Monday, September 15, 2014

AEC Hackathon 1.2

AEC Hackathon 1.2 Seattle

It's a wrap, the AEC Hackathon 1.2 just concluded! Held in Seattle, Washington at University of Washington's Pacific Northwest Center for Construction Research and Education, it was a fun weekend of hacking to improve the built environment with plenty of high-tech and innovative solutions in the house.

As always, I was amazed at what the AEC Hackers made over the course of the weekend. In addition to the projects created, some of my more memorable highlights from the event include:

1. Drones for architecture and climbing a tree to get the drone for team Revit My Drone.

2. An awesome smart table touch screen device thanks to SmartUse.

3. Plenty of Virtual Reality for AEC represented including a full immersive VR setup thanks to the team at VRcade.

4. Multiple Web3D applications that used WebGL and more.

5. FTW (For The Win): seeing alumni that have started companies from projects started at past AEC Hackathons.

Video of the team presentations & award ceremony

Check the AEC Hackathon website for more information on the AEC Hackathon 1.2 event. Great job by the organizing team that made this such a successful event.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Leaping ahead with gesture recognition for VR head sets

Leap Motion CTO David Holz recently announced on their blog the launch of a Virtual Reality Headset Mount for their hand-tracking controller that works with Oculus VR's Developer Kit 2. For those not familiar with the Leap Motion controller, see one of my earlier posts about it or visit the Leap Motion website.

As one sees in the video, the controller mounted to the front of the Oculus will allow immersive applications and games to track the hands and fingers.

leap motion oculus rift Now I have seen this setup before where a developer took a Leap Motion controller, an Oculus Rift Dev Kit, and some 'Arkansas chrome' aka duct tape to create this same type of experience, but it is great to see Leap Motion give some design to the mount and software support in their V2 SDK for head units.

This is a huge win for bumping up the levels of immersion for a relatively low cost. The VR mount costs $19.99, requires Leap Motion’s $80 controller, and of course a $350 Oculus Rift Developer Kit 2 (DK2) to be of any use.

There are already some VR demo applications here on their website to try out and they have an open submission for new content to registered Leap Motion developers. I anticipate the developer community will go crazy with this and make some killer gesture interfaces and experiences.

Leap Motion VR - "The Leap Motion controller uses infrared stereo cameras as tracking sensors. You can access the images from these cameras using the Frame.Images function. This function provides an ImageList object, which contains the Image objects for the frame. We support image passthrough currently on native SDKs, but you can still use head-mounted top-down tracking in JavaScript and other WebSocket based solutions without the need for Image API." - from Leap Motion website

Make sure to check out the 12 FAQs About the VR Developer Mount on the company's blog and Leap Motion has also provided the 3D model of the head mount on GrabcCAD and Thingiverse for anyone to 3D print/digitally fabricate themselves.

This is a really exciting team up for virtual reality and I recommend any Oculus owner to upgrade their experience and buy the Leap Motion VR mount and controller. Well done David Holz and team, you truly are leaping us all into the future.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Virtual reality in your pocket

The recent boom in popularity for virtual reality headsets has brought about a variety of both professionally designed and DIY (Do It Yourself) Head Mounted Displays (HMDs). I personally have seen casings of all different shapes and sizes that turn the standard smartphone into a virtual reality HMD and these made from a variety of materials like wood, plastic, and even cardboard.

While I give credit to engineers and makers from the SVVR and SFVR meet ups for doing it before it was cool, it was Google that really pushed the cardboard HMD into the blogosphere during their Google I/O 2014 Keynote. Google Cardboard, as it is appropriately named, is the firm's attempt at a do-it-yourself VR headset.

Literally made of cardboard, the remarkably low-cost virtual reality goggles combine a split-screen image from a smartphone, delivering impressive graphics for the low price of almost free. Combined with positional sensor data from the phone, it's possible to look around an environment with a full 360 degree range.

Google released their cardboard HMD and an app, also called Cardboard, that has a set of demonstration apps (virtual reality YouTube, Google Earth, Street Vue, an animated short and more). The Cardboard app can also 'VR' any photosphere images on your phone turning any smartphone photographer into a virtual reality producer.

The visor works with other 3D apps on Android and iPhone like Dive City Rollercoaster and Moorente, a virtual duck- hunt, where the sky is filled with dozens and dozens of 3D rendered birds. There are a number of 3D videos on YouTube available also and to find them simply search for "3D split screen."

One can make a cardboard headset from Google's official plans or buy a completed cardboard visor kit from companies like San Francisco based DODOcase. The DODOcase VR Kit comes with the basic materials to build a simple-to-assemble cardboard HMD. At a low cost of $24.95 for the kit with the NFC tag, this is definitely a kit I recommend to any VR enthusiast that wants to try virtual reality without dropping a few hundred for a head unit like the Oculus Rift.

I ordered mine and here is a video of the unboxing, assembly, and a little digital fabrication.

As seen in the video, there is a piece of the kit that I decided to replace with a 3D printed part to add more support to the unit. Here is the digital fabrication ready part in a .stl format for any that want to 3D print their own part.

I am very excited by kits like DODOcase's VR Kit and other low cost units that easily turn the smartphone into a virtual reality headset. Truly VR is now very affordable and in most people's pocket. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

How a Hackathon Hacked Me

If you read my blog, I am sure you are very familiar with a hackathon and have probably even participated in a few. For those that have not (hi mom), this post is going to share what a hackathon is and the experience I have had with the ones I have recently organized and been involved with. It won't cover the events themselves, but more how it has affected me and my view on how to help facilitate the innovation I want to see in the world.

What is a hackathon?
Hackathon (also known as a hack day, hackfest or codefest) is an event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development, including graphic designers, interface designers and project managers, collaborate intensively on software projects. Occasionally, there is a hardware component as well. Hackathons typically last between a day and a week. 

Some hackathons are intended simply for educational or social purposes, although in many cases the goal is to create usable software. Hackathons tend to have a specific focus, which can include the programming language used, the operating system, an application, an API, or the subject and the demographic group of the programmers. In other cases, there is no restriction on the type of software being created. - Wikipedia

I have participated in hackathons for the past few years and it all started with my first experience with the iPhone developer camp several years back. I personally have never won a hack, but it has always been a great way for me to improve my skills, help others where I can, and get exposed to some pretty amazing projects that get created over the course of a weekend. This really is the most impressive thing about hackathons to me. Folks come to the event with preformed or on the spot teams and work around the clock to create applications in just a few days. And it is not just for tech developers and designers but also open to those that just have an idea on how to improve something. A fair number of these weekend solutions and projects go on to become companies that address a specific market need.

This spirit of doing is what has motivated me to organize the AEC Hackathons and a few others that are going on this year. No I am not changing my career to be an event planner, but I do see the value of this type of event. I have witnessed first hand the innovation that can be created when one provides an environment for smart people to come, collaborate, explore, create, and solve problems.

I will say that being engaged in a hackathon beyond just as a participant has been a life changing ordeal. The energy and passion from the attendees is unlike any other event I have ever attended. At our last AEC Hackathon, I had a moment during the closing ceremony that was so profound for me that I logged it into my personal journal. "I looked out in amazement and it was at this moment that I lost all train of thought. I am standing in front of something powerful, a wave of energy and passion fueled by a thirst for change and improvement. I need to say something to keep things rolling as I am the MC, but I am so impressed with what has transpired I am at a loss for words. I am looking around a room of collaborators that just blew my mind in the quest for improving some element of the built environment. I have not known a lot of these people longer than this weekend but I sure respect the hell out of how hard they worked and pushed the envelope to make some process of our real world more efficient." I can think of no better way to bring about innovation and work with other talented passionate people.

Another interesting thing I have observed is how the spirit of a hackathon has changed the thinking of those from more traditional industries and their take on how innovation can happen. Unlike other events they are use to attending, it isn't about listening to a sage on the stage but rolling up your sleeves and getting stuff done. Following our AEC Hackathons, there have already been several other hackathons for those in the AEC space since.

I highly recommend attending a hackathon if you have not been to one. It is unlike any other event you will attend. I personally am involved with a few more coming this year that are outside the AEC space and I invite anyone to come join us. It will definitely change the way you see how innovation is made and just might hack your thoughts on how to bring about the change you want to see in your own industry.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Augmented Reality startup Blippar acquires Layar

From Techcrunch: Augmented reality startup Blippar has confirmed it has acquired Layar, an AR pioneer that launched in 2009. Terms were undisclosed in a blog post on the company’s site today. We broke the news of the acquisition last week, but this announcement confirms our previous story. The acquisition makes Blippar one of the largest AR players globally, giving it a powerful positioning in the AR and visual browsing space, which may help its adoption in the mass consumer space where AR has tended to languish. Only Oculus VR, which was acquired by Facebook, has reignited interest in the AR space, so Blippar now looks very interesting when looked at from that perspective.

An internal memo, obtained by TechCrunch writer Ingrid Lunden, referring to Blippar’s CEO and co-founder, Ambarish Mitra, previously confirmed the deal, which was due to be announced officially on June 19. The memo detailed how Layar CEO Quintin Schevernels visited Blippar’s offices to discuss “how we could work together to bring our vision to hundreds of millions of people.” 

London/NYC-based Blippar, founded in 2011, has raised an undisclosed amount from Qualcomm Ventures. Netherlands-based Layar, founded in 2009, has raised some $17 million from Intel Capital, Sunstone and others. Blippar’s product creates “blipps” in which users snap pictures in printed or other display ads through the Blippar app, triggering bigger interactive ad campaigns for many leading brands.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Gravity tablet - 3D sketching with Augmented Reality

 A group of students from the Royal College of Art have designed an augmented reality tool that allows designers to sketch in three dimensions. Gravity consists of a stylus and a tablet, familiar tools used for digital drawing, that have been adapted specifically for sketching in 3D. It was started in London in October 2013 as a group project between four Innovation Design Engineering students of the Royal College of Art.

 As the user draws above the clear acrylic sketchpad, radio signals are used to track the movements of the stylus from coordinates on the pad. These are sent to an Arduino board which is contained in a black panel that forms one edge of the pad. Controls on the pad can change the planes on which pen is sketching, meaning the drawing can be given volume. The drawings can be rotated and approached from any angle and other people can view the drawing using their own headset, and even add to it.

 From its video, it looks like the tool connects to a variety of augmented reality headsets and the RCA team has also connected it to an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset using the Unity3D game engine.

 The Gravity team unveiled publicly their innovation on February 5th for the Royal College of Art WIP Show 2014. Their website says they are now actively raising investments for their patent pending innovation with the strong vision that Gravity can change the way we create in 3D. I look forward to getting my hands on one and start creating. Now I just need to learn how to draw.