Friday, November 10, 2017

Pop Up Thinglab 33: Reality Explorers

Playing mixed reality golf in the library
Pop Up Thinglab 33 was a Crafts Council Make:Shift:Do virtual realities workshop with inspireNshare, Croydon Youth Arts collective and Croydon Central Library. We introduced people to the many types "reality tech" available from holograms through augmented reality, mixed reality through to 360 media making and virtual reality - we had a lot going on :)

Talking about how Michael Jackson was brought back from the dead as a hologram

The workshop started "heads on" where we covered the past, present, future and uses of "reality tech". We started with Keiichi Matsuda's stunning video Hyper-Reality "a provocative and kaleidoscopic new vision of the future, where physical and virtual realities have merged, and the city is saturated in media". We then looked back to holograms and the development optical illusions from the "smoke and mirrors" of 19th century theatres and Peppers Ghost through the images of holograms in science fiction to the reality today where dead celebrities can appear as if live on stage and politicians on campaign can appear in many places at the same. We covered the different types of augmented reality, how you can make it yourself and the many uses to which it can be put - from games like Pokemon Go through seeing what you look like with different hair to seeing what a building design might look like from place you are standing. We covered different mixed reality products and talked about some of the hopes and fears about its use from the amazing types of games that might be available, through the overlay of technical data onto fields of view like the F35 head display "iron man" style to the the invasion of privacy in everyday life "Glasshole" style. We finished with a recent history of the development of virtual reality from my experience with Virtuality in the mid 1990s through to the many 360 cameras and virtual reality viewers that are available today at much lower cost.

We moved from "heads on" to "hands on" with simple, friendly, accessible and cost effective "citizen tech” and DIY activities with holograms, augmented reality, mixed reality and virtual reality. The objective of the hands on activities was to demonstrate the principles of "reality tech" - not with expensive high tech demonstrations but with technology that is affordable and accessible to the average citizen and technology that you can DIY.

Making DIY holograms for your smartphone

On one table we made holograms that can be used with your mobile phone. Based on the "Peppers Ghost" optical illusion these can be made easily and quickly - tracing a template onto a clear acetate sheet, cutting it out, assembling and using it in under 10 minutes.

The whole world in your hands .. one of our DIY holograms in action
On another table we brought drawings to life with augmented reality - colouring in cartoon templates with our own colours and bringing them to life as augmented reality figures with out mobile phones. I was surprised by just how popular and engaging people found this. This wasn't colouring by numbers but using our own creativity to choose which colours to use. I found the same thing as I did with our 360 degree workshops "only a few people can take a completely blank sheet and draw something ... most people need direction and purpose". Not everyone can draw but everyone can colour in a drawing - the colour book templates provide direction and purpose and a framework for self expression. Its no wonder that the recent adult colouring book craze prompted a global pencil shortage - its easy, fun and good for your mental health ... its like a form of art therapy. 

Bringing colour book drawings to life with augmented reality

A fairy escapes the page and comes to life with augmented reality

"Centre stage" was an exploration of 360 media and virtual reality. Groups gathered around the 360 camera to strike poses and take "VR selfies" to view in virtual reality. I've always been amazed at how people are more ready to strike a creative pose with a 360 camera than with a flat camera. People seem less constrained with 360 media than with flat media ... its as if 360 adds a new dimension to their creativity. I'm wondering why people are less constrained around a 360 camera:

* Is it because its unfamiliar so people can't simply roll out their normal behaviour and have to adapt and even try something new.

* Is it because the camera doesn't have a person behind it so they don't feel observed by another person in the same way. There are studies that show people more willing to open up to a robot than to another person for example.

* Is it because its a new technology ... a new gadget, a new toy and so brings out people's "inner child" and playfulness so they are willing to explore, experiment and play.

360 media making really is a new medium - people are curious and intrigued and for whatever reason they are more playful with it.

Of course .. many of the people using the 360\VR setup in the workshop were either young people or children and for them playful is the default - the playfulness of young people with new technology is a truly exciting and inspiring combination and often provides new and interesting perspectives. William Gibson once wrote "the street finds its own uses for things" ... from what I have seen of young people and technology we could easily also say "the next generation finds its own uses for things" .. and this is just as well as this is how new inventions come about ... we can't keep repeating history and re-inventing the wheel.

Putting ourselves inside the picture with a 360 camera & virtual reality

We finished by playing mixed reality golf using Zappar's Zapbox cardboard tech. 

Rather than nearly £3,000 for something like Microsoft's Hololens, Zapbox costs under £30 and offers affordable access to mixed reality for anyone with a smartphone capable of virtual reality (the smartphone needs a gyroscope).

Zappar have been a leader in augmented reality (AR) for many years and have extended their marker based AR to mixed reality by using a cardboard viewer into which you put your phone - just like Google's cardboard virtual reality viewers. The Zapbox app on your phone uses the camera to track their AR markers in the real world and combines a virtual scene with the scene from the camera to create a mixed reality scene on your phone's display which you view through the cardboard viewer.

We placed the supplied markers onto the floor and used the Zapbox app to map out a mixed reality space and then loaded  golf course. Zapbox provides a cardboard "wand" with an AR marker which is tracked by the app and becomes your golf club in the mixed reality scene. It takes a bit of getting used to but everyone managed to hit the golf ball and get a ball down a hole and we managed to complete and unlock all three of the golf courses. 

Playing golf in the library

Our virtual realities workshop was fun and informative - we had a really wonderful time with lots of activities that brought a very diverse group of people to play and learn together. 

See more photos from Pop Up Thinglab 33 here

To find out more about inspireNshare visit

To find out more about inspirenshare Pop Up Thinglabs visit 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Pop Up Thinglab 32: 360 Degree Space Explorers

Exploring the space around the 360 camera - see this image in 360 here 

Pop Up Thinglab 32 was a Crafts Council Make:Shift:Do partnership workshop between inspireNshare and the Croydon Youth Arts Collective.

The objective was to introduce young people to virtual reality and 360 media as a new art and craft form and engage them in a new discipline of making to think about, make and share wellbeing and happiness. 

17 young people came along to use a 360 camera for the first time - not only to experience virtual reality but to see themselves in it and experiment with this new medium of expression. 

Gathered around the 360 camera talking about flat media & 360 media

In groups of three and four we gathered round the 360 camera and talked about the differences between "flat" and 360 media, how the whole room is in shot and about the first person perspective of virtual reality. The young people quickly appreciated the difference between traditional flat media and 360 media and understood the 360 space around the camera coming up with project ideas for movement in environments of water and air where, unconstrained by the grounding of a "flat earth", movements can be fully immersive in 360 degrees. The young people made short videos of movement under water and flying through a forest.

Lighting the fuse ... the 360 camera is about to go off
A popular and fun activity was using the 360 camera manually -  pressing the (fuse) button at the top and treating it like a bomb - hearing it count down down and retreating to strike a pose to be captured in VR.

Putting yourself inside the picture & seeing your self in virtual reality 
Making your own virtual reality content and seeing yourself within it really helps you understand virtual reality far better than simply watching professionally made content and people are always fascinated by this. Participating in making VR content and putting yourself inside the picture makes the workshop activities personal and more engaging. Virtual reality puts you in someone else's shoes and seeing a scene with yourself in it but from the first person perspective of someone else (the 360 camera) is fascinating and can be quite mind expanding by introducing empathy through an experience of different perspectives.

The flat media team behind their cameras but there is nowhere to hide in 360 
During the workshop a flat media team arrived to shoot us - we captured them in a 360 image and we had a brief chat again about the difference between flat and 360 media. The crucial thing about 360 media is that there is no such thing as being behind the camera ... everything is in shot. One VR director described flat media as like hunting (its like you are behind a riffle and your riffle is your camera ... take aim and shoot), VR media is like setting a trap ... the whole environment is involved and subjects are "captured" within it. Also, flat media directs your attention, you only see one view and that is the shot through the viewfinder of the camera. With 360 media there is no single point of view - the viewer is immersed and can look around as they please - they can completely miss something or see something that wasn't noticed in the scene in the making. Directing attention in 360 media is a new skill that is being developed and these skills may transfer more from the performance of theatre and magic  than they do from the flat screen. If you have used 360 media for sometime flat media feels "flat" .. it feels restricted ... you miss the ability to look around and direct your own gaze - it could be that with 360 media we might see a revolution in immersive theatre style performance?

During our MAKE:SHIFT:DO virtual reality workshops I let the participants have as blank a sheet as possible just to see what they would draw on it. The main thing I have learned is that only a few people can take a completely blank sheet and draw something ... most people need direction and purpose .. the key is in getting the right balance between freedom and control ... everyone is different - it is in the skill of the director to get the right balance for the people and the context. One of the advantages of the Crafts Council MAKE:SHIFT:DO workshops is to provide context and purpose and this inspires people create and share. The participants in our virtual reality workshops have learned about, experiences and created virtual reality media and I have learned from them - one idea I will be trying in future virtual reality workshops is the "360 workout", exploring the space around the 360 camera through simple group exercises - learn about virtual reality and get fit at the same time :)

See more photos from Pop Up Thinglab 32 here

To find out more about inspireNshare visit

To find out more about inspirenshare Pop Up Thinglabs visit 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Pop Up Thinglab 31: 360 Degrees of Happiness Workshop

Our group of Virtual Reality Explorers

Pop Up Thinglab 31 was a Crafts Council Make:Shift:Do partnership workshop between inspireNshare and Croydon Music and Arts.

The objective was to introduce young people to virtual reality and 360 media as a new art and craft form and engage them in a new discipline of making to think about, make and share wellbeing and happiness. 

The message on the blackboard in our workshop

14 young people came along to use a 360 camera to create a virtual reality performance on the theme of happiness and wellbeing.

The current generation of virtual reality (Rift, Vive, Samsung Gear VR, Playstation VR and Cardboard) has been in the news a lot over the last year and while most people have heard about it only a small number of people have actually had a go at virtual reality let alone use it to create content. This workshop was a wonderful opportunity for a group of young people to not only experience virtual reality but to see themselves in it and use their creativity to make virtual reality media and share it globally.

360\VR media making doesn't have to be expensive or complicated ... there are many accessible, easy to use and relatively cheap 360 cameras available that work with mobile phones to process, view and share 360 media - from the LG 360 Cam at just under £100 through the Insta 360 air at around £130 to the likes of the Ricoh Theta S, 360 Fly and LG 360 at just under £300. You can use cameras like these to record 360 content and then view them locally on your phone with a 360 viewing app or upload and share on social media platforms that "understand" 360 media so that people can play back and view the media in 360 degrees. Flickr can view 360 stills, Youtube can view 360 videos while Facebook can play both 360 stills and videos. With the LG 360 Cam. a Google cardboard viewer and Youtube you can become a VR video producer for under £100!

For this workshop we used the Samsung Gear 360 VR ecosystem (Samsung phone, Gear VR 360 camera and Gear VR headset). The Samsung VR ecosystem is especially useful on location when you want to see and show people what you have recorded - you can remotely control the camera to transfer a recording to the phone and view it by putting the phone into the Gear VR headset. The phone and the camera use their own direct wifi and everything works off-line - especially useful when you have no WiFi access or where you need to show people what has been recorded before uploading to VR capable platforms like Youtube, Facebook and Flickr.

We took a few 360 stills to view and understand the concept of 360 media making and talked about the differences between "flat" and 360 media, how the whole room is in shot and about the first person perspective of virtual reality. 

We spoke about the theme of happiness and well-being and the young people immediately expressed their creativity by suggesting that rather than make a video about happiness and well-being they could make a video that would make people feel happy and well :)

With the support of their youth worker the group chose a piece of music (Can't Stop The Feeling by Justin Timberlake) and planned their performance in 360 degrees. In less than an hour the group had taken a brief to production in 360 degrees - very impressive! You can see their happiness generating 360 video below.

360 media making is still in the early stages - the techniques and creative possibilities of this new immersive medium are still being explored and developed. 360 media making is very different from "flat" media making, I remember one director describing "flat" media as like hunting whereas 360 media making is more like setting a trap - it's more akin to immersive theatre or the first person perspective in video games than the controlled singular third person perspective of the director in traditional flat media. 360\VR media is a young medium for young people and the combination is truly exciting and inspiring - they take to it naturally ... "like ducks to water" and I can't wait to see what happens in the next decade.

See more photos from Pop Up Thinglab 31 here

To find out more about inspireNshare visit

To find out more about inspirenshare Pop Up Thinglabs visit 

Monday, September 11, 2017

In 360 Degrees We All Play A Part

Croydon Music & Arts invited me to experiment with a 360 camera at their September young musicians social session & concert - this was super relevant as musical performance is a natural for 360 media. A musical performance is the interactive collective sum of individual musical performances at any one time and this is perfect and natural for 360 media where everything and everyone one is "in shot" at the same time. A 360 camera can be naturally surrounded by musicians - they are each making an individual contribution to a whole and on playback there is always something more to see - you can choose to focus on different performers or instruments and yet not lose sight (or I should say hearing) of the whole. In a sense a musical performance and a 360 camera together symbolise the wider dynamic of interactions of people and society .... in 360 degrees we all play a part, we all contribute and their are many different perspectives.

Croydon Music and Arts is a service that works to ensure children and young people in the borough have access to creative opportunities - here is Mike Brown talking about today's event and about how many different youth music groups from across Croydon have come together and with just a small rehearsal are able to play together and put on a concert.

I arrived as the orchestra were rehearsing Pharrell Williams' "Happy" - a relevant coincidence as inspireNshare are hoping to work on happiness projects using the 360 camera later in the year. Keen to record some of this performance but not wanting to interfere in any way I snuck the 360 camera at the edge of the orchestra beside the clarinets and cellos and recorded a couple of short sections.

Next up was a rehearsal for a Bossa Nova performance and while they were changing over I embedded the 360 camera further into the orchestra sitting it among the cellos and recorded some more.

The orchestra was rehearsing but I had been focused (if you can use such a term with 360 media) on recording the more cohesive performances - I had been missing the valuable little bits of development where the conductor guides the musicians - like the short clip below for example.

The remote controlled 360 camera "disappears" into a scene easier than a flat camera or a camera with a person "attached" to it. A spherical form isn't pointing at anyone, there isn't a photographer watching you you, the camera doesn't move and the camera I am using is quite small - people soon forget its there and we can "embed" the camera more naturally than might otherwise be possible. 

The Samsung VR ecosystem of smartphone, Gear 360 and Gear VR) is by definition highly mobile and very useful on location. People are used to smartphones and the Gear additions are small, non-intrusive and even familiar to many. Remote controlling a 360 camera is essential for natural non-non-intrusive, "embedded", "fly on the wall" style recording recording ...  or for 360 media more like "fly in the room" recording. I've found I can remotely control the Gear 360 from at least 15m so I am "non-invasive" and using a smartphone to remotely control the camera people probably think I'm just messing around with my phone like people do - its almost like a form of "spy tech". 

Samsung VR ecosystem is especially useful on location when you want to see and show people what you have recorded - you can remotely control the camera to transfer a recording to the phone and view it by putting the phone into the Gear VR headset. The phone and the camera use their own direct wifi and everything works off-line - especially useful when you have no WiFi access or where you need to show people what has been recorded before uploading to VR capable platforms like Youtube, Facebook and Flickr.

360\VR offers an immersive first person perspective - it gives an opportunity to "step into someone else's shoes" and see things from someone else's point of view. Some of the violinists arrived late and missed the rehearsal for real but "sat" among the cellists for the "Happy" and "Bosa Nova" rehearsals in virtual reality. 

Recording "embedded" 360 like this gives those who are thinking about taking up an activity an opportunity to see what it is like "as if they were there" and on this occasion it gives those who have never sat in an orchestra an opportunity to see what it is like.

Even more interesting is seeing yourself in virtual reality ... people have described this to me as being like an "out of body experience" - its really weird to see yourself from someone else's point of view. It can also be very useful an informative ... the conductors could for the first time see themselves from the point of view of the musicians - one of the conductors told me that he didn't realise how much they showed their armpits to the musicians!

Virtual reality adds a new dimension to video ... can it help add a new dimension to leadership and management?

In making these recordings I got the impression of how useful virtual reality might be in leadership and management development - could seeing yourself and your actions from other people's points of view help develop more empathic leaders? 

I also got the impression of how future entertainment might become something more about experience, something more empathic, embedded and immersed with the performers rather than just a "voyeur" in the audience. 

Society has many "stages" upon which we play our various roles. An orchestra is one type of "stage" - a large scale organisation with clearly defined roles and responsibilities and centrally lead to a defined purpose. However, the "stages" on which we play our personal lives are far less structured and clearly defined than the more formal "stages" of society - we are all lead actors in our own plays - we are all stars and we are creative in our own way. As an illustration of this some members of the orchestra during one of the breaks in rehearsal spontaneously expressed imagination and creativity on their own "stage" by re-arranging the decorations at the back of the hall :)

Croydon Youth Music & Arts

A playlist of video on Youtube can be found here 

A photo album can be found on Flickr here

To find out more about inspireNshare visit

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Pop Up Thinglab 30: MAKE ROBOT ... But Where Are Our Flying Cars?

Pop Up Thinglab 30  was a MAKE:ROBOT Mindstorms Thinglab for children 9 to 14 years of age in the new Lab Central at Redbridge Central Library.

We started with an introduction to robots - their past, present and future, their place in popular culture and their impact on work and our world. We spoke about technology development over the years ... how some of the things imagined in science fiction of the 1950s and 1960s have become real and common place, how many things we have today could have been science fiction in the past but weren't even imagined. Today we have flat screen TVs and not just mobile phones but smartphones and the Internet. Today we have self driving robot cars but where are the flying cars that were predicted? 

The idea of flying cars really got the children engaged .. we had an incredibly long, detailed and knowledgeable discussion about transport - electric cars, self driving cars, flying cars, public transport, economics, society, infrastructure and the environment. The children showed a natural awareness of broader issues related to technology ... we could have talked all day about whether technology makes our lives better or not, about fairness and equality, about pollution and about how technology is connected and dependent on so many other things. The children spoke about how you can't just have electric cars but need a supporting infrastructure to charge them. The children spoke about and how you can't have flying cars but need a supporting infrastructure of health and safety rules and regulations. A major concern the children had was about the pollution and environmental impact of technology and they spoke about how unfair it is that someone can use a flying car for their own advantage but leave pollution for everyone.

We spoke about how the car shaped and polluted the environment in 20th century and about how it can be regarded as a symbol of the industrial age. We spoke about how cars shaped our built environment and how we built our environment around them ... we spoke particularly about city congestion, noise, pollution and the number of cars parked unused everyday cluttering up our streets. We spoke about how electric driverless cars might become a symbol of the information age and how they might shape our future environment - imagining that our streets can be quieter and more peaceful places for people again and that you don't need to own a car ... you can just summon it when needed and so our streets can become safer and open again.

We spoke about the origins of the word robot - how Karel ńĆapek used the word to describe manufactured factory workers in his 1920 play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots) and how the it comes from from Slavic languages with the meaning labourer, worker and figuratively drudgery or hard work (robota, roboti). 

The origin of the word robot comes from work and we had a very meaningful discussion about the impact of robots on work in the future. While robots have until now relieved us of many dangerous, boring and repetitive jobs it looks likely that robots and artificial intelligence will start to 'relieve us' of more "intellectual" jobs and skills - especially those with which are process and rule based with known and measurable outputs. In the information age it looks likely that it will be information processing jobs that might be automated - many of the jobs which are regarded as professional, middle class and well paid - jobs in finance, law and insurance for example. 

We had a discussion about what things might be difficult to automate and the type of skills that would be valuable for people to have in the future and what might be worth investing in today. The children could see that robots were best at repetitive things that can be programmed, that robots have no imagination and how being imaginative and creative would be important skills for people in a future full of robots.

We had a look at examples of machine learning ... how robots can learn without programming but by trial and error ... much like people can and finished the discussion talking about the risks and benefits of this and just who would be responsible for a robots actions if the robot had learned to carry out those actions by itself.

The future is their life ... the children were naturally super interested in topics about the future.

For people of such a young age they weren't just accepting of new technology but were able to engage critically with not just the tech but the broader social, ethical, environmental, economical and philosophical issues.

We then turned to practical issues ..  making and programming robots.

Teams go head to head in a MAKE:ROBOT race
People learn in different ways - some of the children wanted to work together through a guided robot build while others wanted to jump in and free-style - working out how to make the robot from the "Ikea" style diagrams. The robot model we were using is very quick and easy to make and our racing teams both made the robot in exactly the same time - 6.59 minutes from scratch ... opening the robot kit, laying and ordering the parts and making sense of the diagram.

Programming a robot to draw is the most popular activity in our robot workshops - our tangible programming app together with our 3D printed pen attachment means that children can make a robot, have it move about and draw in as little as 10 minutes.

Look at what we programmed our robot to draw

We programmed our robot to draw a square
We programmed our robot to draw a rectangle
 We programmed our robots to have a drawing duel 
So far the children had been programming robot actions ... robot outputs, so we introduced some robot sensors so that the children could consider robot inputs. The most popular sensor was the infrared sensor (radar) that the children could use to make their robots detect distance and program their robots responses e.g. how far away to detect an object, to move away or towards an object and how fast to move. 

Here's looking at you .. the infra-red sensors were very popular

We finished with robot wars - the mobile whiteboard we had been using for drawing became a battlebot arena for the children's robots to do battle in two, three and four way battle fests.

Four-Way Battlefest
Our roboteers

See all the photos from Pop Up Thinglab 30 here

To find out more about inspireNshare visit

To find out more about inspirenshare Pop Up Thinglabs visit 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Pop Up Thinglab 29: On Your Marks, Get Set ... MAKE:ROBOT

Pop Up Thinglab 29 was the first workshop in the new Lab Central at Redbridge Central Library - it was a MAKE:ROBOT Mindstorms Thinglab for children 9 to 14 years of age.

We started with an introduction to robots - their past, present and future, their place in popular culture and their impact on work and our world. We spoke about the Hero robot in ancient Greece, Leonardo Da Vinci's drawings and mechanical Lions and modern machines. We spoke about the robots we could think of in stories and films and about what a robot is and the difference between machines, automatons, androids and robots.

We then got to making robots

LEGO Mindstorms is a wonderland of possibilities for invention and imagination but for first time users the full Mindstorms kit can be overwhelming and feel like being thrown into the deep end and the demonstration builds take a lot of time and patience to get started with.

It's difficult to make something simple

LEGO Mindstorms is exciting and you just want to get started quickly with something you can make and program to do things  ... its with this in mind that we have spent a lot of time developing quick and simple robot builds and a simple programming app to use with them. Our simple robot called "Buttons" can be easily made and programmed to move around with our app in less than 10 minutes.

“If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself.” ~ Albert Einstein

Within 10 minutes the children had made their robots and had started programming.

Making a robot is a tangible learning experience ... its an object to think with and a bit like working with a three dimensional puzzle. Some of the children were wondering why their robots were either not moving or "not doing what they were told" e.g. going round in a circle rather than a straight line. With a little bit of help and experimentation they "debugged" their robot builds .. finding out that connections from the brain to the limbs were not working ... the robot's nervous system wasn't connected properly ... they hadn't pushed the wires into the large motors for them to make a good connection - in tech talk ... the connectors weren't seated properly.

After the children got used to programming their robots to move around we introduced some more buttons and attachments for it ... add on buttons that could be used to program the robot to make sounds and to control a small motor that can be used with our gripper attachment.

My first experience of teaching programming to children was with robots - back in the early 1980s using the constructionist ideas in Seymour Papert's Mindstorms with the LOGO Turtle and language. Programming a robot to draw is a powerful learning activity ... its an experience that has stayed with me and inspires me to this day. Programming a robot to draw inspires young people today just as it did back in the early 1980s - our 3D printed pen holder robot attachments were by far the most popular activity. Using the same movement commands they were now familiar with but with the robot holding a pen the children got to programming their robots to draw.

On your marks .. the children program the robots to draw

Robots come to their senses

So far the children had been programming robot actions ... robot outputs. We had a discussion about inputs and outputs, our muscles, limbs and senses and robot effectors\actuators and sensors. We introduced the children to the Mindstorms colour sensor and infra-red sensor. With the colour sensors the children could use colours to program their robot to move, make noises and make tunes. With the infra-red sensors the children could make their robots detect distance and program their robots responses e.g. how far away to detect an object, to move away or towards an object and how fast to move.

Doing it yourself and making your own is a great way to appreciate and understand something - the children were really proud of their robots and what they had achieved with them ... and best of all - they had tremendous fun.

See all the photos from Pop Up Thinglab 29 here

To find out more about inspireNshare visit 

To find out more about inspirenshare Pop Up Thinglabs visit\thinglab