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 

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