Andrew’s Spring 2018 Update

Fall and winter terms were an exciting time for me, with the arrival of our new 3D printer and the in-class trial of one of my Augmented Reality (AR) applications. Spring term will be just as exciting but a bit more virtual for me, as I will be spending time developing virtual experiences for Psychology and making virtual proteins a reality.

Spring term will also see more development and another full trial of our Biochemistry AR application. Working together with Rou-Jia Sung, we will be developing additional modules for use within the Intro to Biochemistry course this term. On this front, we will also be applying for a NSF grant to fund further research into the use of AR within a classroom setting. Excitingly, the AR application will be presented twice this term at the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) in Nashville and at the Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research (SABER).

Spring will also be an exciting time for me personally. Now I am settled in Carleton, and having worked with the wonderful librarians, I am about to embark on writing my third book Visualizations in Cultural Heritage. The book will look at the history and development of the multitude of visualizations employed within the Cultural Heritage field.

Above us only digital sky: Augmenting Real Life

Time for my second post. This post is a lot later than expected; I still haven’t got this blogging down yet.

As part of the fun new tech we have been purchasing at Carleton, we managed to get a hold of a Hololens. Unlike the HTC Vive, which is VR, the Hololens is AR (Augmented Reality). The Hololens is an impressive piece of kit and one I am the most excited about. According to Microsoft (its developer), the Hololens is “the first self-contained, holographic computer, enabling you to engage with your digital content and interact with holograms in the world around you.” In normal terms, it is a tiny computer attached to a set of glass lenses, which look like a very futuristic headset.

These lenses are where the magic happens. The Hololens has three layered screens for Red, Green and Blue channels, which are combined to render full-color objects. The onboard computer uses an inertial measurement unit to calculate the location of you and the “holographic” object within your surrounds. This technology work in a similar way to AR on your cell phone with games like Pokemon Go and Ingress.

The Hololens opens up some fascinating teaching possibilities. Unlike the Vive and VR, which is very isolating and a single users experience, the Hololens and AR can be developed to be a multi-user experience. This multi-user experience enables to each Hololens to view the same 3D, providing some exciting possibilities within the class.

One of the first projects we worked on was to develop an AR model of the Piper J3 Cub used to train Carleton students in the 1940-50s. This was a part of a museum display for Sesquicentennial celebrations. The original idea of this project was to utilize the VR and HTC Vive, but I felt the Hololens would be more fun for visitors and would still allow them to be present within the space. Thank you to PEPS for editing one of my favorite videos using the Hololens.

Video from Piper Cub J3 ( Watch this space for more fun videos!


dh2017 Recap

Sarah and Celeste give thumbs up next to their poster for dh2017

This month, Sarah Calhoun and I attended dh2017 in Montreal to present a prototype augmented reality app co-developed with Andrew Wilson and Adam Kral. Our poster and additional resources are linked here, but here’s the synopsis:

Our goal was to create an augmented reality app that could better visualize complex and multiple temporalities AND be an easy reusable resource for classroom use. We chose a mural painted in a Thai Buddhist temple in the UK as our case study because of its layered iconography: the mural depicts the Buddha’s defeat of Mara, but the painter chose to include anachronistic elements including machine guns, Vincent Van Gogh, and a rocket ship. We wanted a way to highlight both the historical references, which could be plotted along a traditional chronological timeline, and the temporality of Buddha’s history which could not.

We got useful and positive feedback from the poster session at dh, as well as additional ideas for refining and extending the app from attending several sessions. Our next steps are to clean up some of the identified bugs and do several rounds of user testing with faculty, staff, and students to clarify how we proceed.  

Kral, a rising sophomore, did the bulk of the development work over the summer: learning Unity and building it out in AR Toolkit. His account of what he built is posted here, and we plan to continue building on Adam’s work and thank him for his efforts!


Student Post: Adam Kral on AR and VR Development

Guest post by Adam Kral (’20) on his summer work for Academic Technology.

So far over the summer I have been working on two projects: an augmented reality app to display images related to Buddhism and a sky diving simulator in virtual reality. Both projects have been built using the Unity game engine. The Buddhism app started with a two-dimensional slider that manipulated an image above it, as shown below.

screenshot of Buddhism app in development

I then converted this app to use augmented reality using AR Toolkit 5. When the camera is shown the background image, the images are now shown in three-dimensional space. The slider has been replaced with a joystick to manipulate the images. The finished product is shown below.

screenshot of Buddhism time app at end of phase 1

In addition to this AR app, I have been building a virtual reality sky diving simulator for the HTC Vive. The player controls their drag, x-y movement, and rotation via the movement of the controllers. This movement is tracked by determining the controllers’ positional relation to the headset. There is still work that needs to be done, such as adding colliders and textures to buildings. Some screenshots from inside the headset are below.

proposal accepted for dh2017!

photograph of temple wall with Buddhist art and alter in foreground

I’m thrilled to say that Andrew Wilson, Sarah Calhoun, and I had our poster proposal accepted for dh2017 in Montreal! We’re experimenting with augmented reality for representing complex temporalities in Buddhist temple murals, and creating lower barrier to entry teaching modules using AR.

Our poster will outline our theoretical framework, detail our development process using Vuforia, and provide possible avenues for further lines of inquiry and applications for temporal visualizations. We’ll include static images of the AR experience, as well as ways to access our project remotely.

We identify two main problems that this initial experiment will address. The first is the issue of visualizing multiple temporalities. Our motivating questions are: what are the visual and spatial relationships between the chronological story of the Buddha defeating Mara given how some Buddhists believe that the Buddha is personal and eternal and always present throughout time? How is that expressed in the mural through a wide range of artistic styles and historical references? These questions will be answered through the course of our research.

The second problem is a more practical question of how to use augmented reality to further research and teaching of these complex cultural concepts when both the visual and technical resources are limited. We intend to use the extant low-res photographs available of the Defeat of Mara temple mural and the augmented reality framework Vuforia to create a cross-platform experience of the religious expression. This will allow users to see and select individual elements in the mural (such as the Mona Lisa or the spaceship) and engage with the different ways one can order and make meaning out of the varied chronologies and temporal references. Vuforia allows us to use an existing framework that has the benefit of being accessible on multiple platforms. We believe this is necessary for facilitating the adoption of augmented reality for classroom and preliminary research uses.