 5 miles a second, they can do a lot more harm than you might think.

Just because we can’t see space debris from Earth, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Tools such as ours could help accurately visualise the extent of the situation, make it real, and create ways to address the problem and help find solutions.

This month’s conference was recognition of the fact that something must be done. Despite political, military and international boundaries, it seems that those invested in space must start working together to take collective responsibility for debris.

Moving towards collective responsibility

Suggested approaches include launching ‘clean-up’ missions to collect large, disused and hazardous objects. Rockets armed with harpoons, robotic arms or nets could collect space junk and then either launch it out into a less crowded orbit or swing it back into the Earth’s atmosphere to burn up.

How PAULEY could help

Screenshot_2013-11-15-09-14-24The UK and international space industry is growing rapidly, and our reliance on the information gathered and distributed by spacecrafts and satellites is booming. There are plenty of challenges and opportunities ahead.

Much discussion at the conference centred on finding ways of incentivising a consistent process of cleaning up. Do we look at implementing a kind of global space traffic control, perhaps, using our technology to allow us to see what’s happening remotely?

Industry, government and business, some of whom we met at the SSA 2013 Conference, are keen to find new ways of training those involved in the industry, to visualise crafts in space, and to begin astronaut preparation in immersive e-learning environments on Earth.

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Should Next-Generation Education Use Oculus Rift?

“This technology is going to revolutionize the way we live, learn, work, and play.”
– Palmer Luckey, founder of Oculus VR

It might be time to move virtual reality out of that ‘cool things that never came to fruition’ box. The Oculus Rift is coming to town, and it’s bringing with it not only a revolutionary approach to gaming, but applications that stretch into education and e-training.

Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey certainly views his device in a broader context: “Virtual reality provides more freedom for content creators than any other form, and allows us to simulate other art forms like movies, books, or traditional games. In that sense, it is the ultimate medium.”

Here’s four ways in which we think VR could become the ultimate educational tool.

1. Escaping the classroom
Research has shown that game-based learning exploits the natural competitive instinct in order to motivate, encourage and reward productive behaviour in the classroom. So surely VR could make this an even more powerful learning experience?

Naysayers insist that few educational games based on standard computers have made it into schools. Some suggest that too many adults associate video games with the propagation of violence, sleepless nights and an unhealthy obsession with artificial worlds and avatars.

But World of Warcraft has been successfully translated to the classroom, ‘gamifying’ the school day to increase productivity and pupil satisfaction. Similarly, a modification to online simulation game Minecraft is being used in over 1,000 schools to create hypothetical scenarios and reconstruct history.

The opportunities are boundless: PublicVR, for example, have created a virtual forest in which students can record measurements and make observations on tree species, canopy closure and tree biomass. It’s just one excellent example of VR-based experiential learning.

2. Learning from a distance
Imagine being able to join in with a lecture from one of the world’s top scientists from thousands of miles away. You’d be wearing a pair of goggles and have headphones in your ears and you’d only see each other as avatars. But would it be as engaging as being there in person?

Research suggests so. This type of digital teacher-student interaction could be even more valuable than the real thing by utilising ‘augmented gaze’. This involves digitally manipulating the avatar of the presenter to make constant direct eye contact with every participant separately.

Behavioural studies show that this simple strategy increases attention, naturally regulates conversation, and heightens physiological responses. The presenter or teacher becomes more influential and more persuasive as a result. We read this as better education for all.

3. Skills-based training
Practise makes perfect, but it’s not always practical. At PAULEY, we’ve created interactive and cost-saving e-training tools for companies who can’t always access the ‘real thing’, whether it’s checking the safety of train engines or training police officers to use new hardware.

VR really comes into its own in this arena, and hardware such as the Oculus Rift provides the closest thing to reality we can currently achieve in digital terms.

It’s no surprise that gory operation game Surgeon Simulator 2013 has already been adapted for Oculus Rift. Could something similar be used to train surgeons and health care professionals in complex surgical procedures?

4. Meditation & reassurance
Primary school teacher Mathieu Marunczyn has been using the Oculus Rift to help manage students with disabilities such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Sensory Processing Disorders (SPD).

He’s found software such as BlueMarble has a remarkable ability to calm down students – something he’s dubbed ‘digital meditation’: “The student was immediately engaged and was calmly yet actively exploring the world he became immersed in. He was no longer physically ‘acting-out’ and I noticed that his whole body became more relaxed.”

The technology could also be used to help children and adults with learning difficulties, or disorders such as those on the autism spectrum, to practice social exchanges and real-life situations in safe, controlled environments. Access to a fine-tuned 3D environment would allow people to repeat certain processes – perhaps the recognising of emotional cues, or the correct way to interact with a sales assistant – until appropriate behaviours are achieved.

Here at PAULEY, we think that experiential learning through VR and digital technologies is justifiably on the up. The benefits are numerous for streamlining efficiencies across multiple sectors. Why shouldn’t we imagine a not-too-distant future in which a Ray Mears-esque avatar leads students on virtual school trips through jungles and across mountains?

Let us know what you think.

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