Virtual Reality Headsets: Beyond Entertainment

woman-wearing-virtual-reality-headsetThe purpose behind writing this is to explore the utility of Virtual Reality Headsets and  the accompanying software, beyond the narrow scope of Entertainment.  

Google Glassware – Where are you? 

I often ponder and while pondering, I often think about failed technology. Google Glass and it’s accompanying apps (Glassware) qualifies for such a thought exercise. Why didn’t the Google Glass catch on? 

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Back in 2012 Google’s version Smart Glass was defined as follows:

Project Glass is a pair of glasses that would allow technology to interact with wearer’s seen reality and integrate capabilities like voice recognition, Google maps, GPS location, and more to help interpret and react to what is being seen. *

Soon after the release, it seemed like the Google Glass on sitting comfy on many celebrity noses – from the singer FKA Twigs (pictured above)  to actress  Jennifer Lawrence (pictured below).

Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 2.25.27 pmThere is even a tumblr for this – > Celebs wearing Google Glass.

Google was clear from the start that these glasses were conceptual at best and that they were looking for feedback to help refine the product. Still, halting sales in under three years of the launch hints at lack of confidence in the hardware/software while the rest of the world is ramping up for AR wearables.

According to ARC Applause, the Glass’s failure was due to a mix between public perception, social contract and the very visible wearable technology. The Glasswearers, with the ability to record and transmit footage from their glasses, offended members of the general public who were not keen to be a part of the trial.  Rowinski goes on to reference tech guru, Robert Scoble, who expanded on the notion of the social contract and the smart glasses:

“A lot of people misunderstood Google Glass and blamed for the camera for its failure and that was absolutely wrong.

It messes with our social contract. We evolve as humans to look into each other’s eyes. To pay attention to each other. Are we interested in each other? Are we trustworthy? All kinds of stuff.

When we put a screen in-between our eyes, it messes with that contract and we don’t know how to explain it. ‘Will you take those things off? Are you recording me?’ Those types of things.”

Could it be that simple?

There was name-calling (Glasshole) and even an instance of violence, all due to an experimental device.  I am not convinced. There has to be more to the story behind the Glass’s spectacular crash-and-burn.

Scoble claims that the camera wasn’t strong enough, the battery life was a mere 45 minutes, and what the $1,500  Google Glass lacked was the ability to ID a complete stranger the second we looked in their direction.

Not much unlike the data feed that comes up in the Terminator:

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Reasons for Google Glass’s Failure:

  • Establishments banning the device due to fears of and instances of surreptitious recording of private conversations – Privacy Rights.
  • Buggy Beta-mode – Little effort to bring it out of the trial phase.
  • Safety Concerns – Should be anyone be driving with it on?
  • Health Concerns -How about having a wi-fi signal (carcinogenic radiation) inches from your brain for hours on end?
  • Lastly, I like how Bob Doyle sums it up “The idea was great, but the execution and development weren’t.”
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“You’ll start to see future versions of Glass when they’re ready (for now, no peeking).” 

A voice from the other camp, Tim Brown of IDEO/industrial design expert, sees that while the Glass may have lost popularity, this is true of all new technology when it’s introduced to the public – it is a trial-by-fire:

“When a new technology first emerges there’s a friction caused by the clunkiness of the technology not quite being sophisticated enough and society not being used to the idea. Over time, those two things get closer and closer together. Eventually that friction goes away and the technology is accepted.”

Meanwhile the elves at Google have been busy –  they patented a contact lens camera back in 2014, and after shutting down the Google Glass experiment in 2015, have now filed a patent for an electronic device that will implanted directly into the eye and is meant to improve poor vision.

With Google Glass and other similar Smart Glasses in our rear-view mirrors, we have moved past the era of early adopters of wearable tech.

What is the Everyday Utility?

Researchers** at Disney have created an app that scans coloring book pages and brings them to life for children – a process which is termed live texturing. While the technology is still under development, this demo shows how keen big business is to bridge the divide between traditional products and Augmented Reality.

Possibilities of Virtual Reality in the Classroom

Whenever a new technology becomes accessible, we all wonder “How will it work in the classroom?”.  Google has been making waves with it’s Expeditions Pioneer Program, where it’s team visits classrooms around the world to experience ‘journeys’ via the Cardboard headset.

The team assembles headsets in the class and guides the teacher to set up an Expedition experience via a tablet. Up to 50 students can take a virtual field trip and experience the depths of the ocean or the peaks of the Himalayas, without moving an inch!  A program like Expeditions covers the Geography, History and Social Studies components of a traditional elementary syllabus.

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What about Mathematics? the Sciences?

I see it being helpful in understanding abstract concepts common in Geometry where having students experience the transformation of a 2-d shape in to a 3-d object can increase learning.

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The potential of active storytelling seems boundless.  Students can relive story lines from books assigned in Literature class, or write their own  during Writing and Comprehension class – provided the VR app is readily available to them.

As young scientists, they can conduct investigations like forensic experts shown on popular t.v. shows or imagine a climate-change scenario with various hypotheticals.

The more I pair VR with Primary Education, the more questions there are. Seeing how we recognize that the traditional school system does not equally engage all learners, Is VR the tool to be used for those students who learn more by doing than listening?

  • With VR becoming commonplace, How can instructors determine the balance between regular classroom curriculum and VR-aided curriculum?  
  • How much of the write-ups about VR in the Classroom is funded by the companies hawking these gadgets? 

Research shows 76% increase in learning outcomes if students are taught via a gamified lab simulation – if coupled with traditional teaching, the retention of knowledge jumps close to 100%.  No wonder the VR market is projected to be worth $400 billion and it’s users to be more than 25 million in 2018!

(Interested in trying out the Google Cardboard experience for yourself? While the introductory Cardboard Viewer is a mere $15, Google provides instructions to create your very own viewer with household items (velcro, cardboard, lenses,magnets).  Follow the link.)

Spiritual Tool: Bots and Virtual Reality as the New Rosary
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We have Buddhist monks using a mini monk bot in the temple to spread ancient wisdom across the land.

“Xian’er chants Buddhist mantras, responds to voice command, and chats about his way of life.Via his screen, the robot can answer 20 basic questions about Buddhism and daily life, and can perform seven different movements on his wheels”

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The Shrink is Out, The HeadSet is In

VR is being touted as a post-traumatic stress therapy tool at The Institute for Creative Technologies; patients are exposed to virtual scenarios, directional 3D audio , vibration and even smells during a session.

Aside from mental health, VR is increasingly being used by surgeons and medical school students to visualize hypothetical procedures.

“Last December, a Google Cardboard providing a 3D image of a heart helped a surgeon in Miami visualize what he needed to do in order to operate on a baby.”

There is so much more to discover and discuss when it comes to the use or even misuse of virtual reality, beyond it being a tool for passive entertainment.  What excites you about VR headsets becoming easily accessible?  Have you tried one on yet?  Drop me a tweet @marsonearth.

Sources

*What are Google Glasses? What is Project Glass?

**Disney Research: Live Texturing of Augmented Reality Characters from Colored Drawings