After a social media message to Infohackit I signed up for a weekend VR/AR/MR hack event organised by Allia Serious Impact aiming to find “solutions to real world problems which impact on people, planet or place”. I signed up for three reasons:
- When it comes to VR/AR/MR, I’m a curious skeptic. My own user experience has been limited and superficial: I got bored with Pokemon Go fairly quickly, and I’ve attended a few interactive exhibitions where shortage of hardware meant long waits for very brief interactions. Nonetheless, I’m optimistic about the opportunities immersive technologies have to offer and I’m particularly interested in ways of experiencing data in VR or communicating research stories.
- I’ve organised more than 10 hack events in the last three years and sat in the audience for hack event presentations, but it’s been a LONG time since I got to be part of as team and do the hard work.
- It was FREE to attend and I like pizza.
If you don’t know the difference between VR, AR and MR, this tweet sums it up nicely…
On the first morning, delegates arrived at the RealVNC offices, ate pastries and networked.
Following some opening presentations from people already using VR in industry, we had an hour to tour the venue and play with some of the equipment and I had a lot of fun trying on headsets, wandering around Minecraft buildings, sketching in 3D with Google tilt and the like.
The piece of equipment I found most interesting was perhaps the most simple, a comfortable smartphone headset made by Give Vision with a handheld trigger that allowed the wearer to zoom in and out on their everyday life. There were also some useful filters for contrast and colour. I remember a few weeks back in a tired moment accidentally pinch zooming a paper magazine article I was reading, and here was the solution. Of course, the tech isn’t aimed at me (my glasses correct fairly minor shortsightedness), but at people with significant visual impairments, allowing them to gain further independence. Pretty nifty.
Forming a team and picking a challenge
The challenges were broad: to create a VR concept that would create impact in health care or in infrastructure. Our team came together fairly quickly. I’d already been chatting to Luke and George when looking at the Give Vision headset, and we’d discussed an idea about Macular Degeneration. Having found a spot to work, we returned to the melee to recruit at least one more team member and came away with three, Clare, Ullash and Daniel.
How to hack, and how we hacked
Hack judge and mentor Amandine Flachs said it well in the opening presentations:”Keep it simple, set your goals, plan ahead and make a diverse team”
Keep it simple
Our concept was to use immersive tech to map the black (or blank) spots in people’s vision. We conceived a web-based game, playable wearing google cardboard where the user responds to dots appearing on the screen with a simple tap through a hole in the base of the headset. By recording which dots are tapped and which are not, the system creates a ‘map’ of the user’s vision.
Set your goals
First priority was a working version of the game, and then to develop some of the possible applications of the map data it would generate. Our first research priority was to make sure our idea wasn’t already out there, and then to develop use cases, a distribution and engagement strategy, and of course, a killer powerpoint.
Clare, MBA student from Judge Business School was appointed project manager and helped us keep on track with regular progress meetings. We also set up a team slack channel so we could wear headphones, concentrate on our own work AND keep in touch. We agreed milestones for the end of the day (which ran rather late and extended from the VNC offices to a nearby pub).
Make a diverse team
We were fortunate to assemble a team where each team member had distinct and complementary skills. It also helped that everyone was so friendly and we clicked. The important thing here is that we were up and running with a concept, team roles and plan VERY early in the hack. I see this in winning infohackit teams a lot. You have to get moving fast. Due to the time constraints, we decided to start the development process straight away, while also researching the market. The research findings helped consolidate our concept. We settled on the team name SeeingSight.
The pitches and what we pitched
After two days of hard work, and a last minute shuffle on the slide deck, we were ready to present.
All eight teams had a working demo of their project. My personal highlights included a design environment for building houses from shipping containers, a follow the leader style game for active kids and a virtual restaurant that aims to improve your eating habits by making the carrot sticks you’re eating appear as chips.
Our pitch told the story of our tech through the user persona of Peggy, her son and the real Opthalmic Surgeon we consulted in the US (while she was at a soccer game – how very hack). We included a user interface demo (see gif below) and a couple of product demos to the audience.
3D animator George created a live video filter which utilises the map created by the game to push visual content into areas where the user’s vision is clearer. The example below is pretty compelling, see how much more quickly the car appears on the right side of the image. We suggested that it might be interesting to see if, with regular use, the image looks less warped.
And the winners are…
Team SeeingSight! I was feeling confident we’d done well, but didn’t expect to win in a strong field of presentations. We left with giant sudo medallions, certificates and a Google Home under each arm.
In team mate Daniel’s blog, he sums up my feelings exactly:
“I’m really proud of the team. We built a product that’s not only useful, but accessible. The total cost of this thing is that of a smart phone + $5 for Google Cardboard. This could be deployed around the world to help detect signs of macular degeneration literally years early allowing treatment before it progresses too far. It’ll help parents stricken with the disease keep tabs on potential signs in their children (this is a genetic disorder) and all this done with a phone and the price of a Starbucks coffee.”
We’ll see what happens next. If SeeingSight doesn’t move forward (I hope it does!), I’ve left the event with new knowledge, increased enthusiasm for immersive technology, some great working relationships and some new ideas for my own hack events. Nice one Allia!