Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Pop Up Thinglab 24: MAKE:VR Curiosity, Children and Science

Pop Up Thinglab 24 was a children's virtual reality workshop and travel agency in Fullwell Cross Library. It was an opportunity for children to learn about and experience virtual reality with a hands on heads on introduction covering both theory and practice and an opportunity to see themselves in virtual reality and make and take away their own virtual reality viewers.

The workshop started "heads on" where we covered the development of virtual reality, a simple technical explanation of how it works and the current state of virtual reality with a description of products, platforms, prices and capabilities. The second part of the workshop was "hands on" where we made Google Cardboard virtual reality viewers and used them to take virtual reality trips.  We finished our hands on session by putting ourselves in the picture by taking and viewing virtual reality selfies - something that is great fun and really helps people understand virtual reality through the direct experience of making it.

During the "heads on" theory part of the workshop we talked about technology, science and explanations. We started with NASA's explanation of virtual reality 

"Virtual reality is the use of computer technology to create the effect of an interactive three-dimensional world in which the objects have a sense of spatial presence."

No one really understands the NASA explanation and contrasted it with a child's explanation from Pop Up Thinglab 14

"Virtual reality projects into your eyes as if you are there”  

Which everyone seems to understand.

We talked about how much harder it is to make an easy explanation of something and I quoted Albert Einstein who once said ...

"If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself.”

Its amazing that even six year olds have heard of Albert Einstein and that he was a scientist.

Children are natural scientists - curiosity bootstraps their learning through play, exploration and experimentation. Children learn how to walk and talk before they can read an instruction manual - babies learn to walk through curiosity and trial and error exploration and experimentation.

Einstein knew all about the power of curiosity, play and experimentation.

“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious”
“Play is the highest form of research” 

The marine biologist and explorer Sylvia Earle once said "The best scientists and explorers have the attributes of kids! They ask question and have a sense of wonder. They have curiosity."
One of the child scientists at Pop Up Thinglab 24 
Children Play Like Scientists Work - they try things out, experiment, test things, break things and inquire - just as if they are doing scientific research. Failure is not an option .... literally ... "that didn't work ... lets try this instead" its not thought about in the adult way - its just something that happens - its all part of the fun - its an essential ingredient of play and learning.
A Curious Mind Knows No Limits - to learn just start playing  .. its only natural - we just have to create the conditions.

It was interesting to see the children think about and identify their senses of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell and we had an interesting conversation about how virtual reality gets more real when you add more senses and get more "immersed". We talked about Morton Heilig's Sensorama "Experience Theatre" of the 1960s which added smell, wind and motion to your virtual reality experience. I mentioned the newly announced Koei Tecmo Wave VR Sense "Arcade cabinet that brings wind, smell and bugs to VR" to make your experience of VR even more realistic.

I spoke about my experiences with virtual reality in the 1990s with Virtuality's arcade games - how amazing they seemed at the time but like most things in the history of virtual reality - ahead of its time and the ability of the technology to deliver. We talked about hype, expectation and the ability of technology and although it was a children's session I showed them the Gartner Hype Cycle and even children could understand this.

We spoke about current technology trends and had a conversation about robots and artificial intelligence. It's amazing that children know about artificial intelligence and even more fascinating to hear them talk about it - about Google's Deepmind and how it learned to beat the world's best Go players for example. The children had several goes at explaining artificial intelligence but the best one I think was:

"Artificial intelligence is about machines that think"

We spoke about how the current rise in virtual reality was kickstarted (literally) in 2012 by a teenager with fresh ideas messing around with mobile phone displays, electronics and software in his garage - many of the children of course knew who and what I was talking about ..... Palmer Lucky and Oculus Rift. I spoke about the Google science fair for 13- to 18-year-old students and about how so many amazing ideas come from the new perspectives of young people or as Walt Disney put it “Our greatest national resource is the minds of our children”

However, "downsizing" virtual reality didn't stop with Palmer Lucky and Oculus Rift ... we went on to talk about how two engineers at Google came up with the idea to use mobile phones with virtual reality viewers made out of cardboard - bringing the cost of accessing virtual reality to almost nothing!

Making Cardboard virtual reality viewers

The story of Google Cardboard led into our hands on practical session where the children made their own virtual reality viewers from cardboard VR kits and used their phones to watch our curated content on Youtube - roller coaster rides are always popular with adults and children but this group of child scientists also enjoyed Space Experience  Journey To The Edge Of Space and a trip to Mars for a view from NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover at Namib Dune (360 view)

Making your own is a great way to appreciate and understand something and making our own virtual reality viewers helped make the experience of virtual reality personal. However, we didn't stop at just viewing virtual reality ... we put ourselves into virtual reality ..... using a 360 camera to record ourselves and then view ourselves in virtual reality.

With a 360 camera everything is in shot ....all around, above and below ... there is no hiding! While adults can take sometime to adjust to this children seem to just take it in their stride having fun striking poses all around the camera. The process of making 360 degree imagery really helps people understand virtual reality and then seeing yourself in a virtual reality selfie is always fascinating and the personal experience really brings it home what virtual reality is better than any explanation.

For more images of Pop Up Thinglab 23 visit: Pop Up Thinglab 24 (Flickr album)

To find out more about inspireNshare Thinglab visit http://inspirenshare.com/thinglab

To find out more about inspireNshare visit http://inspireNshare.com

To find out more about virtual reality visit http://inspireNshare.com/vr

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