19 July 2018
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
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
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.
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
1 March 2018
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.
22 February 2018
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
21 February 2018
We’ve all been to boring training sessions where the speaker’s droned on for hours on end and it’s taken every ounce of willpower you have not to fall asleep (but hey, at least there’s usually a free lunch). Training like this fails to engage trainees, meaning that information may not be retained or understood.
This is especially problematic when the subject matter is something they really need to know. What if failure to recall the information when they need it results in a serious mistake being made? The risk of such a situation arising can be significantly reduced by making sure your training is as engaging as possible to maximise the chances of it sinking in.
As well as improving information retention and recall, more engaging training helps employees to fully get to grip with the subject the first time around. This means they’re less likely to have to go through the same course repeatedly, thus reducing training costs as well as the loss of productivity incurred by their downtime.
More engaging training is also likely to be more enjoyable, resulting in happier employees - and what’s not to like about that?
Here are some ideas to help make you training more engaging.
Make it interactive
There are few people who can stand to be talked at for several hours without zoning out. One sure way to increase engagement is to make the session interactive. Whether that’s by coming up with activities to help trainees participate or by using tools or props to incorporate an element of ‘learning by doing’, interaction should be more than just a five-minute Q&A session at the end of a day-long course.
Technology has advanced enough that training sessions don’t have to stay in the classroom - even if the participants don’t physically leave the room. Immersive training applications like Trainingscapes create simulated environments and scenarios that allow trainees to gain hands-on experience in a relevant and practical way. These tools provide more spatial, visual, and audio cues as well as environmental and emotional context, so trainees are more prepared for when they have to carry out tasks in the real world.
Learning as a group can be more effective than solo training because everyone brings their own skills to the exercise, allowing people to contribute in different ways depending on where their strengths lie. Group activities during training are often more representative of the real world, especially if teamwork is core to a trainee’s job role; incorporating such tasks into training therefore also gives people the chance to work on their interpersonal, team, and cross-cultural skills.
The practice of applying game-playing elements to learning and training has been shown to improve motivation, indicating that trainees may learn more by completing reward-based assessments than by simply being lectured. There’s a tremendous positive boost that comes from ticking off a task or achieving an objective, and this psychology can be harnessed to create more engaging courses that motivate trainees to progress.
The vast majority of employee training sessions are delivered for a few hours, then the trainees are sent on their way. This seems to be contrary with the way we’re taught at school - practice makes perfect, remember? There’s plenty of scientific evidence to support the notion that we are better able to recall skills we’ve spent time practicing, so why should training in the workplace be any different? Utilising a training method that can also be used for repeated practice will help trainees retain the information better, and they’ll feel more confident in their own ability when they need to call upon the same skills in the real world.
Step out of the classroom
In order to increase trainee engagement, it’s important to think outside the box - the most effective training is unlikely to take the form of a dull classroom-based lecture. By considering what your trainees need to achieve and the skills they need to learn, you can choose a solution that maximises motivation and information uptake while minimising risk.
To see how we’ve helped organisations provide more engaging training with Trainingscapes, take a look at some of our case studies.
20 February 2018
|Checking out the import of the stone meshes|
Hot on the heels of our virtual midwifery project at Bournemouth University we're now using Fieldscapes with them on a new heritage research and education project.
Visitors will be able to walk virtually through the ancient Avebury Henge and stone circle, part of the Avebury and Stonehenge World Heritage Site, and experience the sights and sounds of the location as it would have been in the Neolithic period – and well before much of the site was destroyed by the building of Avebury village – thanks to the new experience we're creating with Bournemouth University. The project has been made possible through the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Next Generation of Immersive Experiences programme. The work involves a collaboration between educators and archaeologists at Bournemouth University, sound specialists Satsymph, the National Trust and ourselves.
The main aim of this project is to bring together researchers in archaeology and virtual environment evaluation with creative partners in immersive technologies, virtual soundscapes and heritage management to develop methods of effective, innovative and fruitful working. In addition, the project aims to develop and explore the potential of virtual historical places to increase engagement with, and understanding of, the development of human cultures through a sense of virtual place.
The project builds on work already done by Professor Liz Falconer on building a prototype 3D simulation of the Avebury complex. The new experience is being built with using Fieldscapes, Daden’s platform for immersive learning and training. A key feature of Fieldscapes is that subject matter experts are able to create lessons and experiences from existing 3D assets without the need for any programming skills.
The Avebury complex in North Wiltshire is one of the greatest treasures of prehistoric Britain. Built during the Neolithic period around 4500 years ago, the central monument comprises a circular bank and ditch approximately 1 kilometre in circumference, encircling an area that includes 3 ancient stone circles, and part of the more recent Avebury village. The central monument sits in a large ritual landscape that includes avenues, burial mounds and the world-famous Silbury Hill. Avebury is part of the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site.
By creating the model in Fieldscapes the team will be able to more accurately create the real-world terrain, generate better textured stones, make more use of audio, allow researchers to customise and extend experiences without specialist help, and make the experience available on a wide range of devices including smartphones, tablets and virtual reality headsets.
Bournemouth University Professor and Project Lead Liz Falconer said “We are delighted to be working with Daden, Satsymph and the National Trust on this exciting project. We will shortly be launching a blog and website where we will post regular updates on the work, and give people the opportunity to immerse themselves in Late Neolithic Wiltshire!”
Daden MD, David Burden said – “We’re really pleased and honoured to be a part of this project. We’ve always known that immersive environments can have a significant impact on how we view and understand the past, and this is an ideal opportunity to put our thoughts into practice.”
The virtual experience will be available at Avebury Visitors Centre for the public to evaluate during the summer of 2018, and there will also be an evaluation of remote use for those unable to visit the site. It is hoped that the project will lead to the development of a fuller experience made permanently available to both the public and to schools, and then to the use of the technology for other heritage sites across the globe.
We'll keep you posted on progress as the project progresses.
15 February 2018
Today we released v1.5 of Fieldscapes. This has a load of new and important features designed to make immersive training and learning experiences even more flexible, rewarding and engaging, as well as a number of more minor fixes and changes.
The highlights are listed below. v1.5 is available on all our supported platforms (Windows, Mac, Android, iOS). Full release notes are available on the wiki.
There are two new Flat Screen props in the default inventory set. Add the new Web Browser widget to these screens and they become fully capable in-world web browsers - able to view and navigate almost any web page, and even play videos! If you really want to blow your mind you can bring up a WebGL 3D environment in the browser and view it in 2D from a 3D world! You can also set the screen into multi-user mode so that all avatars in the same assignment will see the same thing - ideal for a spot of centralised learning or sharing during an exercise. The URL can be changed by a PIVOTE command from any other prop in an exercise. Future releases will allow almost any surface to become a web browser. Go to the Web Browser wiki page for more information.
Chatbots are computer programmes that simulate natural language conversation. Fieldscapes now has a Chatbot widget which enables you to use the text-chat window to chat with a chatbot provided by an external service. We will be detailing the interface in due course so you can build your own chatbots to talk to the system, and maybe even interfaces to common platforms such as Pandorabots. We have also added a default Daden NPCs inventory with some sample avatars. Future releases will add animation and walking, but you can already use existing PIVOTE commands to teleport and move (glide) the Non-Player Characters you create. Go to the Chatbot wiki page for more information.
Fieldscapes initially operated in either solo mode (you only see yourself in an exercise) or a hybrid-multi-user mode (you see other people, but when they change something in the environment - eg pick up a rock - you don't see it, the rock is still there for you to pick up). With v1.5 you can now add a "multi-user widget" to any prop which makes that prop multi-user. That means there will only be one instance of the that within an exercise, no matter how many users, and if you move or otherwise change that prop then everyone else will see it move or change to. Implementing multi-user in this way means that you only make multi-user what needs to be multi-user, which massively saves on processing and communications. As well as enabling you to implement more realistic field trips (if you want to!) it also allows you to create more collaborative exercises and also to create multi-user games- check out our VR chess game! Go to the Multi-User Widget wiki page for more information.
Editor ImprovementsBased on six months or so of using Fieldscapes in anger we have added two new features to the editor to help make exercise creation a bit easier:
- Lock a prop in place so you can't accidentally move it
- Change a prop for another one, which means you can lay out cubes initially, and then replce them once you have the proper 3D models you need
Started in 1.4.4 but finished in 1.5 we have now completely overhauled the VR UI to make VR use easier.
Enjoy the new features and do let us know how you get on!
25 January 2018
We've been speaking to Seb Groes (now Professor of English Literature, University of Wolverhampton) about chatbot related projects for a while now, and just before Christmas we hit on a great idea for a bot to support the Wolverhampton Literature Festival which runs 26-28 Jan 2018 in Wolverhampton.
With the unveiling of a new statue to him at the BBC at the end of 2017, George Orwell seemed to be everywhere on the media. And with the rise of Trump and fake-news what better time to revisit Newspeak!
The Newspeak Bot turns Twitter feeds, such as those by Donald Trump, BBC News and Number 10 Downing Street, into Newspeak, the language of control Orwell invented for the totalitarian state in his dystopian classic. We currently have a library of 596 words and phrases that are being translated into Newspeak, either using words from 1984 (eg Minitrue), or using the guidance in the Appendix to 1984 to create our own (e.g. UnEurope for Brexit).
Here are some of our favourite retweets so far:
Professor Sebastian Groes said: “Many feel we are currently living in a dystopia not far removed from Nineteen Eighty-Four. We seem to be ruled by megalomaniac world leaders of superstates at perpetual war with one another, who are producing communications radically divorced from reality. Like Big brother, some of these leaders enjoy a cult of personality; they seek, in Orwell’s words, "power entirely for its own sake. [They are] not interested in the good of others." Or we seem governed by elitist political parties whose privileged rule feels tyrannical because other voices are excluded. Just as in Orwell’s nightmare, memory is weakened by information overload and other strategies of distraction; technology thrashes coherent thought; personal and sexual relationships are randomly assembled by computers; we are merely chunks of information collected in databases.”
You can read the full Festival press release for the project at http://wolvesliteraturefestival.co.uk/newsspeak/4594185019
Seb and I are discussing the project at an event on the Festival on Friday afternoon - see above link for details.