Walking the Virtual Plank

Yesterday I had about 25 Taconic High School students walk the plank.  To hear how much of a ruckus were making (sorry library folks, the quite floor is downstairs!) one would probably think that it was a real plank and not Virtual Reality.  We had several onlookers due to the scene we made and as a result one of the BCC Librarians even gave it a try despite her fear of heights!

Here’s a little about the process I used for yesterday’s demonstration.  I set up in a corner of the library where they often do classes on Information Literacy among other things, I moved all the tables and chairs to create a 20×20 foot VR space and put down a yoga mat generously supplied by STEM.  Then I turned off the lights, and dimmed the blinds a bit so that I could attempt to project the image from the headset on a screen.  This however, didn’t work out so well.  I was able to get the Oculus to cast in the menus, but once I started Richie’s Plank Experience, everything crashed.  It even made the headset reboot itself once.  It seems that a recent software update broke casting.  In addition, the street scene sometimes appeared as a parking garage which I had never seen before.  There was also this new countdown every time the app was paused, which is what happens when the headset is taken off.  So every new person who put it on had to endure a 10 second countdown, slowing the process down. All this I discovered 5 minutes before the first group of students arrived.

Students were brought to me in groups of 8-9 and each group also had a teacher (I assume) from their school and a BCC representative as a guide.  To start with I give a short speech introducing myself and explaining what we would be doing today — taking turns walking the virtual plank.  I explained that VR is already being used as a way to simulate very dangerous situations to provide training.  Doctors can practice surgery with no risk to patients in VR.  Firefighters can experiment with new innovative techniques without risking their lives.  You can meet with someone halfway around the world as if they were in the same room with no travel cost and minimal carbon footprint.  Therapists use VR to give patients exposure therapy in a safe way for individuals with a fear of heights for example.  Virtual Reality completely fools your brain, so now let’s walk the plank!

While I was unable to cast to the screen, I was able to get the headset to cast to a tablet.  As the students took turns walking the plank their peers watched their progress on the tablet and cheered them on.  To make sure everyone was safe, once having their permission I would guide the plank walker by placing a hand on their arm or back to let them know they were safe and I would not let them be injured. Several of the teachers and a few of the BCC guides tried to walk the plank as well.  Everyone remarked on how completely real it feels, and that’s the whole point!  About 15-20% of plank walkers never made it to the end and walked off the plank.

Overall the demonstration went very well and I am very pleased with the student’s reactions and feedback.  I’m looking forward to seeing if STEM provides any written comments as they have done in the past.  Next week I have a drone demo for STEM which I’m sure I will be writing about.

Busy with Turkey and Snow

Yes, it’s been a little while since the last post.  I wasn’t able to post yesterday as there was too much work to be done after the snow closing Monday which followed the Thanksgiving break.  There’s a number of things going on, but first a little about technology I explored over the Thanksgiving break.

I didn’t spend as much time with VR as I would have liked.  I was able to get a little Beat Saber in, but not much else.  There’s new content in the National Geographic Explorer software, an entire guided Machu Picchu experience.  The page even explains that some locations are recreated as they would have been back in it’s prime for you to explore in VR.  I image that this could be a great “field trip” for a history class.  I think I will ask the STEM folks if the wouldn’t mind purchasing this, it’s not expensive at all at $9.99.

I did get a little drone flying in, although have not had an opportunity for a cold-weather flight to get some images and video of the snowy Berkshires.  We got nearly 2 feet of snow over the last week and it would have been great to get some flying in.  There are extra precautions to take in cold weather flying, the new Mavic Mini I’ve been flying states that it is not suggested to fly in temperatures less than 32 degrees F.  Also you must consider that the higher up you fly, the colder and windier it becomes.  I’m waiting for that perfect “warm” day to get some pictures, but the snow will not be fresh for it at this point.

Tomorrow I am giving a VR demonstration to students from Taconic High School and it looks like we will be walking the plank.  It’s an effective demonstration, and brief, so you can have 10 students try it for a few minutes a piece and everyone can get a turn.  I’ve done this demonstration before and it was interesting, I’m wondering what new I will learn this time!  Tomorrow I will write all about this.

VR, It’s Not Just for Humans Anymore

When this article about cows wearing VR headsets popped up in my news feed I had to do some research to see if it was legit.  The photo alone made this appear like a hoax or even an article from The Onion, however a quick search shows that it’s being reported by a series of reputable sites in addition to the BCC including:Screenshot of Cow VR article headline.

The first question I had after reading the article title was “what do cows watch in Virtual Reality?” The articles all explain that the program shows sunny summer pastures to help decrease the animal’s anxiety so that it can produce more, and better quality milk.  I rather wish they had a sample image or video as I’m really curious what exactly this looks like.

It appears as if the idea is working.  It will be interesting to see the full study and all it’s data, however the articles themselves ask a few questions about possible technical problems such as, “how often do you need to charge the headsets?” and “does removing the headset upset or disturb the animal?” and “how does the animal adjust back to reality?”

The Engadget article makes another good point, humans are using technology to solve a problem of our own creation — the huge global demand for beef and animal products means we have to get creative to meet it.  We pile animals into all sorts of places with “not great” conditions only to feed the human population. I suppose parts of Russia where this study is being done do have the issue that the stark landscape is not exactly “calming” by the classic definition, and maybe cows don’t care for it either.

Question: Is the future of farming using technology to enhance our animals?  Or perhaps instead it is doing away with the animal (and the suffering) entirely with lab grown meats as in this recent article here?  Still maybe the Beyond and Impossible companies that make meat-like substitutes out of plants are where we are headed.  One thing is for certain, if something doesn’t change the world is headed to a future where we will not be able to meet the global demand for animal meat and byproducts.  It will be fascinating to see how this plays out.