One of the most important application fields of augmented reality is for sure education: as we saw in some previous articles, often this new technology can help the students of any age improve their learning experiences. Today we talk about the project “Augmented Reality Sandbox“, that the University of California developed with the big firm, well-known for its specialization in graphic cards, Nvidia, to help students studying topography.

Once more, the wonders of augmented reality are clear: in fact, while we could think about some sci-fi device to make this project work, the base of it all is simply some playing sand in a box; with the help of an Nvidia GeForce GTX 750 Ti graphics card, an Xbox Kinect sensor and a projector you will be able to create and model beautiful lands. As you can see in the video below, you can put your hands in the sandbox and change the disposition of the lands with a simple touch, modeling mountains and hills and digging lakes and rivers; as the sand moves, the augmented landscape projected on the surface changes live. It is also possible, simply with the shade of the hands, to simulate rain, adding the water needed to fill the land.

This project was displayed for the first time at the Alaska Conference on Surveying and Mapping and then arrived also to the University of Wyoming Geological Museum, where it was tested for children topography learning purpose; useless to say that it was a big success, since the “Augmented Reality Sandbox” joins learning with playing: the children have fun and they can’t even realize that in the while they are actually studying.

Augmented reality is used day after day in always more fields, from the industrial to the recreational ones. Today we talk about the first course for kindergarten and elementary school children that has been created in the world: the name is Learning Alive and it was created by Kaplan Early Learning, a company based in North Carolina that provides products and services that enhance children’s learning, in collaboration with Alive Studios, enterprise that has the mission to create offers helping children being engaged in math and reading learning.

Learning Alive is a suite made of three programs/courses, Letters alive®, Storybooks alive® and Math alive®, to learn math and reading in an interactive and fun way thanks to augmented reality.

“Augmented reality is similar to your typical 3-D experience, but it doesn’t require the use of special glasses or tools,” says Travis Williams, Elementary Merchandiser at Kaplan Early Learning Company. “While augmented reality is becoming more and more popular across several industries, this is the first product we’ve seen that utilizes this technology in early learning.”

The three courses have duration one year and help the children learning the different disciplines following the Common Core State Standards, the American learning standards; on the actual success of this method seems to be no doubts: a research made by Dr. Tamara Ogeltree, Associate Professor of Reading at the University of West Georgia, proved how the use of the Letters alive® program meant a substantial enhancement of learning in the children. “[…] Students in the full implementation of Letters alive® experienced greater gains in emergent literacy skill development than the students in the classroom using no parts of the Letters alive® curriculum,” concluded Ogletree.

As we are noticing in last times, the application of augmented reality to learning is always more popular and widespread: there’s no doubt that the school environment will be one of the ones taking more advantage from the development of this technology.

 

When we saw Microsoft HoloLens in action with Minecraft at E3 last June, we were surprised and amazed from what they showed us on the stage: that was exactly what we were expecting from the best augmented reality headset we could imagine, and it was just breathtaking.

But those who tested live the device noticed that the experience isn’t exactly what we thought watching it from our screens: now Microsoft released a video showcasing the headset’s uses at Case Western Reserve University and finally the actual field of view is revealed…and, unluckily, it seems we have to reshape our expectations.

In the video, created to show the possibilities of using HoloLens and augmented reality for studying medicine, we can see how the students can see through the headset the human body parts and study the problems virtually, without putting at any risk the patients lives.

Of course, the use is awesome, but for the first time we also realize what exactly is the vision of the wearer: it is clear that there’s a bit limitation to the field of view that the user can have while using HoloLens; it seems to be an augmented reality “window”, that appears to take up about half of the screen, occupying a rectangle in the middle of the glasses’ field of view, and in the remaining part there’s just the real vision. This isn’t so much noticeable when the augmented reality objects are seen from afar, but it is very clear when they are near and right in front of the user.

Even for an incredible project as Microsoft HoloLens, at this time used also in space, there’s still a lot of work to do: we are sure that soon it will be as good as we imagined.

Some days ago a new augmented reality headset was added to the famous trio Google Glass, Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR: Microsoft, during its worldwide streaming event “Windows 10: Next Chapter”, presented various projects that will be developed in next months. Among the others (not less than Windows 10 and the new Microsoft’s browser) there’s a particular one which is very interesting to us: we are talking about the suite of augmented reality software called Windows Holographic and the related augmented reality headset, named HoloLens.

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The Redmond company didn’t use the words “augmented reality” but “holograms”, still we know what that means: this will probably be the yet-missing mainstream AR set. In fact, at the moment Google Glass has just few AR apps, while Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR are more centered on virtual reality. HoloLens seems to be finally a true AR headset, which puts in communication our daily world with the virtual world.
As Microsoft’s Alex Kipman said: “Until now, we’ve immersed ourselves in the world of technology, but what if we could take technology and immerse it in our world?”
Kipman didn’t describe in depth HoloLons technology, but hinted that they are more sophisticated than the other headsets around: e.g. they create the illusion of depth showing to each eye a different plain image. There’s more: first, it seems it will not use markers as e.g. QR codes; second: the headset itself is very close to a pair of normal glasses, so definitely wearable and light (and why not? – even classy).

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During the presentation event, Microsoft’s executives Joe Belfiore, Terry Myerson and Alex Kipman showed some examples of everyday use for HoloLens: how to adjust a broken pipe, make a Skype call directly on a wall and also how to build Minecraft buildings anywhere we want. There was also a demo on how to sculpt 3D printable models. These uses open this technology to almost every kind of people, making HoloLens, as we said before, the first mainstream AR headset; we are sure that this new product, with the related software, will be a success.

But this powerful techonology, of course, can be used even on higher levels: in fact, last but not least, Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA is working with Microsoft to see if they can use holograms in scientific research.

It’s not strange, in these times, to read on the web users saying that sci-fi is here. Yes, and it seems it just started.

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