More Education Ideas

I had a few more iPhone AR apps I thought would be fun for my kids (and any other) and sneak in some learing at the same time. 

1) The Great Habitat Hunter – kids go outside to find either fauna, insects or birds (a different app for each one).  They take a picture of the target, and are presented with a list of possibilities.  They pick which one it is (maybe object recognition would be enough to tell), then are given a few facts about the target.  The target flower, or insect, or bird data could be uploaded to a database collecting all the information; and the kids could see aggregate data based on the information in fun charts and graphs.  For example, migration patterns of birds could be tracked. 

The kids would be given points for “hunting” the targets and bonus points for finding rare species.  In addition, the data could be used by scientists. 

2) Road Trip Buddy – Questions about the locations passed along the highway would keep the kids entertained and teach them geography lessons.  We often play this game with our kids on trips, but we usually run out of questions quickly. 

If you want to read the other ideas you can find them in this previous post.  And if you use an idea, don’t forget to give me credit and send me a free app.

The Brain-Computer Interface

Aspirin stocks up.  Logitech stocks down. 

My carpal tunnel can’t wait for mind controlled computers, but I’ll probably only trade my Logitech mouse for a headache.  Today scientists at the Honda Research Institute unveiled a robot controlled by thought alone.

In the video a large control unit behind the BMI user shows more finite control requires more processing power.  But lesser degrees of freedom can be achieved with simpler systems like this simple game called the Mindflex or the Neural Impulse Actuator

See the NIA in action in this video:


Either way you look at it, mind controlled computer systems are becoming more feasible by the year.  While these three applications are cumbersome by all reports, they will be improved bit-by-bit over the years until they are a more seamless control system.  If the system can be made small and unobtrusive enough, then AR glasses will have the controls to keep us all from looking like idiots waving our hands in front of our faces.

Can AR Help Manufacturing?

I found this interesting video from Microsoft about how AR could be used in a manufacturing environment, and specifically in the car business.  Currently, I am a Manager of Quality and Engineering at a Toyota facility here in the US, so I have my own take on what AR can do for manufacturing.

The video goes through a variety of stages of car design from test driving to assembly to purchase.  While I don’t have intimate knowledge of every stage of the process, I’ve seen enough of it to know that this video idealizes the usefulness of AR.  I also realize that the point of the video is to stretch the imagination, and not to give a point-by-point improvement plan of AR, but I’d like to clarify the reality anyway. 

I am an AR enthusiast, but I don’t want people to have an unrealistic expectation of what AR can do.   One area I thought glossed over the reality was in the design phase.  The video suggested that the AR desk would magically transform the sketch into a design.  The reality of design is it takes thousands of manhours to get every detail right.  It’s extremely important to make sure all the dimensions add up, and not interfere with other parts.  Four or five years before a part is actually made in production (and I’m speaking of the more complex parts), I’ll get a print or a 3D model to understand how it will affect the production.  So I don’t think AR is going to suddenly reduce design time.  Design time improvements would come more from linking together various 3D models easier which is more about processing speeds and point-clouds. 

I also disagreed with the idea AR would help with maintaining equipment, as shown when the woman walked by the robot and scheduled maintenance.  Computerized maintenance systems are the same as any database in the world.  You get what you put in it.  We find simpler paper systems work much better than elaborate computerized ones. 

Areas I think AR would help would be in inspection and manual assembly areas.  The exact manner a person puts a part on matters greatly in the final quality of the part.  By using AR to give a visual guide to the worker, the worker is more likely to do it correctly the first time.  And if we use the idea of “games” from yesterday’s post, then we can help the worker understand how well he’s doing and keep score for the day. 

Inspection would also be easier with AR because the specifications could be seen easily.  Also, judgement of defects would become easier as AR could project measurement scales onto parts.  In casting plants, its often difficult to decide good or bad of certain types of defects because the exact size is hard to discern.  This is compounded by a short inspection time.  AR could help the worker quickly make a decision. 

The other area I think AR would help with is information sharing.  I think part design is too specific and detailed, but general schedules, production progress or other non-critical information would be useful in an AR environment. 

So my conclusion is that, yes, AR can help manufacturing, but it’s not a panacea to be applied to all problems.  Useful applications of AR could immediately improve manufacturing, but only if applied in ways that are trying to solve an existing problem and not just play with pretty toys.

Ori Inbar’s AR Presentation

When I first started this blog a month ago, I was apprehensive if there would be enough material to write about in regards to augmented reality.  I thought I might be able to squeeze out a post twice a week, if I worked at it.  Lately, its all I can do to not post everyday, mostly so the family doesn’t kill me.  Ori Inbar’s Games Alfresco site is a reason why I get so excited about AR and the possibilities it brings.  The information contained unleashed a thousand ideas.  98% of them have probably been considered, but I’m hoping to add my 2% to the general thoughts of AR study. 

My thoughts today revolve around the video Ori posted a few weeks ago:

Augmented Reality Today: WARM ’09 from Ori Inbar on Vimeo.

So the voice-over is a bit strange, but once I got used to it, I enjoyed the message.  I’ll sum it up in one sentence — “We need to focus on learning applications for AR to move kids away from screens and desks to interactive experiences in the real world, augmented by technology.”

I’ll have to admit my orginal interest in AR was a bit more gaudy.  I’m an avid gamer, and science fiction fan, so the promise of AR was more about the shiny things one could do with it.  Ori brings me back to the value AR can add to society by increasing the learning rate of our children.  I’m all for it. 

Ori correctly points out that play is natural for learning.  My children will sit for long periods of time playing a “math game” that involves doing math problems to advance the game, but sit them down in front of a desk to fill out math sheets and they grow bored quickly.  Why is this?  I’m going to apply a bit of my Toyota Production Systems knowledge to the reasoning.

People do a good job with their work when they know how to perform well, they can see the results of their efforts, and they get immediate feedback on how they are doing.  This is part of a term called Jikotei Kanketsu.  The idea is we should set up jobs in a way that gives the employee immediate satisfaction in performing well.  This is basic behavior science as well.  So what does this have to do with the learning games?

Well, the games have rules, the players can find out if they are doing well immediately, and a score is kept.  Too often we wait long periods of time before giving students feedback (graded tests weeks later), so the student can’t correlate his hard work with the results.  Games do this well.  But the value AR adds that a “screen” cannot, as Ori puts it, is the AR gets the student off their butts and into the real world. 

So we need to come up with useful games that will sell a lot of apps on the iPhone, or other future handheld devices, that incorporate fun and learning to help grow the AR movement.  Off the top of my head, here are a few:

1) Math Monsters – kids walk around their house, and when they come to a door (should be identifiable without a marker), a math problem on a monster appears.  They have to get the answer right to kill the monster. 

2) The Number Collector – kids can collect numbers from any object using the iPhone camera (numbers are easy to identify).  The numbers are randomly mixed up to create a level appropriate math problem and when answered, they collect the location and object they scanned.  A Pokemon for math problems, and the locations people answer their questions can be tracked on a global scale. 

3) Tunester – Any snipit of music can be converted into a few notes.  The player would have to figure out the note and also the spacing between them using a sectioned bar.  This would help with music learning and also spatial analysis. 

4) Ratio game – Any object can be broken down digitally and the player must guess the various ratios associated (length versus heights).  Good for spatial analysis.

Here are just a few.  If you like them, feel free to use them, but just give me credit, and a free app.

Freedoms and the 5th Amendment

On his website, Luigi Cappel has a nice post about the effect of digital information on our freedoms.  I agree with a lot of the things he says on his site, but I would also add we not only have to worry about the government, but also corporations and each other. 

The ease at which digital information can be bandied about and used in unexpected ways will create problems we’ve never even thought of.  I think the recent light on sexting  (teenagers sending naked pictures of themselves to each other) and then getting charged with child pornography is an unfortunate example of how the unintended consequences of technology will continually challenge us.  Our law systems are built around being able to keep up with the slow change of society, and not the rapid change in society due to technology that we’re experiencing. 

I think the best thing to do is be careful with your information and remember that the Internet doesn’t forget.

Contest: Machines That Know

A few weeks ago I made a post about Machines That Know.  Then I made a couple of follow up posts about the good and bad aspects of these technologies working in concert. 

I think it is important for society to think ahead to the problems our innovative technologies are going to create, so we can design solutions anticipate the problems.  While technology is exciting, and fun–the laws of unintended consequences often reach out and bite us where we least expect it. 

So my contest is to come up with the best idea for using Machines That Know.  The idea can be either a good application or a bad application.  The contest will run until Friday, April 10th at 4pm central.  The reward will be a $15 iTunes card.  I’m a big fan of music, so giving the gift of music is rewarding for me as well. 


The assumptions one must use when considering your application of the Machines That Know are: 

1) Cameras are ubiquitous in public areas (roads, malls, businesses, schools, etc), but not in private homes. 

2) The information collected from cameras (the data) is easily accessible by anyone, but not the raw feeds (the video).  So you can’t sit and watch a particular camera to spy on someone. 

3) Everyone has an iPhone or similar travelling computer to access the data (with the appropriate apps).


To enter the contest, reply with your comment on this post with your application of MTK.  I’ll announce the winner on April 13th.  Feel free to sign up for my blog on the followers list while you’re entering the contest.

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How to Automate the Digitalization of the World

One of the key components to true AR is turning world objects into digital ones.  The slow way to accomplish this is to get an army of volunteers to manually create the digital architecture piece-by-piece.  Much like the first genome, it’s going to take awhile. 

However, if the process can be automated, then interesting events start happening fast.  My friend Rob pointed me to this video on TED.com (one of my favorite sites for cool technology).



The video shows how the process of digitally creating space can be done automatically using pictures taken by everyday users.  If we all uploaded our pictures and tagged them to locations, the world could be digitized in rapid fashion. 

This advance brings about the idea of the Metaverse from Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, but also allows for the AR (The Digital Sea) version of the world. 

If you want to see another application of the technology–go to this CNN site to see the Photosynth Inauguration of Barack Obama. 

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