Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Augmented Planet - Augmented Reality Conference

On 17th November I attended Augmented Planet's fifth conference, this year held at Google Campus, London (http://events.augmentedplanet.com/).  The conference focused on all things Augmented Reality and there were presentations from hardware (Optinvent, Vuzix) and software providers (Wikitude),  thought leaders and pioneers (Ken Blakeslee) as well as examples of practice in Education (University of Sheffield, Leeds College of Music, Bart's Health).

I have had an interest in Augmented Reality (AR)  for the last few years, when I was initially inspired by the potential it offered to engage learners and support both situational and active learning. In my previous role at City University London, I received funding from JISC to run a project that involved embedding the use of AR into the curriculum with health students. This included augmenting a clinical skills learning laboratory and developing an augmented public health walk. You can find out more about this project here: http://blogs.city.ac.uk/care. If you are new to AR and are not too sure what it is, the video proposal for the project should give you a bit more insight: http://blogs.city.ac.uk/care/about/.

As part of the conference I was invited to organise a session focusing on the applications of Augmented Reality in Education. I began the session by providing an overview of AR projects taking place within the sector, placing a particular emphasis of the projects taking place at the University of Sheffield (view slideshare), I also invited the following speakers to talk about the exciting projects that they have been working on:
A big theme at Augmented Planet was wearables and smart glasses (such as Google Glass - this year 10 new smart glasses have launched). There was less emphasis on using AR with mobile devices, which has often been the case in previous AR conferences that I have attended. A recent report by Ori Inbar (co-founder of Augmented Reality.org) predicts that the Smart Glasses market will soar towards 1 billion shipments near the end of the decade. The report also highlights the different headsets that currently exist and who the current market leaders are.

There were a number of comments that:
  • Wearables need to look better.  Smart glasses were described as being 'stuck in a paradigm prison. No matter how hard we [hardware providers] try, people still end up looking like cyborgs.'
  • We are in the ‘trough of disillusionment' (as highlighted by Gartner's hype cycle). With references made to mocking campaigns such as the kick-starter project Faux Glass and articles referring to the demise of Google Glass (e.g. Has Google Glass Shattered Already?, The end nigh for Google Glass)
  • There were conflicting opinions as to whether the technology was quiet there and lot of ideas about how it will get better
  • Privacy issues, safety and  appropriate use of glass (e.g. using Glass in the toilet)
  • Before they were even available AR headsets provoked a backlash, with some bars banning them and the formation of the ‘Stop the Cyborgs' campaign. David Wood (slideshare) spoke passionately about the divide that technology can create between the rich and the poor, the need to expect a hostile reception towards wearable devices and the importance of addressing these issues early on.
One of my favourite talks was from Shafi Ahmed, Cancer Keyhole Surgeon and Associate Dean at Bart's who talked about his use of Google Glass (Glass) to live stream surgery. Whilst the primary aim was to enhance student learning as part of the curriculum, they also made the stream available to everyone globally. Here are some points that Shafi made:
  • The use of Glass captured the imagination of the public that were able to watch the feed
  • Attracted people around the globe (132 countries and 1100 cities) and promoted the teaching taking place at Bart's (there was lots of media coverage)
  • Twitter  hashtag #glasssurgery was used
  • Shafi was able to verbally respond to questions that were displayed on Google Glass during surgery
  • Infrastructure, sound quality, video quality were all OK
  • Battery life quite poor
  • There are no issues with confidentiality if the patient is happy to be filmed. Shafi is currently creating guidelines with the department of health to support other hospitals wishing to engage in similar activities
  • Universally students liked the use of Glass
  • Students have been a key part of this project and upcoming projects include the use of Glass to develop surgical skills.
All in all a great event and some useful insights, especially since there is a growing interest around the possibilities that AR might offer here at the University of Sheffield.

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