All posts by Marko Teräs

About Marko Teräs

Researcher, user experience designer, and project manager with broad international background in developing, training and researching online learning, user experience and digital technologies in the public, private, and non-profit sectors. Currently conducting my PhD research at Curtin University in how immersive virtual environments and gamification might elicit authentic contexts, and support authentic learning.

Testing the Samsung Gear VR

Recently some of our team members had the pleasure to test the new Samsung Gear VR at Curtin University. Unfortunately no actual footage this time (there’s plenty around thought, for example at Gizmodo) as Samsung guys still want to play it down a bit – some social media creatures might ask why, as isn’t building hype still the best way to sell new tech?

Personally, I was a bit skeptical in the beginning (don’t positive accounts always start a bit like this?): How does this make anything different or what is its market segment going to be? After seeing one with my own eyes and using it, I can actually see some nice situations to use the Gear VR. So, some very quick first impressions below.

This was just a very quick try, and we were basically only seeing some VR movies. You know those, where for example an underwater scene continues around you as you turn your head around.

One feature that made the Gear VR pleasant to use, was that it was quite light. It could actually be easy to take with you, and it does not weight too much. Where it differs from the regular Oculus Rift headset, is that it does not have all those wires floating around. Also the touch pad and the back button on the right side was amazingly intuitive. You didn’t have to think about it all while using.

As a gamer myself, I started thinking how the device could immerse you in a game environment (or why not a virtual presentation of the environment where you are actually going to) when you are for example sitting on an airplane. This is something we’ve been thinking with our logistics environment. One might be going to an environment A to do X. He or she might first virtually get to know the space and its objects while en route to the actual location.

Apparently the device also has an affordance for augmented reality (AR), which means that you can see the real world through the device and place virtual objects on the scene. This could be for example a virtual prototype of a building, and you can check how it looks like in the real space. This is actually something we used to experiment with in Finland already like 6 years ago, and I still feel AR holds an untapped potential.

Another thing is of course that as you have the screen on your face, no one else on the airplane or other space sees what you are looking at. This adds security if that is needed. Someone once said that email and social media aren’t the weakest links of privacy, but instead CEOs and employees with their laptop screens wide open for the whole world.

A thing I am a bit skeptical though, is the Galaxy Note 4. The resolution I saw looked amazing, but I just wonder how well the Note’s computing power performs and how long the battery lasts with more heavy-duty 3D environments? I know the Samsung guys would say that the device holds more computing power than many laptops a couple of years back. I guess we’ll just need to see when the actual device with some real content comes out.

Anyway, as a first very quick impression, the headset seemed quite nice. So I am interested in seeing its release and how it might stir up ecosystems around VR headsets.

Cultural heritage and new media seminar – HIVE, Curtin University 25.9.

Dr Torsten Reiners presenting the nDiVE
Dr Torsten Reiners presenting the nDiVE

Two of our nDiVE team members participated in an interesting seminar or get-together of like minded people at Curtin University HIVE (Hub for Immersive Visualisation and eResearch). Professor Erik Champion had organized an interesting event where presenters from various projects and instances in and outside Curtin (the farthest was all the way from Brazil) presented their projects and discussed possible collaborations in the area of digital humanities, cultural/virtual heritage and virtual worlds.

It seems people are doing interesting projects here, but the challenge is as always I guess: how to connect interested people to each other and keep up the great momentum. At least events such as this seems like a nice step towards that. Some pictures and short summaries of some of the presentations below!

Stuart Bender giving a short workshop in 3D filming
Stuart Bender giving a quick workshop in 3D filming

Stuart Bender was presenting his Maldives 3D filming project, in addition to giving a short but engaging 3D filming workshop where we were able to test 3D cameras by ourselves. The introduction gave cool new ideas for the nDiVE project, and the 3D stereoscopic ideas from filming could benefit our work with immersive virtual environments and using head-mounted displays such as the Oculus Rift.

It seems that 3D filming is getting easier and more consumer-friendly. With emerging inexpensive head-mounted displays like Google Cardboard or Duroviz, and the possibility to rig two GoPro cameras together, you could be presenting your own 3D shorts with your mobile phone to your friends in no-time. Still, as Stuart was emphasised, old rules from 2D rules do not always apply and there are things you need to consider.

I have to say that I was intrigued by the recreational 3D filming possibilities also for scuba diving, now that the gear is getting cheaper all the time and for example GoPro introduced the double camera rig (which you could actually built yourself too).

Jeff Harris from SciTech presenting the possibilities to use the planetarium
Jeff Harris from SciTech presenting the possibilities to use the planetarium

Jeff Harris from SciTech discussed possible collaborations with the SciTech planetarium. You would usually think that planetariums are for, well, for presenting cosmic things and whatnots. Based on Jeff’s presentation and talks with him, it can be much more, and they are happy to collaborate.

Demetreus Lacet presenting his projects in Brazil
Demetrius Lacet presenting his projects from Brazil

Demetrius Lacet gave an interesting presentation in the area of virtual heritage and developing content that can be used with inexpensive mobile head-mounted displays such as the Google Cardboard and Durovis. His project has been engaging youth to produce cool stuff in the area of virtual heritage. I don’t think it needs to be said that projects like his are very important ways to give kids a medium to develop and use their energy and creativity.

A couple of interesting links from the seminar:
Trove: http://trove.nla.gov.au
Digital Humanities 2015 conference: http://dh2015.org
eResearch Australasia Conference: http://conference.eresearch.edu.au

Project team PhD update

teras candidacy presentationSource of the original image: Wikipedia

Our team is happy to announce that our PhD candidate Marko Teras, (well, me!), passed his candidacy presentation last week. How excellent is that!

The thesis, titled as Critical factors that produce and authentic context in an immersive virtual environment for safety training, will examine how virtual environments that are used with head-mounted displays such as Oculus Rift, and interacted with control devices such as Razer Hydra, will support practical skills acquisition in safety training.

The research project will not merely examine how technology alone through immersion “produces” something we might call a context, but also investigates how authentic learning design and possibly gamification processes (e.g. Deterding et al., 2011, Gamification Research Network) might support producing an authentic context.

That’s about it. Short and sweet. More updates on the study as it progresses!

Mobile and Embodied Virtual Reality

3634491365_c63c7ab8c5_zImage by Playing Futures: Applied Nomadology

Our nDiVE crew has been following the latest discussion around virtual reality (VR) with great interests. New technologies like Cyberith’s Virtualizer seem to be emerging, directing us to use our bodies as the user interface and the way to interact with immersive virtual environments. Then there’s the latest Oculus + Samsung collaboration that lets you attach a mobile device into a headset and bang, you’re ready to be immersed.

This raises all sorts of new interesting questions. How might this bring down the costs and the “wow” of virtual environments (for professional use) in the future? Could VR become as ubiquitous and “normal” as the Internet itself? Perhaps a one way of navigating it? Could it be that in 10 years or less users and learners just launch their own mobile devices the same way the students of today their laptops?

Oculus Rift seems to be going forward like a freight train and challenging the technological status quo with innovative thinking – and at least now, their deal with Facebook does not seem to be harming things too much. Interesting times to study these technologies!