Wading into UX

Andrew stands in front of a large tv showing laser lines. Andrew is wearing a VR headset and gesturing with controllers in both hands.

Recently, Andrew and Celeste joined the Minnesota chapter of the User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA). They had 2 main reasons for wanting to join: 1) learn more about different approaches to UX, and 2) learn more about the professional community of user research and user experience design to better connect our student workers with opportunities.

So far, we’ve attended two very different events and here are some of the takeaways:

UX + Virtual Reality (VR)

Celeste: The 1st event was held at a virtual reality arcade meets karaoke lounge, where the networking hour doubled as open playtime. It was really interesting to see how the business had laid out the space and setup the VR into “pods” separated by partial walls. The cables for the Vive Pro headsets were suspended from the ceiling, which was a great improvement on worrying about tripping on cables along the ground. They even had 3 multiplayer areas, where headsets were paired — Andrew and I played ping pong in one of these areas, which basically just reminded me how much I like playing ping pong in real life more.

And then came the presentation. I have to admit to some concern when it started like this:

mighty claim of VR + UX presentation: VR’s biggest strengths are 1) democratizing experience and 2) seeing things in unique way.

slow your rhetoric, ppl.

— Celeste Tường Vy PhD (@celeste_sharpe) February 13, 2019

And, it didn’t get better from there. But what I did takeaway is that there’s a serious gap between how commercial VR is proceeding and the research coming out of academia — and I see that gap as a place where there can be some powerful collaborations. There’s so much room for pursuing and applying research in the development of meaningful (and profitable) VR applications, particularly since some are hoping enterprise uses will generate wider adoption and profits. Some are less optimistic. But overall, I think researchers have a lot to say and do to shape the direction of VR experience development and break down some of the barriers between industry and academia to create better ethical products.

Andrew: I was excited for our first event since joining the UXPA, it was held at a virtual reality arcade. I like Celeste description here, the location really did feel like a mix between a karaoke bar, lounge and arcade with VR. I love the idea of VR arcades. As owning a VR device is still expensive and beyond the reach of most. Sadly, however, the cost per hour still seemed pretty expensive for most.

Two years on from our first Vive, I still love the technology and can’t wait to see the development. So you can understand my excitement when I saw they had the new Vive Pro headset. This is the second generation of the Vive headset we currently have. Some of the changes in this new version is a much needed improved screen. The resolution has been, so everything looks much sharper.

Being a UX/UI workshop, I was looking forward to the presentation, and I what I hoped would be a discussion around moving beyond flat screen UI designs into 3D space, sadly this was not to be. The talk took a very commercial route. The presentation was marketing talk for getting people and companies to buy time in VR rather how to better the field or peoples experiences. As a researcher in VR, I honestly feel like it can help revolutionise a large number of fields and subjects. However, the VR/AR/MR need to be lead by research and not the drive for money.

Building Consistent Design Systems

Andrew: Our second event with UXPA group was very informative. The speaker talked about designing and templating design elements and components in the product. I liked the idea of having a components/elements library to give coders more rigid constraints on which designs can be used and in what locations. These ideas of design patterns are something I feel we could use with our student developers here at Carleton.

Celeste: The second event dove much deeper into a specific topic, which was a nice change of pace. This was my biggest takeaway:

really like this approach: “define a process, not a project” to support long-term or ongoing work. #uxpamn

— Celeste Tường Vy PhD (@celeste_sharpe) March 8, 2019

The idea of establishing a design library of elements really rang true, especially for our Omeka-based projects. Thinking about where to streamline, and where to customize, is an ongoing conversation we’re having so this was a nice case-study to consider.

 

Recap: Day of DH 2018

3 scholars seated on high chairs with microphones smiling and laughing during discussion.

Image caption: (l-r) Thabiti Willis, Jack Gieseking, Adriana Estill in conversation. Photo by Briannon Carlsen.

 

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 (https://vimeo.com/189338455). Watch this space for more fun videos!

 

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.

Steam Powered Goggles

HTC Vive controls on carpeted floor

So this will be my first post for this blog, actually thinking about it probably my first ever blog post. Never having wrote a post before is a strange position to be in for a computer/technology geek, but I think blogs just past me by. Anyway I should get on with what I planned on writing.

Janet Russell using the HTC Vive VR setup
Janet, using the HTC Vive, pets a dog in virtual reality.
It has definitely been a fun few weeks for me, with lots of boxes and new tech to open. With the addition of the 3D printer last week, am I very excited about the new box on my desk today. It is going to be a great addition to our technology provisions here at Carleton and Academic Technology. The title of this post is a very geeky reference to this new piece of kit….

Being the computer geek that I am, I was very excited to receive the Vive. The Vive is one of the new generation of Virtual Reality (VR) headsets. Started by the successful Oculus Rift Kickstarter, this next generation of VR headsets are very different to the early 1990s counterparts. Rather than very basic graphics and simple polygons, these new headsets are capable of streaming two HD images into either eye giving the impression of depth within the 3D scene.

Paula uses the HTC Vive headset and controllers
Paula takes aim at red globes
First project: a VR model of the Piper J3 Cub used to train Carleton students in the 1940-50s as part of a museum display for Sesquicentennial celebrations. Visitors will be able to view the model in a hanger setting and from the flight seat.

Come and experience VR for yourself either by visiting the Sesquicentennial museum exhibition or pop along to the ideaLab during our open house on Wednesday, September 21 from 12p-2p.