19 June 2017

AR and VR in data visualisation – can it ever be useful to our puny human minds?

The Register has just published a post on VR and Dataviz featuring quotes from our MD highlighting the fact that VR may be more suitable for the "communicate" phase of a dataviz exercise than the "explore" phase.

The bit about "spent six months trying to get his firm's software to work in VR, but eventually decided to stick with monitors" is not 100% true - we just switched focus from native Oculus to WebGL, which then gave us the added benefit of browser support - as well as Cardboard (that people can actually afford!). We'll soon support Oculus through WebVR, and if there's the interest a Unity based player that reads Datascape output.

Also the bit about "it just needs a good engine to prepare the data first." is spot on though - and applies to every data viz system, 3D, VR or plain old 2D! We still spend more time massaging data than we do actually generating the visualisation from cleaned and enriched data.

Otherwise the general thrust is right - we think VR is better suited to the end-of-pipeline task of sharing and communicating your data. If you do want to use 3D (which for a lot of uses cass we think you should) then you're better off doing it on an ordinary monitor but in a 3D (flight-sim style) environment - that you can work in all day without getting nauseous and whilst still being able to communicate with colleagues. And then of course just click the Publish button to generate a web and VR version to share!

Why not download Datascape now to give both modes a try!

Birmingham Open Data - Traffic Levels

For some time we've been meaning to plot some of the data coming out of Birmingham City Council's excellent open data initiative. So today we finally got around to downloading some datasets from their Open Data Factory - and there certainly seems to be a lot of good and usable data there.

The first dataset we've tried is the annual vehicle traffic counts for about 160 sites across the city. The only real issue was that locations were given a Nation Grid References, so we did a simple linear conversion to Lat/Long based on some known co-ordinates in the city. Since some of the data points represent 4km of road we don't think that any error is significant!

We used a simple geotemporal plot, with a discs for each year's data stacked on top of each other - so each site produces a column of varying width discs - the width/radius being proportional to traffic levels. To aid in immediate visual understanding we also mapped traffic levels to colour in a simple heat map.

The resultant visualisation is at: http://live.datascapevr.com/viewer/?wid=4e5d4cd4-c987-43a2-bdda-24ef747bc57b

Just click the link to fly through in 3D in your browser, or 3D/VR on your smartphone + Google Cardboard.

The most immediate comment from the visualisation is how little the data has changed over 15 years. There is no major sense of traffic levels around the city blooming. Some minor increase in some of the sites - but by no means in all. It's also obvious that the M6 and A34(M) are, hardly surprisingly carrying the biggest traffic loads, and then down through the Bristol Road. The main arterial routes are next.

Using 3D to stack the data does also help to highlight artefacts from data collection - something that Datascape always appears to make easy to find. In this case it's sites like the one below, for instance, where a single sensor is replaced by two sensors in order to get better resolution.

There are also some quite complex changes, such as when the M6 toll opened in 2003, with one sensor being replaced by several, and then some further consolidation.

We can also see significant changes in inner city monitoring with several sites being phased out.

And finally this M6 sensor appear to show a massive drop (111497 to 19753), but could be due to a change in the A47/J5 layout?.

 Other M6 sensors don't show a big drop post 2003/M6 Toll so it's unlikely to be that - in fact none of the M6 sensors show any big post-toll change except possibly a minor drop, soon recovered for the ones straight after the junction. Here's just the M6 sites for reference.

Daniel, Humza and Julio - Work Experience

During 5-9 Jun we played host to three Yr10 students from Aston University Engineering Academy students on work experience. Two of them (Daniel and Humza) had already spent a week with us earlier in the year. Here is their collective report (verbatim).



Chatbot & Chatscript

Monday - We were assigned our tasks and our mentors to help us with our tasks. Adam showed me what a chatbot is and an example of one. Then he showed me the coding behind the bot.
Tuesday - I started to write some of my own code for the Henry Bot. Just some of the basics. Towards the end of the day Adam asked me to think of a topic for me to program my own bot on.
Wednesday - I couldn’t think of a topic so Adam chose one for me. I then had the rest of the day to code my bot and occasionally getting help from Adam. The image below shows me chatting to the bot.

Thursday - I was close to finishing my bot, Adam wanted me to start learning HTML and CSS coding, so I could create a webpage to talk to the bot online.
Friday: Adam was not here so I was not able finish my web page for the bot. Overall, I have had a good week and learnt a lot of skills that I can use later in life.



Monday - Out of the three options we were given, I chose to complete the Fieldscapes task. For this I had to download the Fieldscapes app onto my phone and was given a few hours to test out most of the maps and report any bugs I found. Alongside this, I gave feedback of suggestions or any improvements they could make. The image shows some of my suggestions.

Tuesday - I had the task of searching for 3D models of props that would replace existing props. However, while looking for models I had to consider the different file types that Unity accepts and if they fit into the criteria.
Wednesday -  On Wednesday, I created a word document that explains to a new user how each widget works and what it does. For example, the Tape Measure. For me to complete this task, I had to use Fieldscapes and try out each widget. Towards the end of the day, Humza and I created videos showing how to play Fieldscapes on mobile.
Thursday - After David purchased the props, I imported them into Unity and began resizing and texturing them. However, I mainly focused on an idea that David came up with regarding an intractable chess board. This required me to texture, resize and add a collider to each chess piece. I resized the new props by using various old props as reference to what size ‘roughly’ they should be.
Friday - On the last day, I finished up previous scripts and wrote my blog.


Amazon Alexa Skill & Javascript

Monday - On the first day at Daden I had to learn how to code with JavaScript, this meant that I had to use code academy and complete the course on JavaScript

Tuesday - On the next day with my new knowledge of JavaScript I was given the task of producing a new skill for Alexa, this was supposed to take in a question which would then output a response, the coding was in JavaScript. The skill was based on the fact that Alexa had to say, “Hello world” due to a trigger which would have been my question. The image is a screen shot of the Alexa skill building app.

Wednesday - Being halfway through the week I was tasked with exploring a new objective which was to use Zap works to create some augmented reality content. This website allowed the user to create a storage of the information which a marker would trigger the “pop up” of the context which could either be images, videos, soundtracks, or information which would be linked to websites. There were different stages that had different levels of difficulty in the making but there was more manipulation over the content which meant that augmented reality could be created.

Thursday - On Thursday I carried on with the building of three new intents for Al
exa, this time alone, when I finished this I had to learn how to use switch statements to reduce the amount of code there was and to make the code more efficient, once this was done I had to change the utterances of the skills to make grammatically correct so that it makes sense to the person saying the skill. Finally, I had to find out why the response that Alexa gave started with “undefined” but I didn’t manage to do it so I had to use a replace method in order to replace undefined with “The answer is ”. The image shows a switch statement I wrote in my Alexa skill.

Friday – On the last day of my work experience I had to create this blog as my final task.

15 June 2017

Fieldscapes Android App now on Play Store

Fieldscapes is now available for Android. The Android app will let you play any* Fieldscapes exercise. It supports both 1st and 3rd person views, and single and multi-user modes, and even flying!

You must have a (free) Fieldscapes account in order to use it.

You can download the app from the Play Store by searching for Fieldscapes, or view the page at: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.DadenLimited.Fieldscapes

Video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXeBDZW1yYA

Thanks to our work experience students Humza, Daniel and Julio for putting the raw video footage together and acting as hand models!

*Location and Inventory creators must upload separate Android versions of their assets in order for an exercise to work on Android - but this is a 5 minute process, and does not need to be done for each exercise.

8 June 2017

Fieldscapes and Trainingscapes Live

Today we're pleased to announce that Fieldscapes is formally live.

This represents a culmination of over 2 years work that started with the InnovateUK Design for Impact Feasibility Study, and was then followed by Development funding from InnovateUK through until October last year - and then our closed and open beta since then.

During the Design for Impact project we worked closely with our partners The Open University, the Field Studies Council and service design consultancy Design Thinkers, numerous schools and universities, and some lovely physical field-trips, to create a service (not just the software!) that would let educators create and share 3D and VR immersive field-trips - and almost any other lesson - without needing specialist 3D skills. We've done this by clearly separating the two key tasks involved - creation of the 3D assets (which is likely to remain a technical task for some time to come - but not beyond the ability of a keen amateur), and the creation of the lesson plan and pedagogy.

For this second element we think we've created an easy to use and intuitive forms based, what-you-see-is-what-you-get editor, where educators can just walk out onto their chosen location, place the props which the student will interact with, and then define the interactions that the student will have.

The resulting lesson can then be accessed, in single or multi-user mode, from a PC, Mac or Android (iOS) to come, and also with an Oculus Rift VR headset if available (other VR headsets to follow).

To us, though, the key is that once you have created a lesson you can share it with other educators, anywhere in the globe. And you can give them permission to copy your exercise so that they can customise it to the needs of their students, and put it in their language.

So please, check out our videos of how to use Fieldscapes, see our gallery of example locations and lessons (and we stress these are examples only - we want you to be the creators of content, not us!), and then register and download the app and try out existing lessons and start to create your own. We only charge once you start to open exercises up to your students.

For those who want a dedicated system rather than a shared system - be they educators or commercial trainers  or L&D staff - we are also now offering Trainingscapes, the same technology as Fieldscapes but offered as a dedicated instance for each client, branded to that client, and where the client is in complete control over access. We'll have a dedicated Trainingscapes demo shortly, but in the mean time sign-up for Fieldscapes to get a feel for the system.

If you need any help in getting started we're running regular webinars, but also please don't hesitate to email support@fieldscapesvr.com and we can set up a Skype or similar session to get you going.

And if you'd like more information on Fieldscapes or Trainingscapes, or a face-to-face or web demo, then again please just call us on +44 121 250 5678, or email info@daden.co.uk or use the contact form.