Virtual Reality and e-Learning

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July 9, 2019

More and more we are seeing new uses for virtual and augmented reality, but this technology has been around for quite a few years in some form. Virtual reality is the term used to describe an immersive experience through a computer generated environment which doesn’t actually exist. Our senses give us the perception of how we view the world around us. Everything we know about reality comes from what we have learnt through our senses. 

Virtual reality uses various technologies to create an all encompassing simulation of an environment, which can yield great results for learning and development. VR has been used with great results in the healthcare, science, research and training areas.

The use of virtual reality can be traced back to the mid 1800s. Charles Wheatstone researched the idea that the brain is processing two, two dimensional images to create depth of view, so we can perceive the world in three dimensions. The research concluded that viewing two images through a stereoscope provided a sense of immersion and depth.

Augmented reality on the other hand does not create a virtual world, but rather imposes holograms on the users environment. The term augmented reality came about in the 1990’s, with Thomas Caudel using the term to describe the head mounted displays that electricians wore whilst undertaking complex assembly work. Many new AR apps are being released, which are mixing computer generated images with the real life environment. AR Google Maps is a good example of what can be achieved for apps of this kind.

For Learning purposes, VR can be used to mimic the environment the student will be working in. This means the student can interact, manipulate objects or carry out a series of tasks, for the purpose of training and gaining experience. For example a mockup of a workplace.

Education is an area that has great applications and opportunities for virtual and augmented reality. Learning is conducted much more efficiently, is more engaging for the user and can be a fun experience too. Primarily these technologies have been seen in the gaming industry, but studies have shown using VR/AR in the training realm has significant benefits.

Virtual reality enables the student to enter a 360 degree video shot or immerse themselves in a 3D environment. A great example of this technology is the VR training for marine biologists. They can enter into the natural environment of the ocean all without stepping foot near a boat or the coast. The lecturer will activate a series of scenarios and wearing virtual reality glasses, the students can experience the actual environment. Virtual learning environments are also created in online education where students can send, create and manage coursework, as well as study digital material.

The benefits and drawbacks of using VR and AR in eLearning

Over the last few years, VR has really taken center stage as a great innovation in the world of learning and eLearning. The delivery of this sort of training will have an upfront cost (from purchasing VR headsets and Smartphones for example). 

The Benefits of Virtual Reality

Realistic Scenarios 

The nature of virtual reality means that trainers can enhance learning content and create a remarkably interactive learning experience.

Mistakes 

With virtual reality technology it does not matter if the student were to make a mistake, it’s just a part of the learning process. In certain training situations such as nursing for example, it would be impractical not to mention dangerous, for a student nurse or doctor to train on a real patient. With VR, trainers can replicate a real life scenario, but the trainee is safe knowing that they cannot harm a ‘virtual’ patient.

Suitable for different learning styles 

This type of learning can really help people who benefit from a more tactile style of learning and who struggle with the theory side.

Resource Saving 

Setting up training in a traditional training environment can be costly and take up a lot of room. VR offers trainees a safer environment, which can also use less floor space than a full sized mocked up environment. This space can also be converted to be utilized in another way while training is not in progress.

Innovative and Enjoyable 

Elearning specialists are always looking for cutting edge ways to deliver their training and using virtual and augmented reality is making the whole learning experience more enjoyable and immersive. It can be used in many different scenarios, from customer service to teaching, healthcare and even engineering.

Drawbacks of Virtual Reality

Integration

For the moment, it is quite difficult to convert all learning types to virtual and augmented reality, as it requires a lot of resources to convert and test VR/AR products. For this reason, careful consideration is required when choosing which courses to convert and where this technology will have the most benefit.

Costly 

Even though there are virtual reality devices to suit all budgets, investing in VR for large scale training is a real wallet drain, particularly when the training needs to be delivered to many students or employees.

Training Locations 

With traditional eLearning, a student can learn quite effectively and quietly sitting at a desk. With VR the trainee will need more room to function, so there is no risk of falling over desks or bumping into chairs. Due to this an employer or training provider will need to provide suitable space for the trainee and the VR equipment.

eLearning into the future

The future of eLearning is evolving and set to advance further, with VR and AR applications bringing two technologies that will enable this to happen. These technologies can facilitate the learning process in various ways, particularly in industries which involve more complex and/or high risk practices.

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How VR Is Revolutionizing The Material Handling Industry

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July 3, 2019

Operating a forklift with efficiency takes a lot of skill and can take a long time to master. Driving a forklift requires good spatial awareness, especially in a busy commercial/industrial environment. Think about training new drivers in such an environment, filled with risks and fraught with danger, it is not something that can be conducted willy nilly. Someone could get hurt, seriously injured or even killed if the trainee were to make a mistake. Forklifts are heavy equipment and care is needed while under operation. It can take a lot of practice for a trainee to become confident in his/her abilities. Raymond Corporation, who is a subsidiary of Toyota and is a large supplier of forklifts are looking for a better alternative.  

Stacey Patch is Raymond’s Virtual Reality Simulator Business Manager. Her team have the task of designing a VR simulator. They have looked at various different VR project from around the world, across different industries from flight simulators to medical training simulations. It’s clear to see the potential advantages of this technology for forklift training. Patch goes on to say, “Looking at the way this technology has been used to enhance training in many industries, we realized the same benefits could seamlessly be carried over into the material handling industry”. The team settled on an exclusive partner FreeRangeXR located in Sausalito, California. Also discussed was using the HTC Vive as it ticks all the boxes the simulator needs. The main reason the Vive was chosen was because it offers good enterprise solutions and has extended support.

Studies have shown that using simulators to train workforce offers better learning retention and greater confidence going into the job. It is also proven that this is a cheaper alternative to standard training. Researchers at Iowa State University have studied VR training in welding simulations with the results showing a massive 41.6% increase in certifications and a 23% decrease in training time overall.

The Raymond simulator was showed off at SXSW last march. The physics were true and you could feel the interaction. When you turn you can almost feel the momentum of the heavy machine. It gets your heart pumping when the fork virtually ascends into the air to grab a heavy pallet. Virtual Reality Apps of this kind are really turning heads and the market space is ever growing. VR is a powerful tool when it comes to realistic, intensive training. One of the best things about this simulator is that it’s actually quite fun to use, which of course aids in the training process. VR training is becoming more and more commonplace.

The CEO of Raymond, Micheal Field said “In developing the Raymond Virtual Reality Simulator, we saw an opportunity to help avoid potential product and warehouse damage while increasing overall productivity and efficiency,” he also states “At the same time, we wanted to advance best practices in next-generation manufacturing as well as use technology to pique the interest of younger talent and use the simulator as a key tool for recruitment.”

The greatest thing about Raymonds simulator, is that similar to a flight simulator using real plane cockpit, it utilizes the actual forklift they will be using. Because of this, every gauge is in its place and controls are in the correct position. Raymonds VR simulator can be added to any of Raymond forklifts, either brand new or existing forklift models. This is the first simulation of its kind as it interfaces with the actual forklift and is using “sPort (simulation Port)” technology. 

This innovation has earned the Raymond company its place on Fast Company’s 2019 Most Innovative Companies list in the categories of virtual and augmented reality. Raymond also picked up the International Intralogist and Forklift Truck of the Year award and also won an Edison Award, quite a haul and a great result. There is now no question we will be seeing more and more VR products of this kind being used in a variety of training applications.

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Porting to the Oculus Quest – Part 2

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June 25, 2019

Not surprisingly, nothing went as smoothly as I was hoping. Once I got into Unity and began the process of converting our current PC VR projects to Android, I was met with a mix of Unity bugs, bad setting configurations and just crashing for reasons that I have yet to figure out.

I only had a very short window to get something up and running on the Oculus Quest before I had to move on to other projects. I was looking for a quick turnaround so I attempted to convert our most basic package to the new platform. After waiting for what felt like hours for Unity to switch over to the Android platform, I removed all the old cameras from the scene and installed the latest Oculus SDK. I published it to the Quest and to no one’s surprise, it crashed! Instead of spending too long debugging this I decided to start fresh with a new Unity project, import the models and publish again.

While I was creating the new project, I noticed something new, Unity has a new render pipeline specifically designed for low powered devices. I did a little research into it and got really excited; they were promising up to 100% gains in performance. Knowing how unoptimized the current render pipeline is, I believed them. But of course, nothing is that easy. There seems to be a bug with the package when exporting it to Android. Right at the end of the build process an error would pop up, “Return of the style/VrActivityTheme not found in AndroidManifest.xml” great! I did a bit of research and came across this forum thread. The general consensus seems to be that it will get patched in future releases of Unity. As seems to be the theme of this post, I didn’t have time to look further into the issues and since it is not critical to what I am wanting to achieve, I’ll put the new pipeline on the back burner. I will definitely keep an eye on it though as I’m not one to ignore a free performance increase!

Back to just trying to get anything to run on the Quest. I created a new project and started with just a cube and the Oculus SDK. I published it to the Quest and I was a little surprised this time, it still crashed instantly. I expected that the default Unity configuration combined with the Oculus SDK would be enough to get it going, I guess I was mistaken. Back to google, and it looks like I’m not the only one having these issues. I found the answer in this thread. It turns out Unity defaults to an incompatible render API. I removed Vulkan from the list and it worked! Now all I needed to do was import my model into the scene and publish to the Quest. You can see the fruits of my labour below. It performed excellently! I’m very impressed.

Just to give you some context to how amazing this is, this model is a to scale 3D model of my house. The reason I am so blown away by the demo is that I am actually walking around my house when I recorded this video. The Oculus Quest tracking did not drift even the slightest bit. I managed to walk through every room in my house, while wearing the headset, without bumping into any walls! Just as another note, no I didn’t put any time into lighting the scene, I just used what I had set up in Cinema 4D. Ignoring that the scene is a little blown out, I am surprised how great the scene looks and how well it ran with these unoptimized models.

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Porting to the Oculus Quest – Part 1

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June 4, 2019

Since Oculus announced the shipping date of the Quest in April, I have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of our headset. It’s inside-out approach to tracking is intriguing and with the prospect of no more umbilical cord attached to my head, there is a lot to be excited about.

Everyone who has tried Virtual Reality with us has been really excited by what the technology is capable of, not only now, but what it has the potential to become. A huge draw back thus far has been the cost of the device, coupled with the need for a beefy gaming computer to run the software. This is why the Quest has got everyone, including myself, so excited. Without the need to do the computing externally the barrier to entry is dramatically reduced.

The plan is to port all of our existing applications to the Quest, without giving up too much of the quality and complexity in our scenes. Given that we are essentially porting to a mobile processor, this is going to be a big challenge.

I have been working with the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive for the past 3 years using the Unity Engine. It has been great having the performance of a desktop computer powering the headset, but sometimes it is still a struggle to get certain experiences to run smoothly on these devices. I am going to need to double down on optimization, both for the models and code if I want to get these applications running smoothly on the Quest.

Before I begin this daunting task, I want to play around with a 3rd party application, VRidge Riftcat, which I’ve been following ever since I got my first Google Cardboard. The software essentially renders the game on your desktop computer and streams it over WIFI to another device, be it a phone in Google Cardboard or a Gear VR. This is a great solution for having high performance experiences in cheap, portable headsets.

After playing around with Riftcat I am quite impressed. They managed to include full Steam VR compatibility, including their room scale guardian system with 6 DOF controllers. This must not have been an easy accomplishment. Unfortunately, this is clearly still a beta. The tracking was flawless (apart from a little latency, but I can forgive them for that) but the quality of the visual stream was a bit lackluster. It suffered from numerous dropped frames and image compression if the WIFI signal degraded even a little. I am going to keep an eye on the project in hopes that they overcome these shortcomings, but for now, I can’t recommend this to clients as a solution.

It looks like I better open Unity and get porting!

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Oculus Quest: Breaking Down All Barriers to Entry

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May 22, 2019

We all remember the Oculus Rift when it was released back in 2016. It was a smash hit but now it’s 2019 and people want more. As a result, Facebook will be releasing Oculus Quest on the 21st of May this year retailing at $399 USD, which represents good bang for your buck.

Similar to last year's Oculus Go, it features a standalone design meaning it does not need to be hooked up to a PC or phone. The Oculus Go was designed to be used to watch TV or movies, whereas the Oculus Quest is designed with gaming and enterprise in mind.

Some features that are included in the new Oculus Quest are its four wide-angle tracking cameras, allowing the user to move around in a large space. The Quest utilizes dual hand controllers and has a slider for adjusting the distance between the lenses. Oculus has improved the sound quality by adding powerful invisible directional speakers, which also makes the design sleeker. For processing power, it uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 mobile chipset with 64GB or 128GB of storage. For recharging the Quest's batteries, there is a USB-C charging port, with this battery lasting up to 3 hours. The Quest is using much higher resolution screens than the Rift’s, at 1600 x 1440 pixels per eye and boasts enhanced lenses. But best of all the Quest is completely wireless, so no more tripping over cables. These features are great improvements, which makes it easier to use, therefore will have more mainstream appeal.

The Quest now uses the new "Insight" system, which allows the cameras to detect the edges of your space more effectively. The cameras have the ability to also pass monochrome video to your display, meaning you do not need to remove the headset to see what is going on around you. This system works more effectively, mapping spaces quite easily. Normally to calibrate the boundaries, you will need to walk around your room, but the Quest will calibrate and paint virtual lines on your floor, from wherever you are standing.

Another great feature of the Quest is its ability to remember up to five spaces. It will automatically switch between them once it detects a room from its memory, allowing free movement around the rooms, without having to recalibrate for each space. Oculus has put on display the "arena-scale" VR using the Quest, the possibility of limitless virtual motion is now getting to be a much more achievable goal.

The controllers look a bit different to the old ones that Rift was using, This is due to having the tracking strip flipped from below to above your hands, so the head-mounted cameras are better at tracking it. Over-all the controls have not changed a great deal. Some subtle changes are the analog stick, which has been positioned higher on the controllers and the controller’s face being marginally slimmer, as Oculus has eliminated the capacitive Touch panel. This panel in the past was used to detect the user’s thumb placement.

Oculus want to reach a bigger audience and are planning to build Enterprise Editions of their Quest and Go headsets sometime in 2019. This is nothing new for Oculus who have already made a similar approach to this market with their Rift. The main aim for Enterprise Editions is to enable businesses to bulk buy, allowing secure business applications to be installed onto the Quest and Go.

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iTRA Virtual Reality Project – Use of Fire Extinguishers

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April 2, 2019

Building upon the success of the VR Prestart Light Vehicle
Check which rolled out late last year, we have been working with one of our clients to enhance their Fire Extinguisher training by creating 3 Virtual Reality scenarios for their employees to experience.

While giving the trainees (virtual) hands on time with the extinguishers to better prepare them in the case of an emergency situation, our client also gains insight into their employees’ knowledge of which extinguishers to use and their effectiveness at extinguishing a fire. This data is collected throughout the 3 scenarios and sent back to TrainTrac for analysis. As an added bonus, the data is also presented to the trainee as a score which is added to a site wide leader board. This encourages competition between the employees and an incentive to do the training again to beat their co-workers score.



During the prototype stages of the project, we built a similar experience for the HoloLens, where a pallet fire would be placed in the real world using Augmented Reality and a trainee would use a virtual fire extinguisher to extinguish the fire. The benefits of this is that you can practice each scenario in the actual location that a real-world fire would occur. However, this approach does have added complexities and lacks the immersion that Virtual Reality provides. Ultimately our client ended up going for the Virtual Reality approach.

You can see demos of our other Virtual Reality showcases on our Virtual Reality page.

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Hackathon and Porsche’s dive into Virtual and Augmented Reality

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February 25, 2019

AR, VR and XR have become common place in many important industries. It is currently being used in the entertainment industry and is starting to be used in the manufacturing, healthcare, retail, military and communications industries, to name a few.

An example of this, is elevator service technicians, who are able to see technical information while analysing and repairing machines on site. Some large retail chains have virtual fitting rooms and smart mirrors that interact with the customer, enhancing their experience. In the field of medicine, there are scanners that project a map of the internal circulatory systems on the patient’s body.

There are plenty of great use cases of virtual, augmented and cross reality, which have the potential for gaining traction in future technologies in other industries.

Porsche is currently working with these new technologies in the areas of training and service, as well as customer experience, and are endeavouring to improve and develop in these areas. Virtual reality and the drone 'Alice' is helping Porsche's after-sales employees worldwide understand complex technical concepts. Alice's job is to guide the mechanics through a series of repair steps on the high-voltage battery found in the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid. While under the supervision of Alice, each step is executed in a safe manner, as it takes place in virtual reality. This is a huge advantage, as the most complex training can be done safely and more efficiently.

Virtual reality is also the ideal technology for the car enthusiast, providing a unique and exciting virtual experience. The launching of the new Porsche 911 Carrera S at LA Auto show last year, saw Porsche join forces with Slightly Mad Studios, to give an introduction to a new realistic VR experience, where visitors could test drive their latest model.

Google and Porsche have been working together and have developed the “Mission E Augmented Reality” app. Potential customers can position the "Mission E" at home in the living room or in their driveway. It includes different view modes to allow them to digitally explore Porsche's first totally electric sports car, the Taycan. Customers can even take an augmented reality test drive using the app on their smartphone for a more complete virtual experience.

Porsche have partnered with other companies to bring the very latest in ground-breaking technology. For example, in their partnership with WayRay, Porsche are bringing a holographic augmented head up display into their cars. WayRay produces augmented holographic images that are used as navigation systems. One of these navigation systems is Navion, which projects digital data onto the cars windshield, using a process called SLAM (simultaneous localisation and mapping). SLAM maps the environment constantly as you drive, while simultaneously keeping track of the car's location.

The Virtual Reality Hackathon took place earlier in the year, looking at the latest in VR, XR and AR technologies. It is the world's largest Hackathon, involving the examination of different technologies and how these can be used in generating new experiences. It involves interdisciplinary teams from a diverse range of disciplines, such as designers, engineers, artists, coders, sound designers, students, storytellers and imaginative AR/VR enthusiasts from all over the world, with each participant promoting their ideas to form teams. Around a quarter, that is 400 of the 1600 or so participants with the best ideas are selected to create original cross reality experiences and applications.

In the category "Best use of True AR SDK", the WayRay team won for its software development kit, which involves the projecting of augmented reality onto a cars windshield. The team created the Accudrive app to help people drive more accurately and safely by integrating AR and 'gamifying' the driving experience. This led to a more interesting and fun driving experience as well as increasing road knowledge and safety.

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The Impact Of Virtual And Augmented And Reality On Personalized Learning

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December 1, 2018

Personalized education isn’t a new concept. Before technological insurrection the British education system gave teachers a high level of autonomy regarding matters of how and what to teach. The system was based on the notion that educational techniques be similarly flexible and similarly tailored to the particularities of the student. The tutor measured student’s achievements against national standards and shoved them to progress in line with their age and abilities.

Today we have a different setting. Virtual and augmented reality, in particular, provides us with a chance to improve the level of personalization to the extent we have never experienced before. The earlier system was a bit flexible, but learners still had to study from same textbooks and achieve the same goals. With AR and VR we are finally getting closer to the pledge and promise of individualized-tailored education for particular students.

Defining the concept

Personalized learning is tuition approach optimized for the exact needs of an individual student. The objectives are crafted in specific accordance with the apprentice’s aspirations, and the instruction substance and the approaches are developed in line with those objectives.

AR blends the real surrounding with a digital setting. Materials are part of the environment like posters, papers, textbooks, and another different object elicits instructions in the digital context. The learner only points at the device to the object, and they get access to a new sheet of knowledge.

VR is a computer processed simulation of the 3D environment. It needs different equipment in the form of a headset. In the education sector, virtual reality is a costly affair. But the aftermath advantages are immense since it stimulates real-world atmosphere. A good percentage of learners are thrilled to incorporate virtual reality technologies to improve their learning outcome.

How VR and AR Impact Personalized Learning

Walmart isn’t a learning institution, but we can use this organization as a success story of a personalized learning process. The organization is training its employees to enhance their skills through both the VR and AR technology which has positively worked for multimillion dollar companies like Google, BMW, VISA and ABC. The teaching stimulators place the workers in a realistic setting, which gauge their ability to handle various situations in the workplace.

Can you figure out how this technology will work in education? Assuming learners are being trained of safety and precaution, the VR can place the students in a realistic setting that will assess their skills. The educator can offer some precise instructions and guidelines for improvement. For a perfect situation, every learner would have a virtual reality headset, but it is a bit expensive and only possible with companies like Walmart.

However, AR is a much affordable option that will still make personalization possible.    AR allows learners to interact and visualize different concepts in the real digital world. As long as learners have smartphones or tablets the trainer can create an interactive experience in AR without writing complex codes. Augmented reality makes the personalized learning process more accurate and relevant.  The whole experience makes knowledge accessible through experiential training opportunities.

By combining “blocks” and “scenes,” both the student and teacher can expand a range of AR experiences featuring a variety of fun personalities while undertaking computational thinking without taking the learner through a sophisticated programming language. And all this is free. To start of the experience, you only need to come up with an account and install a VR/AR supporting app.

The efficiency of AR in anatomy learning for medical students is a good illustration of how these technologies help to enhance the education sector. The system behaves like a magic mirror that allows the user to visualize real body anatomy. The system also displays text information, 3D model of body organs, and medical images that the learner interacts with in real time.

AR and VR Enable Authentic Instructional Practices

The dual VR and AR are as useful as the instructional processes behind the technology. It requires a lot of time training our educators to be capable of implementing this technology into their classrooms. A hurdle that might be preventing us from fully utilizing it.

Augmented reality and virtual reality technologies take training beyond the basic observation and memorization. Learners can interact with the material at their pace and access authentic instructional material.

Engagement Tool

In learning the virtual reality is the best method for it seems to have extreme power in student engagement. Her solution has taken learners’ inquisitiveness to higher and in-depth level activities that result in natural learning.

Engaging the students is a prime tool. VR is offerings learner across the board with fantastic chance to learn while having fun. With virtual reality, the possibilities are infinite in the education sphere. Where visualizing means not to absorb information but experience students get deeper with learning.

In the context of personalized learning, the VR has potential to help adult education stakeholders and learners to explore different setting from their own, solve complex problems, engage in simulations, content modeling or participate in world building and other learning identities and understanding. The possibility of using VR to craft immersive narratives that facilitate education decision makers to go down on the path of the learners and families that their individual decisions affect. This noble act increases empathy and helping academic decision makers take a student’s perspective in policy development.

VR can be used for students with exceptional academic needs. Thus the virtual reality can upload fresh content on the headset and create an ideal environment for learners to virtually learn and view simultaneously. VR technologists are playing a vital role by providing virtual augmented solutions that help in strengthening the foundation of learners in the VR classroom.

While there’s still needed to develop to make an average teacher comfortably personalize lessons with VR and AR, it will be a tall order to create an app that will be easy and quick to use for a layperson. This is a platform that takes the much larger scale with tremendous educator’s base developing personalized apps, which will provide machine learning information that will eventually enable self-reliance apps to modify themselves to student’s competence level.

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