7 October 2019

New: Immersive 3D and VR Training and Learning White Paper


An updated 2019 edition of our Immersive Environments for Training, Education and Learning White Paper has just been released, describing how immersive 3D and Virtual Reality can be used to train and educate. The 28 page paper presents some of the academic models which we use to help support the design process, considers some of the key design decisions, identifies the benefits of 3D/VR over physical training and eLearning (whilst accepting that a blended approach is probably the goal), and describes a variety of uses cases by Daden and others to show how immersive training can be used and its efficacy.

You can download a copy FOR FREE (and no sign-up required) at https://www.daden.co.uk/resources - just scroll down to the White Papers section.

BTW - the first version of this paper came out in 2014!




World Space Day at Worcester



We spent Saturday down at the Hive in Worcester for the second year exhibiting at the World Space Day event - apparently the biggest free one in the UK.

We had two Oculus Quests (plus a spare) and managed to screencast from one to a monitor, but the wifi was too ropey to get multi-user working. We had two experiences: standing and exploring on Io whilst looking at Jupiter, and standing and exploring on Phobos whilst looking at Mars.



Both headsets were active non-stop from 10am to 4pm, we didn't even get lunch and had people coming round again for a 2nd go by the end. Lots of great comments from people about how much they enjoyed the experience, and lots of parents taking photos and videos as their kids explored VR and got excited by space.



And it just so happened that the only other people there with a VR headset were RAF Fylingdales, or trials partner on an MOD project!




1 October 2019

Daden on UK Government DOS



Daden has been accepted onto the UK Government's Digital Outcomes and Specialists Framework (DOS). This means that we can bid for outcome based solutions from the UK public sector through the Government's Digital Marketpace.

So if you are a public sector provider and need help with chatbots, conversational AI, immersive training and visualisation or Virtual Reality you can now post your requirements out through DOS for us to respond to!

And remember that both Trainingscapes and Discourse are already on the Digital Marketplace if you need a ready-made cloud-based solution at: https://www.digitalmarketplace.service.gov.uk/g-cloud/search?q=daden&lot=cloud-software


AI Survey



In our MD's book on Virtual Humans there is an "AI Landscape" diagram, first shown on this blog, mapping a variety of systems against how "sophisticated" they are, and how "human" they seem.


We plotted a variety of real and imagined computer systems, robots and AI on the diagram, but that was just our assessment (and deliberately not shown above!).

Now we're giving YOU a chance to tell us where you think these systems should be on the chart, as well as how much they reflect your idea of what AI is, and what elements are important in a virtual human.

Just fill out the survey at: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/W6XM537

AND there's a chance to win a copy of the book if you leave us your email at the end of the survey.

The survey is open until 30th November, and we'll be publishing results here in Jan 2020.

We look forward to hearing your views.

23 September 2019

We're on the Midland's Innovation 50 Index!




We're pleased to announce that we've been listed on the Innovation 50 - a report ranking 50 of the Midlands’ most innovative businesses. The report has been published today by Midlands law firm Mills & Reeve as part of its biennial “Innovation 50” – a campaign that celebrates the region’s R&D royalty, industry groundbreakers and rising stars.

The report, compiled by Mills & Reeve, highlights innovative success stories from across the region and features 50 businesses across five categories: Business intelligence and performance; Communication; Development and inclusivity; Healthier, safer lives and Place and environment.

 The panel judged entrants on both their originality and impact, with the 50 highest-scoring businesses securing their place in the report. 

Steve Allen, Head of the Birmingham office at Mills & Reeve, said:

“Innovation is at the heart of what we do at Mills & Reeve. From pushing boundaries in our own products and services – earning us a place in the 2019 FT Innovative Lawyers Top 50 and wins at the Legal Week Innovation Awards – to celebrating those that are making waves in their markets, we’re on a mission to encourage and recognise forward-thinking business activity that solves problems. 

“We launched the Innovation 50 in 2017 to celebrate Midlands businesses at their most enterprising, confident and creative. Two years on, and the buzz around the region has only grown – with the quality of 2019 entries showing that we more than live up to our national reputation. From social enterprise to telecoms and business support to agritech, the 2019 Innovation 50 is leading the way with fresh ideas and standout execution. We’re proud to launch the latest report, and look forward to seeing the journeys that these businesses take in the coming years.”

Daden submitted both our work on immersive 3D and virtual reality training with Trainingscapes, and our work around virtual life coaches and mentors.

You can see who else is in the Innovation 50 by downloading the report from file:///Z:/marketing/!Corporate/PR&Media/2019/Innovation50/Mills&Reeve-Innovation50-2019reportFFV.pdf




New Infographic on VR vs Physical Learning and eLearning



Here's a new infographic from us about why you should use immersive 3D and virtual reality in comparison to physical training or conventional eLearning. Of course the bottom line is that all forms are valid - but you need to know the advantages and disadvantages of each in order to develop an appropriate blended training and education programme.

Download as PDF.



16 September 2019

New Trainingscapes Video






View on YouTube.

We've got a new video out to explain the problems with current training methods and how immersive 3D and virtual reality training, and of course Trainingscapes, can help address them as part of a blended training solution.

If you'd like a demo of Trainingscapes just get in touch by email to demo@daden.co.uk.

9 September 2019

Is VR for Training finally ready for Prime-Time?



It’s 6 years since the first Oculus Virtual Reality headset hit the streets. Since then VR has struggled to build a user base but is that now about to change?


The Hardware...


The first Oculus Rift headset was a revelation, VR was finally accessible. But the Rift, and the similar HTC Vive headsets, suffered from four big problems:


  • They needed expensive PCs to drive them
  • They needed external sensors to be set up in order to track lateral and hand movement
  • Each installation could be slightly different, making it hard to deliver a solid, replicable experience
  • Once you had your headset on it was hard to find the controllers and stay safely in your space


With the Oculus Quest it looks all of these problems have been solved:


  • The headsets work completely standalone – so no expensive PC and also a dependable platform for a consistent experience
  • There are no external sensors, the headset just uses the environment to track user head and hand controller movement
  • There is a look-through video mode so you can see to pick up controllers, and see around you when you leave the “safe zone” 


All of these combine to create the easiest and most fluid VR experience we’ve ever had!



The Software...


But hardware is nothing without good software.

Teachers, trainers and tutors have had a long history of creating their own content, from drawing on chalk boards and white boards, through Letraset on OHP slides and Roneo’d handouts, to the near ubiquity of Powerpoint.

3D and VR though has long been seen as a specialist area, where niche design agencies are commissioned to create bespoke content. But this costs, and the use of third parties means (like video) that it is hard to update content and to keep it current and tailored to specific classes.

With Trainingscapes Daden is changing that. Trainingscapes is an authoring tool for immersive and 3D content which lets tutors create their own lessons from almost any PC/Mac, even when on the train, and then deliver them to students without any need to write code or to have a deep understanding of 3D. A simple drag-and-drop, what-you-see-is-what-you-get experience makes creating VR as easy we can make it.

Whilst VR is more usable and affordable than ever we recognise that it won’t suit everyone, or every task, or every location. So it’s also important that your investment in 3D isn’t constrained to VR devices. With Trainingscapes trainees and students can access the same learning from any PC, Mac, Android or iOS device (as well as VR) getting much of the benefit of VR without the hassle. And we’re even looking at how we can extend immersive 3D and VR to visually impaired users.

So with hardware, content and accessibility all coming together, we feel that VR for training is finally ready for prime-time.

Isn’t it time that you gave it a try?

For a demonstration, or more information on Trainingscapes and how immersive 3D and Virtual Reality can help train your employees, trainees and students, contact us on 0121 250 5678 or email info@trainingscapesvr.com or check out our website at www.trainingscapesvr.com.



2 September 2019

Amazon launches Prime Video virtual reality stream



The Amazon Prime Video VR platform has been launched, giving subscribers of this service the chance to enjoy some of Amazon’s streaming content via a more immersive experience.

Prime subscribers who are interested in using the new virtual reality service will no doubt be pleased to learn that the immersive content can be viewed using a variety of VR headsets on the markets. Among these include the Oculus Quest, Oculus Go, Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR.

The Amazon Prime Video VR platform can be accessed by an app and requires one of the above listed headsets. According to Amazon, the VR headsets can be used to watch “Amazon originals, channel subscriptions, live events and more.”
Additionally, the service has also been designed to allow users to search for content using their voice. The voice search feature allows Prime streamers to quickly find titles or whole categories.

To get the service up and running, a prime member will need to pair one of the compatible headsets with the free Prime Video app. For instance, in the case of Oculus, a user would simply pair their headset with the Oculus mobile app, navigate to the Oculus store on the headset and find the Prime Video app. They then need to download and install the app, launch it and sign in with their existing Amazon account to gain access to the virtual reality feature.

Presently, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Guava Island, Good Omens, Catastrophe, Fleabag, The Grand Tour, Carnival Row, The Man in the High Castle, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan and Bosch are VR ready, according to Amazon. The company also said that it intends to expand its VR-capable library.

While Amazon customers do not require Prime subscription to watch videos in their personal library, they will need a subscription and the VR app if they wish to access the virtual reality Content. Also, the Amazon Prime Video VR app is currently available for only customers in the US and UK. 

29 August 2019

How VR can help adapt treatment to mental health conditions, potentially saving the NHS money and freeing-up therapists.



Confronting fears in virtual reality could be the future of therapy after a trial by Oxford academics found nearly 3 out of 4 patients with a serious phobia of heights could overcome it, reports the Independent.
In the study a virtual reality coach guided them around a 10-storey building with a large open atrium in the centre, gradually encouraging them to lean over the edge to rescue a cat or cross a rope bridge. Volunteers who had struggled to approach balconies or take escalators for decades had their irrational concerns banished in a matter of hours, without any input from a human therapist.

“In day-to-day life I’m much less averse to edges, and steps, and heights,” one of the trial’s participants said afterwards. “When I’ve always got anxious about an edge I could feel the adrenaline in my legs that fight/flight thing; that’s not happening as much now…I feel as if I’m making enormous progress, and feel very happy with what I’ve gained.” After his treatment, Dick, a retired paramedic whose severe fear has bothered him his entire life was able to relax looking over a shopping centre balcony, something he said “would have been impossible before”.
Acrophobia, the fear of heights, is the most commonly reported phobia with one in five people saying they have some aversion and 5 per cent of the population being clinically diagnosed.
The study recruited 100 volunteers with a formal diagnosis who had had their fear for around 30 years on average. Half of the volunteers (49) were randomly allocated to the VR group although two were unable to complete the therapy because it was too difficult for them.
In six 30-minute sessions with the headsets over two weeks they began with a VR-coach character asking them to explain what caused their fear: whether they were worried they would fall or throw themselves off the building for example, and explaining basic psychology of the condition.

They then entered the virtual building and at each of the ten floors performed tasks, starting with standing near the edge while a safety barrier moved away or dropping a ball. It then progresses to more challenging problems, such as crossing the expanse on a bridge.
After treatment 34 of the 49 participants (69%) were no longer classed as clinically phobic.
This is the first trial to show the benefits of VR-therapy on its own and the team from the University of Oxford say it could be applied to other mental health conditions and help address a critical shortage of doctors in this area.
“As seen in our clinical trial, virtual reality treatments have the potential to be effective, and faster and more appealing for many patients than traditional face-to-face therapies.” They also have the potential to be much more cost effective. While the initial scheme required months of work from programmers, actors and therapists to fine tune, the equipment is available cheaply and can be replicated widely.
Dr Mark Hayward, of the University of Sussex, said the findings were “very promising” for virtual reality, but added that in more serious mental health disorders like psychosis, these treatments still require a professional therapist’s involvement.

Source: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/virtual-reality-phobia-fear-heights-mental-health-treatment-oxford-university-lancet-a8442696.html


27 August 2019

Can virtual reality improve your sleep?


[Image: courtesy RMIT University]

People who sleep well go to bed calm, while those who don’t lie in bed anxious. But as anyone who has trouble sleeping knows, you can’t always just tell your racing brain to relax and forget about that student loan debt until tomorrow morning. So sleeping poorly can be a self-reinforced cycle. People go to bed anxious because they don’t sleep well. And they don’t sleep well because they go to bed anxious.

New research reported by Fast Company from the Exertion Games Lab at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University has found that there may be a simple solution for some people who have trouble going to sleep: giving them a chance to look at their own brains as they lie in bed.
Scientists invited 12 healthy students into their lab and placed an EEG monitor—or a device that measures electrical brain activity—on their heads. The students laid down and were fitted with a VR headset that contained an artistically interpreted visualization of those brainwaves. The more excited the person’s brain was, the more active the visualization would be, with greater contrast, color, and amplitude.
What researchers found was that after 10 minutes, subjects reported a significant drop in what’s called “pre-sleep cognitive arousal.” That means their minds were quieter and in the state we know leads to good sleep.
While the study didn’t have the subject pool or control groups necessary to be entirely certain that it was the brain visualization, and not just any old visualization, that made the difference, researcher Nathan Semertzidis tells us that findings suggest “the feedback loop” between the sleeper, the visualization, and their brain “is core to the experience.”

As one subject put it in a post-study interview, the visualization was like a tool to relax: “I was drifting off to worries, mainly about work, and [the change in visuals] brought me out of that.”

“The mechanisms which the neurofeedback element of the system operates on is closely aligned with mindfulness meditation,” says Semertzidis, since this system kept people in the moment to avoid rumination and created a sense of calm just as meditation does. “Considering this, it would be possible to achieve similar benefits by performing mindfulness meditation before sleep to move the mind away from focusing on stressors which might otherwise hinder your ability to sleep. However, the downside to this is that mindfulness meditation requires a lot of practice before its benefits can be properly felt.”

Source: https://www.fastcompany.com/90381066/scientists-discover-a-counterintuitive-trick-to-falling-asleep-faster

22 August 2019

How UK companies are using virtual reality and augmented reality.




Advances in the tech, the increasing evidence of its benefits, and the growing availability of affordable head-mounted displays (HMD) has led ResearchAndMarkets.com to predict that the market for VR and AR will grow from $7.9 billion in 2018 to $44.7 billion by 2024. These are some examples of the business using VR recently examined by ComputerWorld.

Thomas Cook
Travel Company Thomas Cook produced a range of 360 VR films that holidaymakers at Thomas Cook stores can use to explore potential destinations before booking. "Thomas Cook was the first travel company to deliver in-store virtual reality to customers, we've been nominated for numerous innovation awards, and we've seen a good conversion rate for bookings made after viewing the VR content," Lynne Slowey, head of digital content at Thomas Cook, said in a statement.
ASOS
ASOS has worked with AR firm HoloMe to create a "Virtual Catwalk" that gives shoppers an augmented reality experience of clothes being modelled in their own homes. Users of the online shopping giant's app can point their cameras at a flat surface and click a button to see a 3D model walk along the surface in the clothes of their choice. "By allowing the consumer to bring mobile shopping into their own physical space, we can create a more intimate buying experience," said Janosch Amstutz, CEO at HoloMe. "We are excited to see how our technology can be used as a new way to communicate to the customer."

Newcastle Hospital

Newcastle Hospital is using VR to prepare surgeons for difficult procedures. The system uses haptic devices to replicate the use of medical instruments and data analytics to provide objective measures of surgical skills. "We bought their system to train our orthopaedic trainees to be able to do minor procedures in knee surgery," Dr Naeem Soomro, director of robotic surgery at Newcastle Hospital, told Computerworld UK. "What we hope is that once they are able to do that, they can move on to doing operations on cadavers and in real life much more quickly."

Jaguar Land Rover

Designers and engineers at Jaguar Land Rover have been developing new vehicles in VR environments that allow them to visualise the vehicle in 3D. Staff at the Virtual Reality Centre in the company's Gaydon Design and Engineering Complex use the simulations to view full-size models of individual components or a whole vehicle, which helps the company to optimise the manufacturing and design process.  "With the centre now delivering significant results, Virtual Reality work has helped speed-up the development time of the all-new Jaguar XJ and next year's Range Rover Evoque," wrote Andy Richardson, manager of the Jaguar Land Rover Simulation Group in the UK.

BAE Systems
BAE Systems is integrating AR into the bridges of naval ships to give officers responsible for the ship's safety the ability to work outside of the operations room and still see tactical situation data and other vital information from anywhere on the ship. The project is part of a £20 million investment in AR and VR applications that strengthen the critical systems that give warships their combat capability.  "These technologies have the potential to transform maritime warfare and greatly increase the situational awareness and efficiency of crews on board Royal Navy ships," said Frank Cotton, head of technology for combat systems at BAE Systems. "Our combat systems expertise and investment in future technologies will ensure we continue to deliver innovative capabilities to navies."  

      

19 August 2019

Can Virtual Reality Improve Basketball Players’ Decision Making?





The Guardian reports that scientists from Canada published an intriguing study this month about how virtual reality could improve basketball player’s decision making. The starting basis for the academics at Bishop’s University was that in many sports, teams and players constantly study videos of themselves, their opponents and potential “plays” to learn & improve. However, they wanted to find out if using virtual reality headsets could improve decision making over and above using video analysis on a computer screen because the whole process was more immersive.
To do this the academics took 27 university-level basketball players, split them into three groups: one that used VR headsets in which viewers could see a full 360-degree scene which adjusted in real time; another that watched videos of specific plays; and a third control group.

To start with all players did a number of pre-tests on a real basketball court to assess their decision-making skills. Then they underwent four days of training in the laboratory, with the VR and video group both watching the same 200-play custom videos over four days (80 of which were shown twice, and 40 once) while the control group watched 15 minutes of college basketball.

At the end of the each clip, participants were asked “Where would you move to best help your team succeed in a scoring a basket?” – and then given 10 seconds to decide whether to move left, right, forward or stay put, before being ranked based on their decision.
After four days, all 27 players were tested on a real court with nine other players, who went through a series of plays. At the end of each one participants were asked to move to a location on the court that would best help their team score points, either by receiving a pass or moving to the best position. As in the training sessions, there had the same four choices.
Some of the plays were “trained” – that is, the participants had seen them before either on virtual reality or on video. Others, however, were “untrained” – and had not been seen in the training sessions.
The results were fascinating. Unsurprisingly for the trained plays, virtual reality and video groups “significantly outperformed the control group”, with the VR group attaining 79.5% accuracy, the video group 73.2% and the control group third on 57.5%.
But the biggest imbalance came when scientists looked at untrained plays. Here the virtual reality group “significantly outperformed” those in the video and control groups – with a 78.9% decision accuracy score compared with 60.9% and 60.2%.
So why did the virtual reality group do so much better? The likeliest reason, the researchers believe, is the videos presented in the VR headset looked closer to what would be perceived on a real basketball court and therefore were more immersive. But whatever the reason, they believe: “The superior gains obtained with virtual reality simulation combined with the enhanced accessibility of this technology make it a very appealing strategy to further optimise the development of athletes.” This therefore could lead to new training regimes for athletes using the VR headsets.
Source: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2019/jul/15/artificial-intelligence-poker-basketball-virtual-reality

See also: https://www.omnivirt.com/blog/virtual-reality-nba/


15 August 2019

Trainingscapes and Discourse on GCloud


We're pleased to announce that Trainingscapes, our immersive 3D/VR authoring and delivery system, and Discourse, our on and off-line chatbot authoring system have both been accepted onto the UK Government's GCloud 11 catalogue. This will make it easier for UK public sector organisations to buy these services and work with us to increase the use of VR and conversational AI in the public sector.

If you have a GCloud account you can find our services at: https://www.digitalmarketplace.service.gov.uk/g-cloud/search?q=daden&lot=cloud-software

If you have any questions about these services or  specific GCloud details then please drop us a line at info@daden.co.uk.

8 August 2019

David speaking at the BrumAI Meetup in September



David will be speaking at the BrumAI Meetup in September. Details are:

Tuesday, 24 September 2019
6:30 pm to 8:30 pm

Aston University Lecture Theatre MB419
Aston University Main Building · Birmingham

Register at https://www.meetup.com/en-AU/brum-ai/events/263802176/

David will speak about the work that his company Daden has done with Chatbots since the early 2000s, and where he sees chatbots fitting into a bigger picture of virtual humans and artificial intelligence. In particular David will talk about Daden's work on virtual personas and semantic knowledge graphs the role they could play in corporate knowledge management, and the ethical issues they raise as pre-cursors to a form of digital immortality.

6 August 2019

Virtual Reality Glove allows wearers to grasp and 'feel' digital objects, which could revolutionise gaming & remote surgery.

A glove that lets users 'feel' virtual reality objects as if they were the real thing is set to revolutionise gaming. Allowing players to touch — as well as see — the action had been a development that virtual reality technology has until now failed to satisfactorily overcome. 


Existing glove-like systems that provide physical feedback had either provided less-than-realistic vibrations or have been bulky and impractical.

Korean scientists have come up with an alternative — a fine and lightweight mitt made from silicone that expands to allow users to experience pressure. With the glove, gamers can interpret the size and shape of a virtual object — even though such are just computer-generated simulations.

Designed by Korea Institute of Science and Technology roboticist Youngsu Cha and colleagues, the VR glove has sensors on the thumb, index and middle fingers and can fake the sensation of handling, prodding or stroking a host of different materials.

The device allows the wearer to manipulate a virtual hand to pick up an object in virtual reality and feel its shape. As you move your hand towards the virtual object, your finger movements are detected by sensors in
the glove. Data from the sensors are transferred via Bluetooth to a software programme that recreates the corresponding movements of a virtual hand on a screen.

Taking hold of the virtual object triggers switches, or actuators, made out of a soft and lightweight form of silicone developed by Dr Cha and colleagues. The switches receive a signal from the simulated environment which causes air inside them to move, expanding the silicone in their centre.

The device could be used for a myriad of applications — from games, to remote surgery and even creating hyper-realistic recreations of ancient civilisations that users could tangibly interact with.

'There are many gloves for virtual reality. However, their feedback is based on vibration. Mine is based on pressing,' said Dr Cha. 'For example, when a user grabs a virtual object, while conventional ones give vibration feedback, the proposed device pushes the skin of the fingertip.' 'It is close to the real situation.'

There are other glove designs that offer pressure feedback, Dr Cha noted. All the designs work by using sensors that detect the wearer’s movements and actuators that provide physical feedback via mechanical stimuli, such as vibration. 'But their actuators are motorised and have a rigid structure. So, they are bulky and heavy.'

'Ours is lightweight — enabling the wearer to feel the actual shape of an array of virtual objects.' Dr Cha says his model should be available to buy on the high street 'within a few years.'

This has implications for Daden as we could optimise the technology to further the 3D immersive learning and training experiences.

31 July 2019

AtmosVR Event





We are pleased to announce that Daden have been invited to the ‘Reality in Virtual and Augmented worlds, Present and Future States’ event hosted by AtmosVR, as part of Birmingham Tech Week on Thursday 10th October 2019. 
Birmingham Tech Week is a collaborative series of events taking place across the City (and wider Greater Birmingham Region) between October 7th – 11th 2019. The week will highlight Birmingham’s burgeoning Tech Scene and focus on a number of innovative topics. AtmosVR presents a day of virtual and augmented reality discussions, networking and live demonstrations to offer attendees an insight into present status and future developments in these areas.

Daden will be at the event to showcase our products and the uses of them for key industries. If your interested in coming along and taking a look, we'd love to see you. 

Sign up here https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/reality-in-virtual-and-augmented-worlds-present-and-future-states-tickets-64627982034?ref=ecount


24 July 2019

My Work Experience at Daden


My name is Moonis, I am a student from Bishop Vesey's Grammar School at Birmingham and for the last 2 weeks I have been here at Daden helping develop a project utilising the built-in speech recognition, text-to-speech and video APIs in the browser to produce an interactive experience for users, responding to questions asked by an animated figure.

Over these two weeks, the work has helped to develop my knowledge of both asynchronous JavaScript and NodeJs programming. I was also able to learn more about how a small business operates and the format of both company meetings and proposals for clients. I also had an amazing hands-on experience of the fairly recently released Oculus Quest technology.



More than anything else, however, I believe that these last 2 weeks were great because of the people, whom I have enjoyed being working with. There is a very pleasant atmosphere at Daden and you can tell the team truly take interest in their projects.
I enjoyed my time and felt that I was in good hands here at Daden. I would certainly be willing to come here again in the future.

18 July 2019

Trainingscapes at the Future Education Trust for Leadership Summer Symposium


We were delighted to be invited by our client Bournemouth University to help showcase the work we are doing for them in VR training for midwives and nurses at the Future Education Trust for Leadership (FELT) Summer Symposium on "How technology will change teaching and education" held at the UK Parliament yesterday.

We'd rashly promised that we'd have Trainingscapes working on Oculus Quest for the event and we managed it, just! Denyse (left of picture, with Policy Connect CEO Jonathan Shaw trying the system out) brought BU's shiny new Quest and we brought 2 of our own (and a third turned up at the office today). Space-wise we only had two running in the end, but this is a far cry from the Rift demo's we've been doing as the Quests need minimal set-up, provide a stable environment, lots of good UI (showing real-world imagery whilst you define the guardian space and find the controllers) and all of a sudden VR is easy and you can afford to have multiple people try it at once!

Kneeling down to engage with a virtual 9 year old at eye-level
The content of the main symposium gave some interesting perspectives on technology in schools, FE and HE. Highlights for me were:

  • Excellent chairing by Paralympian Lord Chris Holmes, and highlighting the ongoing need for assisstive technology, and including the best use of Peter Gabriel song (and album) titles ever
  • Paul McKean from JISC providing a great future "day in the life" highlighting the role of tech, and also the fact that most tech mentioned is already in use somewhere (the old Gibson quote about the future is here already, its just not evenly distributed yet). Also some interesting thoughts on micro-credentials (mini/module-level qualifications) and how to aggregate those in the future.
  • Maren Deepwell from ALT talking about how to make users of learning technology into critical users, so that they are aware of potential issues of bias from AI etc
  • Deborah Millar from the Grimsby Institute of FE/HE talkign about their "Level Up" programme to upskill teachers in both LT and productivity and communications tools.
  • Dick Palmer from TEN Group and FELTAG talking about how past visions haven't panned out (must look up the Learning 2020 one he mentioned), and the opportunities for new tech in the land-based industries (didn't have time to show him our virtual cows!)
  • Interesting questions from the floor about personalisation of future LT, and the lack of skills in the current workforce and coming out of institutions in edutech learning design and authoring.


All in all a great day out!


10 July 2019

Office4AI Ministerial Roundtable Discussion

On the 24th June 2019 Daden  attended an AI Roundtable Discussion with Margot James MP, Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, on the Industrial Strategy AI Sector Deal Anniversary. The event was held to help the Office for AI plan its Year Two strategy.

The Roundtable explored how Government and Industry can build on the successes of the AI Sector Deal.  The AI Sector Deal which aims to realise AI potential in the UK with a support package of up to £0.95 billion for the sector including improving institutions that support AI, building a skilled workforce and stimulating access to data. The Roundtable included a discussion on regional opportunities and involved participants based in the Midlands from the tech sector, academia and public sector.

Topics discussed included issues around AI development in the UK, in particular the conflict between the need to access large amounts of data versus the users right to privacy. The need for data lakes (vast quantities of data stored in it’s raw format) from which AI can learn was stressed and that the time to begin capturing the data is now! 

It was also good to see some of the AI projects that local businesses are working on as well as being able to demonstrate the A.I. technologies that Daden are working on such as Virtual Life coaches and Virtual Personas.

All in all a valuable opportunity for us to contribute to these national AI initiatives, and we were honoured to have been asked to take part.




8 July 2019

Daden selected by Thales as a Digital Maritime Pioneer




Daden are proud to have been selected as one of the Digital Maritime Pioneers by Thales.

Digital Transformation is changing the way both Defence and commercial organisations are operating in the maritime, land and air environments. Artificial Intelligence, Machine speed decision making and Virtual, Augmented and Mixed reality visualisation tools will all be part of Thales' digital offers in the future. Thales has been looking to rapidly assess these new technologies and build collaborative relationships with best of breed partners from wider markets, and to that end ran a Maritime Pioneers day in June at the Digital Catapult in London.

Thales reviewed 21 applications from some of the UK’s brightest and best start-ups and scale-ups in digital technologies, down selecting the six that responded most closely to the criteria, and whose products and expertise impressed the selection panel the most - one of whom was Daden!

Our pitch was based around the AViD project that we did for MOD DASA last year, which showed both 3D/VR subjective visualisation of maritime, aviation and -social media data, and conversational AI support in both the watch-keeping task and in controlling the visualisation environment.



We look forward to networking with the other winners and exploring with Thales how digital technologies such as AI, Augmented/Virtual Reality and Mixed Reality can be applied to maritime operations management.

23 May 2019

Oculus Quest - First Impressions



We’ve just taken delivery of our first Oculus Quest. This could actually be the “breakthrough” VR headset we’ve all be waiting for. Like last year’s Oculus Go it’s a completely self-contained device – no slipping in your phone, no wires to connect to a big expensive PC, it’s just the headset. You use your ordinary phone to control what software is loaded on it – but that just Wifi connects when you want to make a change. The big step up from the Go though is that the Quest has 6 degrees of freedom tracking – this means that not only does it track you as you look around, up and down, it also tracks you as you peer forwards, lean back – or even walk around the room. It does all this through hidden cameras in the headset which “map” the room in 3D (similar to the Hololens), and then track your movement within it – so no need for those Oculus desk sensors or Vive tripods. Graphically it looks fine unless you’re a real purist, and it takes ordinary glasses better than previous models.


Of course the proof will come when we use it for more than games, and the team is already hard at work getting it hooked up to Trainingscapes and Fieldscapes. One key question is how well it works when you have multiple users, each with a Quest headset, in the same room – all not only not trying to bump into other people but also not confusing the tracking. Another potential issue is any hurdles on getting Trainingscapes onto the Quest store – but that should keep us busy over the summer!

For clients Oculus Quest really could be the best solution out there. Slip-in phone devices have never been popular outside of schools, and PC+headset solutions have been too expensive and too cumbersome to deploy. But with Quest you could easily have a box of 6 or 12, turn up at a site or office, hand them out and let training commence!

16 May 2019

Virtual Humans Book Launch Report



We had a great (if late) launch for David's Virtual Humans book in Trinity College, Oxford on a lovely sunny Tuesday this week (hence the dark photos in a wood panelled college room!). David gave a brief overview of the history of the book and then there was a fascinating panel discussion chaired by Dame Glenys Stacey (HM Chief Inspector of Probation)(busy week for her!), followed by insightful questions from the floor before we all broke for drinks.

Some brief highlights from the panel session:

Carl Ohman (from Professor Luciano Floridi team at Oxford Internet Institute) spoke about “virtual humans as a new member of the human family” and  problem that there are already too many ethical frameworks for ethical AI ( just like technical standards!).

Sir Anthony Seldon (Vice-Chancellor of The University of Buckingham):

  • talked about AI as being a potentially bigger issue for the future than global warming
  • discussed the idea that humanness/consciousness was the residue once everything else has been transferred to the computer
  • and said that "every Vice Chancellor should get this book” - couldn't agree more!


Dr Elaine Kasket (author of All the Ghosts in the Machine: Illusions of Immortality in the Digital Age) talked about:

  • The After Wife by Cass Hunter and its exploration of the creation of a virtual human as a transitional grief object
  • The difference between passive, one way, digital grief entities (such as Facebook memorial pages) and more interactive or even active types (such as the Digital Immortals discussed in the book)
  • How some people see the commercial opportunities in Digital Grief - "100% of people die, so just think of the market” - talking about the digital grief industry, and questioning the various motivations within it


Dame Glenys Stacey gave a very favourable review of the book and was particularly struck by the 3 challenges identified: humanness (actually the easier one!), general purposeness and sentience - and the books accessibility to the interested lay reader.


Sir Anthony Seldon addressing the audience

Questions from the floor included:

  • Catfishing by digital immortals
  • AI ethical frameworks
  • The lack of chatbot/AI education in schools & FE/HE
  • When do these debates move out of academic/intellectual circles?
  • How the church confessional model relates to our engagement with chatbots and the objectivisation of roles
  • The potential abuse of power and virtual humans by those with malevolent intent, and
  • A Transhumanist perspective on what our lives will be like dealing with virtual humans #AI


Our thanks to all our friends, colleagues and interested readers and researchers who attended.

---

Maggi and David


We've also been sent this review  and photo of the event by Professor Liz Gilchrist ( Academic Head of Psychology, Criminology and the Centre for Violence Prevention (CVP) at the University of Worcester).


Professor Maggi Savin-Baden, School of Education held a book launch and signing of her co-authored book, ‘Virtual Humans’ David Burden, Daden Limited and Maggie Savin-Baden, University of Worcester, published by Taylor & Francis, New York , yesterday at Trinity College Oxford.

The event at the Oxford College included a book signing and a debate across a range of academics interested in various aspects of this area within AI, debating the issue: virtual humans a force for good or evil?

Those involved ranged from those studying chat bots, those interested in posthumous virtual identities, theological considering the implications for definitions of humanness and senior academics considering why academia has not engaged with this topic more fully, given the likely impact virtual humans will have on us in the future. The debate covered ethics, philosophy and educational policy and prompted a great deal of deep thinking.   

David and Maggi’s book was described as  a comprehensive and appealing read and summarised as  explaining the present situation in relation to virtual humans and making a good job of signalling the future, including posing some thought provoking questions.  It is said to be written for the intelligent lay reader – and includes a definition of a virtual human, considers the relationship between virtual humans and artificial intelligence more broadly and highlights 3 big issues around virtual humans improving humanness, contributing to increased intelligence, but questioned whether virtual humans could realise ‘sentience’ and achieve full consciousness.

Sir Anthony Seldon the Vice Chancellor of Buckingham  University commended the book and suggested that all VCs across universities in Britain should have a copy of this book to inform their thinking of where we should looking to move in HE….






2 May 2019

Virtual Humans Launch Event



We're having a somewhat belated launch event for David's book on Virtual Humans on 14th May at Trinity College Oxford, 3pm-5pm.  It will feature a panel discussion on Virtual Humans with Sir Anthony Seldon (Vice-Chancellor of The University of Buckingham), Dr Elaine Kasket (author of All the Ghosts in the Machine: Illusions of Immortality in the Digital Age) and Carl Ohman (from Professor Luciano Floridi team at Oxford Internet Institute). The debate will be chaired by Dame Glenys Stacey (HM Chief Inspector of Probation). Plus drinks and nibbles!

If you'd like to come then please sign up at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/virtual-humans-book-launch-tickets-57426124083

4 April 2019

Research on a New Chatbot to Help Support Military Personnel



*** PRESS RELEASE ***

Military personnel may one day be able to get personalised day to day support for their busy lives thanks to a new project being delivered in response to a MOD Funding Competition. The project is being led by us in collaboration with Altruist Enterprises and the Institute for Employment Studies. Daden and Altruist are both based at the Innovation Birmingham Campus. The competition was run under the auspices of the Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA), sponsored by the Defence People (which sets the strategy for developing a capable and motivated military and civilian workforce within the MOD). The initial contract is worth £247,720.

The project aims to develop a mobile chatbot application with the intention of trialling it at RAF Fylingdales in North Yorkshire. In creating the application and content the team are working with the military users and managers to identify what support is needed, and also what other information and functionality would encourage personnel to use the application on a regular basis. Military life can require high levels of resilience from Forces’ personal with lengthy separations, frequent moves, deployments, shift-patterns and operational duties all adding to the load.  It is hoped that the app will help to reduce the friction of day-to-day military life, improve mental and physical health, well-being and resilience, support personal planning and development, and ensure that military personnel are more informed, motivated and fulfilled.

The app, which builds on previous work by us and the University of Worcester for the MOD, is designed to work on personal mobile phones and provide personnel with quick, direct, 24/7 access to information and support resources to help both them and their families. The app can also take a more pro-active role, offering up suggestions for short training sessions to help build resilience and well-being, to improve sleep, to manage stress, and to plan future personal development and career progression. It is not intended that the app does everything itself, rather it helps signpost users to trusted and appropriate web and mobile apps and resources, and of course to human support when that is the best way to deal with an issue.

RAF Fylingdales Station Commander Wg Cdr Alun Walton said "The virtual life coaching application will allow RAF Fylingdales serving military and families to engage with different aspects of modern life by embracing ever-present technology. This is a real step in the right direction for welfare and resilience and we look forward to contributing to the development of the application for all of Defence in the future."

David Burden, Managing Director of Daden Limited said, “Having something you can turn to quickly, at any time of the day or night, to get some advice about something that you might not right now want to speak to  another human about can be of real benefit. But from our work in this area so far we’ve been impressed at how mature users can be – recognising when a chatbot system like this is of real help, and when they really are better off speaking to a human.” 

Katie Buckingham, Managing Director of Altruist Enterprises, said “We are very pleased to be involved in such an exciting and worthwhile project. There has been a rising trend in the rate of UK Armed Forces personnel assessed with a mental disorder over the past 10 years. Our team of mental health and training specialists, in partnership with Daden and the IES, aim to provide individuals with the tools to build resilience and maintain positive well-being through the many challenges of military life.”

Dr Alison Carter, Principal Research Fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies, said “IES cross-sector research found that today’s job entrants - younger people in particular – are comfortable consuming information through technology, automation and chatbots, being handed over to a person when required. This already happens during recruitment and learning, and can be easily applied to cultivating better working lives.  IES is delighted to support this project which we expect will make a positive contribution to the wellbeing and engagement of military personnel.”

The current development phase of the project runs until May 2019, when hopefully approval will be given to continue to the live trial at RAF Fylingdales in the second half of 2019. As with much current MOD funded work there is also a real interest how such developments can also be used in the non-military domain to help grow UKplc. As such we are also developing a “civilian” demonstrator of the concept and talking to business and other organisations about how this could help support their own employees, staff and even students.