19 July 2018

Virtual Avebury in the News

We're getting some good coverage of our Virtual Avebury project with the National Trust, Birmingham University and Satsymph (and funded by AHRC and EPSRC):

BBC Wiltshire (46min in) :  https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06bt1rq#play

"I've been visiting Avebury for 50 odd years this will change my whole perspective - it's extraordinary"

"I'll never look at Avebury again the same way"

"I feel I know Avebury really really well .. it's certainly told me something about Avebury I didn't know."

"Without the buildings you get a real sense of scale, the physical size of it compared to the human frame, they must have felt so tiny"

"It [i.e. the modern environment cluttered by the buildings]  doesn't have the emotional power of what I just saw transmitted to me"

Marlborough News: http://www.marlboroughnewsonline.co.uk/news/7829-virtual-reality-offers-a-new-perspective-on-avebury

There's also a good description of the project on the National Trust web site at https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/avebury/features/experience-a-virtual-reality-avebury.

There is also some really good data about immersion and the use of immersive 3D/VR to support heritage experiences coming out of the public engagement research which we'll report on later.

27 June 2018

OculusGo - Best all-round VR option so far?

We've had our OculusGo for a few days now and I must admit we're impressed. Whilst the visual quality may not be as good as the tethered versions, there seems to be a bit of chromatic aberration and even a bit of light leakage the overall experience is probably the best yet. The reasons:

  • It's totally self contained, no tethers or trying to slot your phone in, just pick up and go
  • It's lighter and more comfortable that the Rift or Vive tethered headsets
  • It's price (£199 for 32GB, £249 for 64 GB) knocks the Gear VR and tethered headsets out the park, and is viable for a consumer purchase
  • Users seem less susceptible to motion sickness - whether due to reduced latency or just a better overall experience is not clear.
  • The controller has just enough buttons to be useful and not too many to be confusing.

The uses of a second phone for configuration works reasonably well but a) you have to reset the whole device to move between users/phones, and b) its not to clear from the phone what is loaded on the headset or playing on it.

The range of experience we've tried so far have been quite limited, point and move 3D spaces with fairly cartoony graphics, 3D video photospheres, so it will be interesting to see what it's like once we get Fieldscapes on it (Nash says "a couple of days") or with some more demanding apps.

One thing that really surprised us though was how much we missed 6 degrees of freedom movement ( aka 6DOF, i.e  the headset responding to lateral moves rather than just pan/tilt/yaw). In the Anne Franke's house where there was only waypoint movement you just naturally leaned forward to peer at what was on the table, and we were so used to that working with the Rift that too lose it seemed really odd. Given that we've only had it in the Rift for a couple of years it's surprising just how used to it we've got. There are a few third-party solutions (e.g. Antilatency - althouhg it does need a special floor as well as a camera, and could cost more than the Go!). Guess we'll just have to wait for Santa Cruz!

We'll post again once we've got Fieldscapes in there.

9 April 2018

Daden U Day: GeospatialAR - Take 2

I spent the latest DadenU day doing some more work on the AR app I started last time. Like the recent OS feature this is a geospatial AR app, so it puts markers in your smartphone viewscreen which align with real world objects. As you pan around you see different objects, and if you move to a new location all the markers track the objects they are pointing at.

The driver for the project is a personal "need" to have such an app to support battlefield walks, but we can also see some commercial potential for it, as well as more formally exploring the battlefield tours angel with the Battlefields Trust of which I'm a member.

In the latest session I focussed on bring the data in from the web, rather than having it hard coded within the app. This meant developing a JSON format for the data, doing a fetch by web service request, and then feeding the data to the existing plotting routine.

Getting my head around JSON took a fair amount of time, I much prefer, XML, and most of the rest was fairly trivial. Where I got stuck at the end though was creating a dynamic drop down of the available locations based on the files on the web server - will have to ask one of our pros how to do that!

Over the next couple of months I hope to work it up to a full blown demo based on a real battlefield, and then we'll see where we can take it.

Creating a Blockchain

For Daden-U day that took place in February I chose to look into a technology that’s on everybody’s radar. Blockchain is being touted as the next big thing and becoming a buzzword for business. A block chain is a is a continuously growing list of records, called blocks, which are linked and secured using cryptography. Blockchain is synonymous with cryptocurrency because blockchain is the underlying technology of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum but there are other uses for Blockchain. Blockchain is still a young technology and it goes without saying that the world still figuring out whether is a solutions looking for a problem outside of cryptocurrency. To gain of a better understand of what blockchain is, its usefulness and how we can integrate it into our products I decided to create my own blockchain called UncomplicatedChain using a simple console application in c#. Different blockchains have different structures depending on their purpose. To keep things simple I decided to have the only the necessary elements in my blocks.

  • Index – The block number, so we know how many blocks are in the chain
  • Hash - The blocks Id (identification document) which is long list of numbers and letters. This is generated using index of the block, the hash of the previous block, timestamp and data. This is so that we can keep the integrity of the data. It should be noted that this hash has nothing to do with “mining”, since there is no Proof Of Work problem to solve.
  • Data – The information we want the block to store
  • Previous Hash – This essential creates the chain by storing the id of the previous block. We can also use the previous has in our validation process to check the integrity of a new block or a new chain. At any given time we must be able to validate if a block or a chain of blocks are valid in terms of integrity. This is true especially when we receive new blocks from other nodes and must decide whether to accept them or not.
  • Timestamp – Stores the date and time the block was created
I won’t go into any technical detail about the rest of the implementation of my UncompicatedChain as there are many tutorials for developing a blockchain. My take away from this exercise is that blockchain is a simple but powerful technology that certainly has its uses. For us as Daden the best use may not be so obvious. One way in which we could use blockchain is with our product Fieldscapes. Fieldscapes is a service which lets educators create and share 3D and VR immersive learning exercises. Fieldscapes includes a user generated library of locations and objects, and an easy-to-use editor. Fieldscapes could track changes to made exercises. Another use could be keeping track of location and object use then using this data to reward content creators.

1 March 2018

Using the Web Browser in Fieldscapes 1.5

As mentioned earlier Fieldscapes 1.5 now lets you create a web-browser within an exercise so tutors and students can access web resources such as videos, wikipedia, VLEs and even 3D content!

We've produced two videos to help you use it. The first just gives you an idea of what it can do (and we missed out displaying it in a pop-up!)

The second shows you how to configure it within an exercise and set up props to control it. Note that the last couple of minutes of this video (from when it starts showing Google Sheets) is the same as the first video.

Watch out for videos on other new v1.5 features.

27 February 2018

The Risks of Ineffective Training

Employee training is key to building an effective and productive organisation with a justifiable reputation for getting the job done. While specific learning methods will vary across roles and industries, effective training empowers employees and leads to a substantial decrease in risk. In an ideal world, all training programmes would result in 100% information retention and recall, but as trainees and trainers are only human, some methods are less effective than others.

Is no training better than ineffective training?

Something’s always better than nothing, right? This is not necessarily the case with training, where doing a poor job can do more harm than good. Some companies see structured learning and development programmes as an unnecessary expense, instead adopting a ‘learn on the job’ approach, which can produce effective results as learning by doing gives the employee the chance to pick up skills in a relevant and practical way. However, this approach doesn’t always include assessment or monitoring, so key lessons may be missed. Fully classroom-based training, on the other hand, tends to focus on theoretical learning without the environmental context of being onsite, leading to poor knowledge retention and a host of other issues…

What could possibly go wrong?

So if your training is not being effective, what can possible go wrong?

Poor performance and decreased productivity

Without effective training, employees will take longer to fully grasp the required concepts and stand less chance of retaining and recalling important information once out of the classroom. At best, the impact of this will be a few minutes here and there as employees search for a solution that they can’t remember off the top of their head; at worst, they could hazard a guess and get it wrong.
Although a charismatic tutor can increase trainee engagement and get people fired up in the short term, learning something once in an out-of-context situation is not conducive to being able to clearly retain that information and successfully recall it several months down the line.

Health and safety risks

Effective training is particularly vital in industries where mistakes can put people in danger, such as in the medical field and on construction sites. In these scenarios, companies have a duty to ensure their employees are certain of their roles and responsibilities, but the training for this is often classroom-based rather than onsite or in a comparable simulated environment. This can often result in a lack of understanding due to the learning not taking place in context, leading to potentially dangerous situations; for example, the construction sector reports an average of 64,000 non-fatal injuries to workers every year, and 30 deaths in 2016/2017. There’s a good chance that the risk of accidents occurring could be significantly mitigated with more effective training.

Increased expenses

The raised risk of accidents and mistakes caused by ineffective training carries with it a financial liability, as damage to people, property, or equipment can result in hefty bills and legal expenses. Companies that repeatedly fail to mitigate risk may be investigated and fined by the Health and Safety Executive, and will likely face higher insurance premiums.

Unhappy workers

Employees who feel their company doesn’t prioritise their learning and development or their safety in the workplace may well feel less loyalty to their employer as a result - especially if the poor training they’ve been given has put them at risk personally. Managers should also be aware of the financial impact of high employee turnover; according to a report from Oxford Economics, the average cost of replacing a single member of staff is more than £30,000. The bulk of this - £25,000 - comes from reductions in productivity as the replacement staff member gets up to speed.

Damaged reputation

Although some of the mistakes made as a result of ineffective training may be easy to sweep under the carpet, it’s probable that a company that hasn’t invested in better learning and development will face a serious problem at some point. This could involve a failure to fulfil their obligations to a client, or as already mentioned, serious health and safety issues such as onsite accidents. Any kind of major error is likely to result in damage to the company name, which may destroy their relationship with a client or impact their ability to get future work.

Self-perpetuating problems

Badly structured and poorly organised training programmes often involve employees training their colleagues, who in turn train others. This can be a recipe for disaster if not regulated correctly - we’ve all played Chinese whispers! If just one trainer misunderstands a concept and they unwittingly pass false information onto their trainees, the company may be faced with a whole group of people who are at risk of failing to carry out a process or procedure correctly - and if you operate in an industry where mistakes could have health and safety implications, this slip up could be extremely damaging.

The solution: more effective training programmes

Training doesn’t need to cost the earth to be effective, but it does have to be something that is considered and invested in, especially for companies who are operating in a high-risk environment such as construction sites or medical facilities. Sometimes classroom-based delivery simply isn’t the optimal solution as it often isn’t as good at promoting information retention and recall, whereas only offering training on the job may not provide the structure required to make sure employees are learning all they need to.

More and more companies are turning to a blended learning approach, using immersive training applications like Trainingscapes to provide structured training in simulated environments that can replicate the real thing. These highly accessible, on-demand tools allow employees to engage in relevant training within the appropriate context, where they can practice repeatedly to improve their retention and recall. To find out more about the benefits of immersive learning, click here, or feel free to email info@daden.co.uk if you have any questions.

22 February 2018

February Newsletter Out - Avebury, NewspeakBot, Virtual Life Coaches and Fieldscapes v1.5

In this latest issue of the Daden Newsletter we bring you up to date with some of the things that we've been doing at Daden over the last few months. In this issue we cover:

  • Fieldscapes v1.5 Released - all the new features in our Fieldscapes/Trainingscapes app, including web browsing and chatbots!
  • Virtual Avebury - work gets underway on a Fieldscapes project with Bournemouth University on this World Heritage Site.
  • Newspeak Bot - a quick project we did for the Wolverhampton Literary Festival that turns tweets into 1984 style Newspeak!
  • Virtual Mentors and Life Coaches - whole-career chatbot partners