Monday, 18 August 2014

Google Cardboard and Virtual Reality

I took delivery of my Google Cardboard last week. It cost me £20 for the ready to assemble kit and took about 10 minutes to put together.

If you've not heard of Google Cardboard it is just a cheep case that you can put a compatible Android phone into. It allows to use the free Google Cardboard app to experience something approaching virtual reality, and helps if you want to develop for it.

VR is not likely to impact mainstream HE teaching and learning very soon; Gartner's 2014 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies has it down as 5-10 years before it reaches the Plateau of Productivity. Facebook spent $2 billion on the Oculus Rift headset, with Mark Zuckerberg seeing it as a potential platform of tomorrow and there has also been a lot of interest in gaming and virtual world circles about the Oculus Rift.

I've only played with Google Cardboard so far, and not tried to develop apps that use it. Despite the fact that a smartphone screen isn't designed for low-latency VR and will lead to nausea for most people if used for very long, I enjoyed many of the available experiences.

Currently the Google Cardboard app contains several experiments built in:

Tour Guide - This is a tour of the Palace of Versailles. It is a reasonable attempt at making you feel as if you are there, but it obviously doesn’t give the understanding of space and moving through the palace like a 3D representation might.

Exhibit - 3D models - Allows you to look at and around a 3D model but not as if it was at a certain spot. Doesn’t quite feel right.

Windy Day - Cartoon in a 3D environment. I really like how this feels to watch.

Google Earth - Fly through an environment in Google Earth, controlled by the direction in which you are facing. Quite effective, but was one of the more nausea inducing uses for me.

YouTube - Watch a selection of the most popular videos. Feels a little like watching a cinema screen from too close.

Photo Sphere - These can be taken with devices running Android 4.2 or later, or at a higher quality using a professional standard camera and Photoshop. Quite an effective, fun use, and I suppose you could let people experience your 360 degree holiday snaps.

Street Map - Travel through a city and keep stopping to look at it in 360 degrees. This was the most motion sickness inducing use for me.

There are also a few other experiments to see online.

I'm sure it's not anything like using some of the VR headsets that are out there, but it's much more affordable if you just want to experience something approaching VR and spend a little time thinking about potential uses.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Gartner’s Hype Cycles

Gartner’s Hype Cycles are useful tools for informally thinking about new technologies. They helps remind us that mass hype and ‘inflated expectations’, and then the reaction to the hype and dip into the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’, probably occur with every new technology.

As Learning Technologists we want to try and see through the hype to understand if a technology is going to be useful in their context and at what point in time. We also need to share the insight given us by the hype cycle with the academics and managers we work with. If we don’t we will constantly be working with new technologies that are at the ‘Peak of Inflated Expectations’, whether they are suitable or not, before dumping them in the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’ for whatever is the next flavour of the month. Perhaps that is a contributing factor to consider when thinking about why few innovations in educational technology go beyond the pilot stage.

The Hype Cycle can also, to some extent, give us an idea of when technologies might be suitable for mainstream adoption and so what is worth exploring in more detail now. On the Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 2014 we see Speech Recognition and In-Memory Analytics marked as having less that than 2 years before they reach the plateau of productivity. Marked as 2-5 years away include Gesture Control, NFC, and 3D Scanners. 5-10 years away are Autonomous Vehicles and Augmented Reality. Finally the group of technologies more than 10 years from the plateau include Brain-Computer Interfaces and Volumetric and Holographic Displays.