Validating Augmented Reality at International Forum on IN4.0 Technologies Applicable to the Maritime Sector

In mid-April Simvirtua received an email from Jamie Meehan, Senior Researcher at V-LINC a CIT research group that informs and develops policy recommendations through mapping, visualising and analysing the strength of key relationships within Cluster Ecosystems.

Jamie suggested that Simvirtua would be suited to participation in the EU Interreg Atlantic Area project IN 4.0 which is aimed at enhancing the competitiveness of companies in the naval sector through their adaptation to the production model of Industry 4.0. The project has also been developed to create synergies and collaborations between firms involved in the marine sector in Ireland, UK, France, Spain, and Portugal.

Jamie proposed Simvirtua’s participation because Augmented Reality is one of 5 technologies prioritized by early research. We were invited to join a panel to validate these research conclusions in Vigo, Spain on May 14th, as part of the “International Forum on 4.0 Technologies, Applicable to the Shipbuilding Sector”.

It was great to share the panel table with Irish start-up UtilityAR's CTO Seadna Smallwood, at far right of photo.

It was great to share the panel table with Irish start-up UtilityAR's CTO Seadna Smallwood, at far right of photo.

In advance of the forum Simvirtua was sent research outputs so we could form an opinion based on our experience. The validation forum itself had 2 parts - (1) A presentation of the main results by the project partners to the general public, and (2) A dialogue among experts, project partners and representatives from shipbuilding/maritime sector companies through round tables.

On the day we discussed the viability, pros, cons, and real use cases relevant to implementing the 5 technologies identified as having the greatest level of readiness to be imminently adapted and implemented in shipbuilding and in the maritime sector in general.

  • Artificial Vision

  • Augmented Reality

  • Monitoring

  • Full/Extended automation

  • Collaboration Platforms

The objective of the validation forum was to achieve a dialogue regarding these 5 technologies and their potential for adaptation to the shipbuilding/maritime sector. Representatives from shipbuilding/maritime companies, as well as the general public, were also represented at the round tables, in the beautiful Teatro Afundación, a late 19th century architectural gem in the centre of Vigo which certainly added a touch of glamour to the occasion.

Teatro Afundación, Vigo. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Teatro Afundación, Vigo. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Simvirtua greatly enjoyed participating on the validation panel during which we learned a lot about the shipbuilding sector and the ways in which Augmented Reality is being embraced by some parts of the industry while not yet in others. It was good to observe down to earth realism regarding the challenges ahead but our sense is that there was enough willingness and leadership in the room to make dramatic changes happen within the sector through the adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies.

VR goes big for Live Events and Webinars in 2019

For me the most important VR advance of 2018 was undoubtedly the Oculus Go. Finding a real sweet-spot in quality and price-point it created a super low friction, pick-up-and-go tetherless experience that is bringing new people in VR in droves. A recent report by International Data Corporation (IDC) has shown a resurgence in VR, with the market returning to growth in Q3 2018. Much of that is down to the Go.

As someone who has spent a lot of time in Microsoft's AltspaceVR lately I've noticed that the majority of people attending events seem to be using that headset. Recently I 'bumped into' a pastor in his 70s and an artist in his 60s who were both new to VR, thanks to the ease-of-use Go. So it's fair to say that with this device Oculus has greatly broadened the reach of Virtual Reality.

My dashing avatar at a well attended workshop in AltspaceVR

My dashing avatar at a well attended workshop in AltspaceVR

The selfie above shows my dashing avatar along 27 others (all controlled by real people) at a workshop in AltspaceVR a few weeks ago. The really impressive thing about this experience was how multiple overlapping conversations were perfectly intelligible thanks to the well projected spatial and proximal audio. Traditional (video) conferencing just can't match this. And again most attendees were using the Oculus Go.

As impressive as 27 avatars are for a VR event, the number pales in comparison to what High Fidelity has been achieving lately. That social VR platform saw over 700 visitors from 45 countries join their October load test, during which they reached peak concurrency of 423 people! Not only that but these concurrency numbers keep growing at a phenomenal rate as seen in the chart below -

Impressive avatar concurrency growth in High Fidelity

Impressive avatar concurrency growth in High Fidelity

High Fidelity's ambition is to "build a technology that will reach Internet-scale and someday support a billion users." Which might almost be laughable were it not for the fact that founder Philip Rosedale was also the creator of Second Life, the pioneering virtual world that begot a massive hype cycle several years before the emergence of consumer VR. And is still going strong!

One objective of these large-scale load tests has been to demonstrate the potential of using VR for big events with lots of people/avatars. This latest version of the High Fidelity server can support enough people for a big company meeting, live music events, conferences, festivals, talks, large classrooms, or whatever else you can dream up.
— Philip Rosedale

If the most significant hardware advance of 2018 was the Oculus Go, the most exciting announcement for 2019 was certainly the Oculus Quest. Heralding the arrival of true (6-degrees-of-freedom or 6-DoF tracked) VR, in a cable-free standalone device, the Quest is a massive breakthrough for the industry, indeed a breakthrough we've all been waiting for since consumer VR arrived in 2014. Despite the higher price point I'm convinced it'll be an even bigger success than the Go.

Why? Well, spend a short amount of time in AltspaceVR and you'll see how people using high-end VR rigs, with full 6-DoF tracking and two hand controllers can express a huge amount of emotion through the mirrored body language and gesticulation of their avatars. I've watched presenter avatars pacing in front of their slides, craning their necks to read from the top, circling diagrams with their arms, and swinging around to point out precisely who in the audience they'll take the next question from. Exactly as they would in real life. Which makes the format utterly more compelling than any webinar I've ever 'attended'.

At one AltspaceVR event I went to a woman in the audience said her company had purchased, and handed out, 23 Oculus Go headsets to (presumably remote) employees so they could hold their office Christmas Party in Virtual Reality. That floored me. Not because I didn't realize the hardware and software is at a place where such a thing could actually be a fun experience but really because how matter-of-fact, no big deal it sounded. Technology progresses all around us like an unstoppable lava flow but sometimes you have to pause and realize that a notable threshold has been crossed. 2018 saw that milestone reached for practicable events and webinars in VR. It already works very well and it's only going to get better, way better, in 2019.

Which is why at Simvirtua and 3Dcamp we started holding meetings and events in VR towards the end of the year. 3Dcamp-fire happens every Sunday evening. It's a casual half-hour meetup for chatting about VR/AR in business. It's not just for techies - everyone is welcome. And you don't even need a headset to attend - there are great 2D clients for PCs and smartphones. Keep any eye on our @3Dcamp Twitter and Facebook accounts for updates.

Final report on MissionV – some key findings

In 2011 the founders of Simvirtua built the technology stack that powered the Virtual Reality education platform MissionV (a project of MissionV Education Ltd., which was supported by the Irish Department of Education and Skills). Here follows a reproduction of the independent research evaluation of that platform published in 2012

Dr. Conor Galvin of the UCD School of Education and Lifelong learning was asked to provide a research assessment of the MissionV pilot programme and its impact. That report will be published in October but in the meantime Dr. Galvin and his Research Associate, Ms Isobel Burke, have published a 6 page note outlining their key findings.

The full document can be downloaded in PDF Format we’d like to highlight, below, some sections that we found of particular interest –

# [Teachers] observed that students’ understanding was deeper and their retention of the information encountered through the Virtual World environment [of MissionV] was – in their view – markedly better.

# Teachers in the pilot schools also reported that their students’ engagement with tasks continued beyond the school day, with children at all four schools choosing, where possible, to spend time at home refining creations and solving problems online.

# The pilot sites evidenced clearly what may be termed a “new culture of learning” among project teachers. That is, a working environment emerged around MissionV activity that was rich in creativity, as well as skill- and meaning-building.

# The schools also offered accounts of students previously lacking in confidence in their maths skills who became self-assured technology experts through MissionV and of shy students ‘coming out of their shells’.

# The MissionV pilot project created unique conditions for students to peer teach. Pilot site teachers reported their strong belief that through teaching each others, their students deepened their own understanding and reinforced their belief in their ability to succeed, which positively affects self-confidence.

# [MissionV]  provided cooperative learning opportunities for group work and peer teaching and also fostered learning community within the classroom. Such intuitive cooperative learning behaviours have been documented by researchers in other settings and the power of this model.

# MissionV has been used successfully with gifted children, learners with special needs and with different learning styles – and with impressive results according to the teachers in the pilot schools.

# Because of the ability it offers to communicate and collaborate with others, MissionV also provides a platform for the creation and sharing of open educational resources.

# MissionV offers interesting valuable insights into how the contextualised learning of simple programming and principled design activity can be incorporated meaningfully into learning activity at the primary level.

# MissionV represented not just an opportunity to use technology to teach better but also the start of a professional discussion around how Ireland can begin revisioning core elements of our education system to meet more effectively the learning requirements of young people facing a radically changing world.