Come together, right now. Convergence 002

Adapted from a University Yammer post

Held at UTS on Thursday 7 April,  Convergence 002 was a good expo. The speakers were fine but not the main attraction, mostly talking to a theme of ‘Change is coming, the tech is here (really, this time)’.

The usual players (Google, Samsung, HTC, etc.) are all out to build the platform, and it’s left to a constellation of bit players to join the dots to content and the market. This is where I think the model is inhibiting adoption, in VR.

There were a dozen or so Expo stands, mostly VR, then AR, animation and some wearables.

There is something remarkable about the sensory experience in immersive technologies, and helicopter rides over the Barrier Reef, the South Island of NZ, jumping out of plane in a wing-suit, looking down from a tall building, and stepping off a hotel balcony to look at the exterior finish, well (did I mention I get vertigo?) they’re fun but generic. If we could match the content with the medium (being on the jury in ‘To kill a mockingbird’, walking around Ancient Rome, reaching out and touching the elements of the Marshall Plan), that would be fun – and would be a small part of, say, transforming a learning experience. Instead, you get to be Iron Man in a bar-room fight with Ultron and friends, because VR is largely by nerds for nerds (yes, I know, right). Science and medicine are much better served by VR at the moment and it was fascinating (if a bit weird) to walk through a 3D person, and look vertically ‘down’ and ‘through’ their body. What you could do with fMRI.

Augmented reality is very cool (there, I said it) and there were several excellent building-related applications, as well as an app that detects information from devices, like Shazam for bar fridges (it picks up the operating temperature, for example). Like a Star Trek tricorder, seeking intelligence in papier mache rocks, except it seems to work.

This is very applicable technology – it can create a data layer over real-world objects. So, you could get a 3D image (say of an engine) on your smartphone, point your phone camera at a real engine, and the phone image ‘wraps around’ the real image and provides information on what’s in front of you (e.g. names the parts, etc.)

Animation, well, that’s still a thing and could be used in conjunction with the other technologies. Animation is so well-known (Steamboat Willie, anyone) that it’s all about the content. In fact, the Virtual Reality libraries are filled with Pixar type animations and I have to admit that when a VR penguin waved to me, I waved back (and blushed, when I realised).

Wearables. Apart from the shoes I posted on in (Yammer) tech and toys, there wasn’t that much. There was a company with a range of intelligent helmets – Go Pro meets Robocop. It will be fun finding use cases for that in Arts and Social Sciences.

There were a few, though not many, services companies and futurists, and it might be worth chatting to the people in that space to think further about how these tools might be usefully prototyped and used. Which is not to denigrate the great work that is already going on in the University by Jim Cook and his team, just a thought to help expand the effort as we refresh the UG curriculum.