ET4 Augmented and Virtual Reality

Augmented and Virtual Reality

"Don't be afraid of the space between your dreams and reality. If you can dream it, you can make it so."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Virtual Reality has been a vision for improving education for many decades but the technology has never quite been sufficient for a truly immersive experience in which you feel you are actually present in another location or world. But we are getting much closer, and when it does occur, teaching students about ancient rome, mars, Hobbiton, or what the inside of an ant hill is like, using books or video will be pale experiences compared to the immersive experience of wearing virtual reality headsets and being able to experience and move about these locations as if actually there.

While virtual reality is not quite yet available for widespread use in schools, Augmented Reality is. It is currently sweeping through the children's publishing industry, with many new storybooks including an augmented reality experience. Advertisers have also embraced the technology and a growing number of teachers are incorporating the use of augmented reality in their programs, either creating interactives themselves for students to experience, or as projects in which students create their own augmented reality worlds.

Augmented and virtual realities are two more educational technologies that all teachers in the next few years will be challenged to master and provide the best possible learning experiences for their students. Student expectations will demand that their teachers keep up with the dramatic changes that will also occur in the publishing, media entertainment, and computer game experiences as they also embrace these new technologies, but as Biocca, Kim & Levy aptly articulated "Virtual reality is the first step in a grand adventure into the landscape of the imagination." As always, it will be the role of teachers to guide students in this new landscape, assisting them to reach their full potential, and master our ever changing technological world.

Dr Jason Zagami

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A virtual world is an online community that takes the form of a computer-based simulated environment through which participants can interact with one another and use and create objects. The term has become largely synonymous with interactive 3D virtual environments, where the participants take the form of avatars visible to others. These avatars usually appear as textual, two-dimensional, or three-dimensional representations, although other forms are possible (auditory and touch sensations for example). Virtual worlds allow for multiple participants but they have difficulties of bandwidth if too many i.e. > 50 (depending on world) or avatars have a lot of animations included.

Augmented reality (AR) is a view of the real-world where elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. By contrast, virtual reality replaces the real world with a simulated one.

Sutherland’s 1965 Vision Display was one of the first attempts at creating a window into a virtual world that aimed to:

  • Improve image generation until the picture looks real;
  • Computer maintains world model in real time;
  • User directly manipulates virtual objects;
  • Manipulated objects move realistically;
  • Immersion in virtual world via head-mounted display; and
  • Virtual world also sounds real, feels real.

Augmented Reality (AR) is the closest to the real environment because it consists mostly of real world images, with a minority of the images being computer-generated. Augmented Virtuality (AV) is a term for applications that create a mostly virtual world, but which includes a few images from the real world. Virtual Reality (VR) is where all aspects are computer generated.

The following examples are of Augmented Reality (AR) where additional information is computer generated and overlayed on our view of the real world. This is commonly used in sports broadcasts and weather presentations.

Augmented Virtuality (AV) creates a virtual world but includes some aspects of the real world. An example is the TV show 

Virtual Reality (VR) is a computer-simulated environment that can simulate physical presence in places in the real world, as well as in imaginary worlds. Most current virtual reality environments are primarily visual experiences, displayed either on a computer screen or through special stereoscopic displays, but some simulations include additional sensory information, such as sound through speakers or headphones. Some advanced, haptic systems now include tactile information, generally known as force feedback.

The simulated environment can be similar to the real world in order to create a lifelike experience—for example, in simulations for pilot or fire rescue training—or it can differ significantly from reality, such as in VR games.

In the past, VR headsets were bulky and uncomfortable but did allow the viewer to look in any direction and their field of view would change with their movements. Increasingly, headsets are becoming smaller, even to the size of sunglasses and contact lens VR and AR systems are in development.

Telepresence is a similar concept, in which a robotic device moves around the real world, transmitting images back to someone who could be using a VR system to experience the real world remotely. Such systems are being used in schools to enable student who are ill or unable to attend physically to continue their studies in a more interactive manner than a video feed would enable.

QR Codes (Quick Reaction) are a matrix barcode (or two-dimensional bar code) first designed for the automotive industry in Japan. Bar codes are optical machine-readable labels attached to items that record information related to the item.

A QR code is read by a camera and data is then extracted from patterns present in both horizontal and vertical components of the image. 

There are many websites and apps that will create QR codes and present information. This information can be a web address, and email address, some text, an SMS message, a video or audio clip, a map location, or many other possibilities.

Teachers use QR codes to create book reviews (in text, audio or video) that students can scan from QR codes placed on books. Create learning stations in a classroom where QR codes provide instructions or links to additional online resources; Treasure hunts in the school grounds with QR codes providing learning activities and hints to find the next QR code; and many other educational applications.

It is a simple process to create QR codes using websites such as QR Code Generator and then print off the QR codes for others to access the information you have encoded in the QR code using one of the many QR code reader apps available for smart phones, tablets and computers.

QR codes also exist that you can print off the code and create an animation or interactive. Many magazines, books, children's toys and games, include QR codes that provide additional interactivity such as movies, links to websites, and interactive games.

General Electric provide a series of educational AR interactives for learning about solar and wind power. Print off the QR code then using your webcam while access the website, you will see the interactive occur and can manipulate it by moving the sheet of paper containing the QR code.

AR can also occur without the need for QR codes

You can try out a pair of AR Rayban sunglasses at Virtual Mirror and there are various shopping websites that are using AR to allow a more interactive experience with products.

AR is becoming common in children's storybooks to create an enhanced and often interactive experience.

A range of interactive AR applications have been developed from human anatomy, geography, physics, to learning the alphabet

You can create a simple AR popup storybook using ZooBurst or a full blown AR interactive using ARToolkit with some drag and drop programming.

You can also create AR objects using Sketchup using a plugin for Sketchup from ARMedia

Yes another level of Augmented Reality involves location awareness, where your mobile device creates scenes based on your actual location determined by GPS or mobile phone signals. A simple example of this is car navigation systems but more involved. These can range from tours of schools and museums  to the State Library of Queensland's Floodlines interactive of the Brisbane floods,  and back again to cars, where AR displays can warn of traffic hazards while you are driving.

The two main tools for creating location aware AR applications are Junaio and Layar:

Finally, Google Glass will soon open up a range of new applications for AR, including in educatio, where your interface to the AR world will be through displays attached to glasses.

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