Saturday, June 4, 2011

REAP Projects

I thought that I'd update on what we are doing for the REAP project this term. We are working with Mixed Reality Interface (MRI) technology. Check out the videos (entitled MRI - demo) on their site for a quick demo of it's capabilities. It is essentially an interactive table that connects to an external display. Actions on this table are reflected on the external display. You can imagine having a "character" (think: lego man) moving around the surface of the table. In this context, the character's point of view would be displayed on the external monitor. If the table displays a floor plan, you can imagine the external monitor showing the point of view of the lego man in the room. Turning the the character on the table is equivalent to looking around the "room".

The table offers some other nice features. The table reads "barcodes" (really, just pieces of paper with patterns) placed on the table and then takes some action in the table or external monitor view. This lets us dynamically change what's happening on either the table or the display.

Our REAP project involves trying to find uses for this technology. We are mostly approaching this from a techonlogy-first design point of view.

The first business case we are exploring is home design. Imagine being to visualize and experience a 3D view of your house before it's even built. The barcode system allows for very quick customization, so it can really help home buyers/designers visualize various design combinations. For example, if you wanted to see what marble cabinets with a red paint room look like, you would simply throw those two barcodes on the table, and would be able to actually visualize how it looks from different points of view. Currently, home buyers have to do all this combination visualizing in their head. Needless to say, this is much less effective (especially if you're someone like me :S).

The second case we are pursuing is virtual museum exhibits. Imagine modeling an entire roman city and letting people walk through it and explore it any way they wanted. There would be various points in the virtual world where information could be displayed. Better yet, one could imagine rendering animations and movies, instead of just a static world. With a system like that, you could watch two dinosaurs fight, and then choose where to go next in the virtual world. How about making a shared world between many table? That way a whole class could be experiencing the same world in their own way, almost like an MMO game. We even played around with making your own exhibits by placing figures (with the barcodes on the bottom) on the table. The system would then interpret the objects on the table and make them interact.

In the future, we might want to switch up that external monitor for something like 3D cave technology. This would let us project a 3D world around the users to create an even more immersion experience. For now we are focusing on starting small though.

These are just some of the fields we are looking at right now. Technology like this is fairly general, so we can really apply this to literally almost every field. For that reason, we decided to pick a few and run with them. If we talk to the business users and find that they don't think it's useful, we can just move on to one of the other umpteen ideas we have. It's a fun way to work.

The people on the REAP project are all very cool (and talented!) people, so it's a lot of fun to work with them. There's also a bunch of free training (Agile training, presentation training, etc). All-in-all, it's a pretty great part time job. :P

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