Monday, December 26, 2016

Pop Up Thinglab 21: Virtual Reality at Teach Meet Tech London 3

360 image from Thinglab 21

Pop Up Thinglab 21 was an inspireNshare virtual reality workshop at Teach Meet Tech London 3.  We focused on DIY virtual reality and conversations about the virtual reality ecosystem products, costs and comparisons.

Virtual reality may seem more like a consumer activity where you strap a viewer to your face and experience what others have produced but making virtual reality is not as specialised, complicated and expensive as many people might think. You can get into making virtual reality yourself with a very modest 360 camera such as the LG 360 CAM (around £150), Richoh Theta SC (around £250) Kodak SP360 (around £250) Kodak Pixpro SP360 4K (around £350), or the Samsung Gear 360  (around £350) - there is a useful little list of entry level 360 cameras here.

We used the Samsung VR ecosystem (S7 phone, Gear VR viewer and Gear 360 camera) to make and experience our own virtual reality. The Samsung VR ecosystem is useful in capturing and viewing VR quickly and privately off-net by recording with the camera, transferring with direct wifi to the phone and inserting the phone into the VR viewer to see what you just recorded in virtual reality.

Talking about making virtual reality 
Like most things making your own is a great way to appreciate and understand something and making virtual reality is a great way to appreciate and understand it. We used a VR camera to put ourselves in the picture by recording VR images and videos with ourselves and playing them back "in-situ" .... where the VR was made and with us in it!  The first thing to appreciate is the view of the camera - that it takes a full 360 degree image - a sphere where everything is in shot .... there is no hiding. Its probably due to years of exposure to 2D media but most adults have to adjust to the fact that the camera is working in 360 degrees and even then thinking "flat" ... arranging themselves around the camera like planets orbiting the sun in an ecliptic plane. I encouraged people to move out of the ecliptic plane and orbit the camera in 360 degrees posing above and below the camera like children who adjust quite quickly to the fact that the camera takes everything below, above and around it.

Immersive first person perspective is the unique experience virtual reality gives us and seeing yourself and your surroundings from the immersive first person perspective of someone, or something, else is always strange and fascinating. As we move from the familiar two dimensional passive voyeurism of flat media perspectives to the active immersive first person perspective of virtual reality the "VR selfie" feels as one VR tripper described it in Pop Up Thinglab 15  "like an out of body experience". 

Playing back your own virtual reality recordings gives the opportunity to re-immerse and "relive" a moment and to take time to look around and notice things you might have missed ... "I never noticed how nice the decorations on the ceiling were"  for example.

The immersive first person perspective of virtual reality gives the opportunity to experience the world from a different point of view and hopefully help people understand the world from different perspectives by "walking in someone else's shoes". We spoke about the potential of virtual reality in education and decision making to develop wider understanding of situations and empathy for others. I spoke about how the United Nations is using Virtual reality to raise awareness about vulnerable communities.

The immersive first person perspective of virtual reality gives the opportunity to experience things you would not be able to otherwise - with virtual reality you can take trips to exotic and far off locations - outer space, other planets, the deep sea, and high places for example. Some people prefer virtual reality soothing such as Dolphin encounter on the Great Barrier Reef but most people seem to want virtual reality thrill, adrenalin and adventure such as ski jumpingwingsuit flying, or climbing the north face of the Eiger. My current favourite VR app "Face Your Fears"  where a giant robot grabs you and climbs to the top of a skyscraper.

Can virtual reality be used to hep people overcome their fears and phobias
Talking about high places and fears ... one of our VR trippers had a real fear of heights and we got to talking about how virtual reality can be used to help treat fears and phobias. I spoke about Samsung's #BeFearless Fear of Heights - Cityscapes VR app that can help people approach and overcome their fear of height through controlled and graded simulated 360/VR exposure. Virtual reality could help people overcome their fears and phobias but this needs to be done with care -  “Real therapy, for phobia or other pathology, should be under guidance of a real psychologist .. a therapist would be able to monitor the client and adjust the experience [in order to give]  the best systematic desensitization effects for this particular client.”

We spoke about different types of VR system - from the PC powered high-end and more expensive systems like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive through the Playstation VR to the mobile VR systems like Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream and Google Cardboard. I spoke about how the better quality and better immersion with the high end PC systems provides a better experience but the "umbilical cord" connection to the PC that powers them can be a real problem - I told how I got tangled up in the Vive cord while painting in virtual reality with Tilt Brush for example. I spoke about how virtual reality is likely to disconnect from the PC in the future - either through wireless links or embedding more computing in the viewer itself either by using smartphones like Google and Samsung or with dedicated computing like Microsoft's Hololens.

We spoke about the Google Cardboard ecosystem - how this offers a low cost and even DIY access to virtual reality. If you have a phone with a Gyro which is running Android 4.1 or above or iOS 8.0 or above then you can make a cardboard VR viewer from as little as 78p, make one from a kit in a few minutes from as little as £2.35 or buy a ready made viewer under £15. We spoke about virtual reality content for children and families and had a go at some Cardboard VR content such as Invasion (which is always popular with children) and the Evolution of Verse.

inspireNshare have backed Zapbox for collaborative mixed reality in 2017
We spoke about how virtual reality is likely to develop in 2017 with augmented\blended\mixed reality systems that project the computer generated images of virtual reality into your field of view to mix with the people and things you see around you. Microsoft's Hololens is the premier mixed reality system available at the moment - its an excellent "all-in-one" system but very expensive at around £3,000! One of InspireNshare's missions is to explore and develop the accessible and cost effective technology of citizen tech and so for mixed reality projects in 2017 we have backed Zappar's Zapbox on kickstarter. The $30 ZapBox has the chance to do for mixed reality what Google Cardboard did for VR Zappar have achieved their $60k stretch goal and are going to release "easy 3D model visualisation" with the promise that we will be able to "drag and drop 3D models into a web interface for instant viewing in mixed reality with Zapbox complete with animation support". What's also really exciting is that Zapbox have reached their $70k stretch goal will add app support and backend servers to support multi-user collaborative mixed reality experiences. Zappar say they will use ZapBrush as a test case for collaborative mixed reality so we can "paint with friends in a shared world; whether you’re in the same physical space or located on opposite sides of the planet! It's like Google Docs but for Mixed Reality painting."

For more images of Pop Up Thinglab 21 visit: Thinglab 21 images (Flickr album)

To find out more about inspireNshare visit

To find out more about inspireNshare Thinglab visit

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