Sometimes I really love my job. This afternoon, the university’s HITLab (which stands for Human Interface Technology, for the uninitiated) had an open day. And as we have quite a bit to do with them (we collaborated on the CityViewAR app, for example), our boss suggested we go and have a look around the other projects they’ve been working on. So we basically got to spend the afternoon playing with cool toys.
And some of the toys were very cool indeed. I got to try out Google Glass – amazing technology, but totally doesn’t work if you’re short-sighted. It seems counter-intuitive, because the projector thing is right in front of your eye, but there must be some sort of lens arrangement that puts the focal point further out, because the image appears to be floating about a metre or so in front of you, and for me was just as out of focus as something would be at that distance in the real world. So I could see shapes, but couldn’t really read the text. And because the Glass has to be a certain distance from your eye, I couldn’t wear it over my ordinary glasses. So it’s a contacts or nothing deal. The guy running the demo also mentioned that although the Glass seems quite comfortable to wear at first, he’d found that if you have it on for any length of time the weight of the battery (which lives in one of the arms) resting on your ear gets quite painful. So yeah, seriously cool concept, and I can totally see the potential, but it’s not quite there yet. It kind of reminds me of the early days of mobile phones, when those massive bricks with no battery life weren’t exactly practical and seemed like just an expensive toy, yet were only a couple of generations away from something really useful.
Other cool things we got to play with:
- Soccer playing robots. It turns out I’m just as bad at sports when played via a robot as in real life – I had enough trouble getting the robot to even walk up to the ball (it kept getting confused and falling over because I gave it too many instructions at once), let alone actually kick it towards the net!
- Augmented reality software that can be used to cure arachnophobia. You put your hand in front of a camera, and on the screen you’d see spiders crawling over the desk and onto you. You could even interact with them, picking them up and moving them around (squishing them didn’t work though, to my disappointment!). The idea is that by interacting with them in a safe, controlled environment, you can gradually increase your exposure until you get comfortable with them. It’s weird – even though you can look down at your hand and see there’s really no spiders there, it’s still incredibly creepy seeing them crawling over you on screen. I could almost feel them scuttling!
- Another augmented reality programme (available as an app) that lets you colour in pictures (on paper), which if you take a picture of them with your phone, then come to life in 3D (some of them were even animated), incorporating your colouring-in into the image. It’s aimed at kids, but there were more than a few adults around the table industriously colouring in and being greatly entertained by the resulting images
- A weighted pen/mouse/pointer sort of thing that gives you physical feedback. It was set up to play a simple little game where you could move a ball around the screen to interact with a rubber ducky floating in a pool of water. When you moved the ball through the air the pointer thing moved freely, but if you moved it through the water, there was resistance – it felt kind of like the pointer suddenly got a lot heavier. And when you pushed the ball against the duck you could feel it sort of pushing back (I’m doing a terrible job of describing it, aren’t I?). It added a whole new level of realism – I could see how it would be incredibly useful for microsurgery and things like that where having physical feedback alongside the visual would be so helpful (plus of course it would be brilliant for gaming).
- An earthquake simulator, used in a similar way to the spider AR to help people traumatised by the quakes get over their fear by re-experiencing them in a controlled environment. It worked through a combination of an Oculus headset (I was in geek heaven, getting to try both an Oculus and Google Glass!) and a shake table. I was a bit concerned before I tried it that it might freak me out (given that I have been known to get scared by the earthquake simulator at Te Papa), especially as just feeling the vibrations of the shake table coming through the floor was bad enough. But although the sounds and visual movement were very realistic (though the images were pretty lo-res), and the shaking was just as realistic, in combination they weren’t, so I wasn’t scared at all. Talking about it afterwards with one of my team who had a similar reaction, we worked out that the problem was that the intensities didn’t match. The sound and pictures were those of a very large earthquake, similar to February 22, that should have knocked you off your feet. But the movement of the shaking table felt more like a magnitude 5 – biggish, but not huge. And that disconnect between what your eyes and ears and your body were telling you was enough to break the illusion. So the effect for me was nothing worse than a slight nausea from the VR. An interesting idea, though, and apparently it’s shown some success with treating people.
There were a lot of other displays as well, but those were the ones that caught my attention. Definitely a fun way to spend an afternoon – especially when you’re getting paid to do it!
We actually had a bookcrossing meetup in Christchurch this week. I know, totally amazing! It was only a small one – just four of us – but at least it was a meetup. I really should put some effort into contacting new members (or maybe even releasing some books so we get some new members…), but I’ve kind of had other things on my mind this year (as well as being a bit discouraged by the long-term members who never make the effort to turn up). Maybe now that life has settled down I’ll be able to put some energy into it again. Anyway, it was a good night, and many books and much news was exchanged.
Unexpectedly, my new cabinet got delivered on Wednesday night. I didn’t expect to get it until tomorrow, so that was a nice surprise. It fits the space perfectly, and looks wonderful, too.
I haven’t quite decided what’s going to sit on top of it yet – the current arrangement is just temporary while I’m trying different ideas out. Oh dear, I may just have to go shopping to find the perfect piece…
Now I’ve just got to find a suitable frame. I miss my old go-to framing place – they always had such wonderful choices. Unfortunately, another casualty of the earthquakes
And a pretty that brings me joy every year – my flowering cherry has once again transformed my scruffy front yard into a spectacular display:
I’m so glad it held off on flowering until after those winds last week!
And finally, why you should never leave a bin of fabric in a sunny spot:
I’d been looking through some fabrics the other day, planning out a wee project I’ve got in mind, left the room for five minutes and came back to find Parsnips installed in what was obviously the best seat in the house.