I’ve just returned from annual leave, and something I can’t keep to myself is a cringe-worthy (and slightly creepy) sight I saw all along the Croatian coastline: tourists with Selfie Sticks.
If you haven’t seen or heard of the Selfie Stick, think of it as a pole to attach your camera or smartphone to, sometimes with a button near the handle. This allows you to pose for a photo of yourself from afar. This new phenomena is booming abroad, and was recently spotted closer to home at a football game by the Guardian’s Daniel Taylor who tweeted:
— Daniel Taylor (@DTguardian) September 14, 2014
Selfies have attracted criticism from some (including the Selfie Police), mainly on grounds of vanity, but also the vague feeling that selfie-takers are missing out on the moment itself by concentrating so hard on documenting themselves at that time and place. That’s a thought that came to mind when I watched someone swim to the middle of Krka National Park waterfall with a selfie stick in hand, and pose for countless shots. But on the other hand, sharing that moment with friends and family at home, and looking back on it on the many weeks of the year when she’s not on holiday, isn’t such a bad intention.
Radial-G, at the starting point.
Finally! Thanks to Dean Gifford from Preliminal Games I had the chance to play around with several demos and games on the Oculus Rift Dev Kit 2.
My Rift experience started with Quake, an all time classic first person shooter released by ID Software in 1996. As soon as I put my headset on I felt like I went back in time! An element I particularly liked was the stereoscopic 3D gun that was in front of you, I could even put a finger on a trigger position. I had lots of fun playing around in the game – although the keyboard and mouse movement made me a bit nauseous.
Next on the list was the official Oculus Rift Dev Kit 2 demo which presented you with a virtual office environment. The demo displayed a neat new feature of position head-tracking. You could move in whatever direction you wanted and this changed your position. You could even bend over to examine the potted plants from multiple angles. In one instance I found myself trying to lift a pen from the desk but without success. This reminded me of the eminent need for an intuitive interaction with the virtual environment.
The third demo put me into the legendary Millenium Falcon from Star Wars. The navigation was smooth but unfortunately there was too much chromatic aberration and that spoiled the whole experience. Chromatic aberration is the effect produced by the refraction of different wavelengths of light through slightly different angles, resulting in a failure to focus. Let’s hope that this issue is going to be addressed in the near future by Oculus VR and Unity, the game engine that many developers use to make games.
Example of Chromatic aberration
On the other hand Proton Pulse Rift gave me an amazing arcade gaming experience. The game resembles a 3D space-themed Arkanoid where you control the paddle by simply looking in the direction you want to move. It was a true hands-free immersive experience.
Proton Pulse gameplay in action!
The game that really exceeded my expectations and truly tested my reflexes and twitch skills was Radial-G. Radial-G introduced the user to a unique radial circuit space race where at the same time you had to avoid multiple obstacles. Although I really enjoyed the game I found myself at times quite distracted from the fast movement and highly visual environment. It was an awesome experience where the low persistence of the device, which eliminated the motion blur and judder, made the real difference.
In general the image quality of the Oculus Rift was much more superior to my Nexus 4 used with the Google Cardboard, although I could still observe the pixels in front of me in some cases. Orientation and position tracking were both seamless, although with the position tracking you had to be careful not to stand out of the tracking device’s field. Dean had worked out a simple solution to have a mat at the tracking area of play. An additional major limitation I observed was that the headset is not portable and the cable restricted your movement. Lastly, it was quite interesting that even though I played around only a couple of hours my perception of the real world had already been affected. The minute I got the Oculus Rift out of my head I was more observant of the distance and depth of objects and their shadows.
Future research could definitely be around how to control the environment, as the keyboard and mouse controls are not suitable. Finally, there is a need for a multimodal interaction inside the virtual environment. Oculus has made the first step providing an immersive visual world. Hopefully future development will bring forward the best of Virtual Reality.
Playing with Google Cardboard at the office
Whilst I was trying to find an immediate alternative to the long-awaited Oculus Rift, a project from Google caught my attention. Google Cardboard is a Virtual Reality headset that was created by a Google employee under a company initiative which gives all employees the flexibility to spend 20% of their time on their own projects. The Google Cardboard kit was given freely to attendees of the Google I/O 2014, the annual conference about the Android ecosystem.
I decided to go through the Google Cardboard DIY (Do It Yourself) design. The DIY kit was easy to make with cardboard (even from yesterday’s pizza box) as all the instructions can be found on the Google official website. As I was putting everything together, my colleagues were eager to find out what I was trying to make with all the pieces. The truth is that I did not have great expectations but it turned out that it was a truly amazing experience!
If like me, you are late to pick up on the story of a hitch-hiking robot who made its way across Canada, here’s a quick rundown of one innocent robots triumphant journey against the face of adversity. Hitchbot was conceived in the minds of two Canadian professors David smith and Dr. Frauke Zeller who gave one robot a dream. Hitchbot, like most robots, has a limited set of skills: the ability to converse, take photos, tweet locations and make facial expressions with a cheeky LED face. The problem is this robot has one minor drawback, the ability to move. Using only a foam hitch-hiking thumb and a variety of inter-personal skills, this robot had to make a journey from one-side of Canada to the other and experience human interaction along the way.
To find out more about hitchbot’s journey check out the website, twitter feed and global coverage it made.
The Oculus Rift in action!
When I was little, still playing with my Lego, I remember hearing lots of exciting stories about Virtual Reality gaming devices in arcades. Young people were wearing a huge helmet that immersed them into a low resolution but exciting gaming world. I was trying to imagine the different world that existed inside. Finally, the moment I can experience Virtual Reality has arrived! Virtual Reality is revived after the 90s with the help of the Oculus Rift!
The Oculus Rift is a Virtual Reality head-mounted display created by Oculus VR. Palmer Luckey, the founder of Oculus VR went from just an idea to the creation of the first widely available Developer kit. Oculus VR was initially supported by a Kickstarter campaign that received huge support. On March 2014, Facebook acquired Oculus VR for 2 billion dollars, anticipating Oculus Rift to be the next interface revolution. The device is targeted to everyone thanks to its reasonable price (the developer’s version costs about £200). The technology has finally matured and the question at this moment is how developers and the computing industry are going to support the device. Transparency Market Research predicted that Virtual Reality gaming is going to reach a value of more than 5.8 billion globally by 2019.
Kicking off my research into car technology and driver interfaces. The project will explore the current market of in-car technology and analyse the implications of this platform on UX methods and practice.
Having just committed myself to delivering an exciting independent research project looking at in-car technologies and automobile apps, what better way for me to get immersed in the motor world than attending the British Grand Prix!
Photo by Macey J. Foronda/ Buzzfeed
I was having a break a couple of days ago with an old friend of mine at a quiet café in Covent Garden when a rather painful topic came up in the discussion. A couple of years ago my friend’s daughter had an MRI scan. MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging, a type of scan that uses strong magnetic fields to produce a detailed image of your body. The experience for her daughter was quite traumatic; she cried and could not sit still. Who would not be afraid of a giant machine, which requires you to stay still (sometimes for more than 30 minutes) and makes strange loud noises? It’s easier for adults to come to terms with the process as they understand the necessity of having an MRI scan as it’s about their health, but why should children have to endure such horrendous experience?
So, where does UX fit into this? Well, making a wonderful experience for the children that have to go through the challenge of having a scan. It turns out, that after a bit of research on the topic Doug Dietz, a designer of MRI machines at GE Healthcare has already been inspired from one of many real-life stories to create a whole new experience for children going through an MRI scan.
Children have a difficult time on their first meeting with the MRI scanner, crying and trying to get out of the room, whilst having to cope with whatever injury or even a serious illness has brought them there in the first place. It is noted that almost 80% of children that have an MRI scan are sedated before the scan as they are too scared to lie still for long enough.
Its 9.40, and after an unnaturally high level of focus on kitchen duties, I’m now gazing out the window looking for signs of the man from our broadband company. Our broadband has decided to stop working for the last week and a half. No idea why. As a UX-er, it is an interesting situation. Ringing customer services was a good experience. They seemed friendly and efficient on both occasions.
A local area network problem was the identified issue first time round and that should be rectified within a couple of days we were told. My partner however is fairly steamed up about it, as it was a recent installation and switching had been a hard decision. “I knew it was a mistake to move,” he fumes. But as the cooler headed one of the two, I’m ok: we can cope. A week later, it wasn’t fixed. I ring a second time and looking at the line, I’m told it was not the local area fault any more, but something else which I don’t quite catch. An S… something or other. Now an engineer is coming out to fix what maybe as simple as a loose connection on the splitter, but he can only make it between 8-12, so I stay in and wait.
So where’s the UX issue here? It's not the fact that things go wrong but that I had to make a second call. Without the second call to customer services, we would be no nearer to solving the problem. But this was driven by me, the customer. I’m the one who’s irritated and it's my time that’s being wasted. I feel like I’m doing their job for them. How come the issue wasn’t followed up or checked? How come first time round we had one diagnosis and now it doesn’t seem to be that at all? In the end it turned out to be something embarrassingly simple – it had been an local area issue but our equipment just needed re-setting. How come I didn’t think to do this myself? We’re told in this life, don’t sweat the small stuff. Now that an expensive engineer has been and gone, maybe following up on the small stuff would be a good way to keep the customer happy.
Since a friend recommended 2048 to me, I’ve been enjoying the sliding-and-matching tiles game on my mobile.
But when I came to installing it onto an Android tablet, the Google Play store was flooded with games calling themselves 2048. Many had similar yellow logos, similar colour palettes of tiles, and were described as ‘original’. And, of course, there were the mandatory Doge and Flappy versions, hedging their bets across multiple memes.
I wanted to make sure I downloaded the right version. I looked at the screenshots, and this revealed small differences such as grids larger than the 4×4 I had been playing on. But even when excluding differences in game mechanics, I was left with a huge number of options calling themselves 2048. It reminded me of that overwhelming, weary feeling of standing in a large supermarket aisle. Just as choosing between 20 types of strawberry jam is unbearably tedious, trying to unpick the differences to find the right game of 2048 made me want to give up. I settled for an acceptable doppelgänger, but the whole experience left me bruised, and worse had eaten up valuable playing time!
Looking up the phenomena online, a timeline emerges of clones of clones of clones. Like a game of Chinese whispers, 2048 itself was, in fact, a version of 1024, which might have been designed as a spin-off to Threes. In which case, could any of them really be considered the ‘real’ version? And why did it matter to me, if playing a copy was essentially the same?
I was looking for some app authenticity. But what a customer or user experiences as authentic, might not necessarily be the original product. The challenge for products and services isn’t being first to the party, it’s making sure they’re the ones we want to spend time with.