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Posts Tagged ‘virtual reality’

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Image: Casto Vocal
Virtual reconstruction of northernmost section of pre-Incan temple in Bolivia.

Here’s why a general education may equip the workforce of the future better than job-specific training: you never know what skills will be needed. In this example, a new breed of adaptable archaeologist is expanding the use of 3-D technology to reimagine lost worlds.

George Dvorsky writes at Gizmodo, “The 1,500-year-old Pumapunku temple in western Bolivia is considered a crowning achievement of Andean architecture, yet no one knows what the original structure actually looked like. Until now.

“Using historical data, 3D-printed pieces, and architectural software, archaeologist Alexei Vranich from UC Berkeley has created a virtual reconstruction of Pumapunku — an ancient Tiwanaku temple now in ruins. Archaeologists have studied the site for over 150 years, but it wasn’t immediately obvious how all the broken and scattered pieces belonged together. The surprisingly simple approach devised by Vranich is finally providing a glimpse into the structure’s original appearance. Excitingly, the same method could be used to virtually reconstruct similar ruins. The details of this achievement were published [last December] in Heritage Science.

“First, some background on the structure. Pumapunku, which means ‘door of the puma,’ was a temple designed and built by the pre-Incan Tiwanaku culture, who lived and thrived in what is now western Bolivia from 500 AD to 1,000 AD. …

“Pumapunku displayed a level of craftsmanship that was largely unparalleled in the pre-Columbian New World, and it’s often considered the architectural peak of Andean lithic technology prior to the arrival of the Europeans. …

“Unfortunately, the ruins of Tiwanaku, and the Pumapunku temple in particular, have been ransacked repeatedly over the past half-millenium. Archaeologists have virtually no idea what the structure actually looked like. None of the blocks that once comprised the original structure are currently located in their original place, and many of them are badly damaged or decayed. …

“To overcome these difficulties and limitations, Vranich and his colleagues integrated historical archaeological data with modern computer software and 3D-printer technology to reconstruct the ancient temple, and by doing so, devised an entirely new approach to reconstructing and visualizing ancient ruins that would otherwise be impossible to build.

“The team created miniature 3D-printed models, at 4 percent actual size, of the temple’s 140 known pieces, which were based on measurements compiled by archaeologists over the past 150 years and Vranich’s own on-site observations of the ruins. … The researchers could have performed this work exclusively in the virtual realm, but they had better luck with tangible, physical pieces they could freely move around.

“ ‘It was much easier to use the 3D-printed models,’ Vranich told Gizmodo. ‘You can quickly manipulate them in your hand and try position after position. It is much slower and less intuitive on the computer.’ …

“Satisfied with their Lego-like configurations, the researchers keyed their creations into an architectural modeling program, culminating in a single hypothetical model of the temple complex. This wasn’t terribly difficult, as the construction methods used by the Tiwanaku people, and how they formed their incredibly geometric stones, are well documented, explained Vranich. But the exercise yielded some new findings.

“ ‘What we found out is that it appears they were making prototypes for each type of stone type, and then would have copied one after the other. It’s almost like it was a pre-Columbian version of Ikea.’ …

“Another interesting finding was that the gateways scattered around the site were lined up in a way to create a mirror effect. That is, ‘one big gateway, then another smaller one in line, then another,’ he said. ‘It would create an effect as if you were looking into infinity in the confines of a single room.’ ”

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Photo: Richard Saker for the Guardian
“Oh, this is fun. I feel as if I’m at the party.” Seniors fighting off dementia benefit from Wayback Virtual Reality.

I often think I overdid it in early 2000 repeating myself over and over to encourage an impaired relative to remember her childhood, but an article by Giulia Rhodes in the Guardian suggests that stirring up old memories can indeed be helpful to seniors with dementia.

“In a comfortable armchair, glass of sherry at her side,” writes Rhodes, “Elspeth Ford is getting to grips with her 3D goggles. …

“Elspeth, 79, is a resident at Langham Court, a dementia care home in Surrey, and today she is trialling a virtual reality project, Wayback, that has been designed especially for those living with dementia. Peering into her headset, Elspeth is temporarily transported to 2 June 1953, and a street party for the Queen’s coronation. She is enjoying a children’s fancy-dress competition. ‘I love that boy dressed as an Oxo cube,’ she laughs.

“This is the first in what will become a series of virtual reality films set at historic moments, and available free for those with dementia, their families and carers to enjoy together through a mobile phone and a pair of inexpensive 3D goggles. The idea was developed by three advertising creatives with family experience of dementia.

“For Camilla Ford, Elspeth’s daughter, it is an exciting concept. ‘It gave Mum a huge amount of pleasure and really engaged her,’ she says. … ‘She was immersed in this and it took her back to a time of happy memories, when she was productive and emotionally fulfilled.’

“Elspeth has had vascular dementia for seven years, and finding a point of contact increasingly involves moving to where she is, rather than trying to bring her into the present, says Camilla. ‘If she is in a place she can identify with, and we can see it too, we are somehow equalised. We are at a stage where we aren’t trying to create memories but to relish positive emotions, dropping the expectation of who Mum was and just being with the person in front of us.’

“Elspeth sets off for lunch with her son Dominic, still smiling. It is unlikely, says Camilla, that her mother will remember what has made her feel happy. ‘The point is that she feels uplifted, not necessarily that she knows why.’

“Dan Cole, one of Wayback’s creators, agrees. ‘If the film can open some memories, start a conversation or bring a smile, that’s a success,’ he says. The idea began to form after a drive around Camden, north London, with his father, then in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. ‘It was his old stomping ground and he kept recognising places and telling me little tales; the pub his dad drank in, where he hung about with his mates, even an alley where he once got into a scrap,’ says Dan. ‘In that fleeting moment it was so clear in his mind. I could ask questions. He could tell me things.’ …

“The resulting film was made over two days in a north-London street (satellite dishes and other modern trappings digitally removed) with a volunteer cast and crew of 187 and painstakingly sourced period props, costumes and menu (fish-paste sandwiches, notes one Langham Court resident approvingly). …

“Langham Court’s philosophy is based on the Butterfly Household model, devised by Dr David Sheard, a dementia specialist and CEO of Dementia Care Matters, who is supporting Wayback. ‘People living with dementia become more feeling beings than thinking beings,’ he says. ‘Feelings endure and are more to be trusted when facts diminish.’ ”

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Hard to believe, I know, but some things have gotten better. Take accessibility. When my father was disabled by a stroke in the 1950s, there were few supports for families. There were no ramps, no specialized bathrooms at highway rest stops, no programs to teach the afflicted new ways to be independent. People with disabilities were mostly on their own.

Today, there are interpreters for the deaf who are as dramatic and interesting as anything being interpreted, there are kneeling buses and building regulations that incorporate universal design precepts (ramps, wide doors for wheelchairs, high toilet seats, grab bars), and more.

The other day when my husband and I watched a Disney film on Netflix, we even discovered that someone with vision impairment could get all the images narrated.

And here’s another new angle: a contemporary museum is using virtual reality to enable folks in wheelchairs to see an otherwise inaccessible exhibit. Steven Overly at the Washington Post has the story.

“The magic of the ‘Infinity Mirrors’ exhibit begins as soon as the door is closed behind you. Surrounded by mirrors on all sides, visitors find themselves at the center of a seemingly endless plain filled with brightly colored lights and geometric sculptures.

“But curators at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, where the exhibit is on display until May 14, faced an early challenge: how to re-create that magic for visitors in wheelchairs. …

“Drew Doucette, who oversees multimedia and technology initiatives at the Hirshhorn, thought immediately of virtual reality. …

“The Renwick Gallery, National Museum of Natural History and other Smithsonian Institution sites have created virtual experiences in the past, often with the goal of extending the exhibit to people or students who may not be able to visit in person. The ‘Infinity Mirrors’ exhibit marks the first time any have used virtual reality to make an exhibit accessible to those with disabilities, [Beth Ziebarth, director of the Smithsonian’s Accessibility Program] said.

“The wildly popular art exhibit is spread across six portable rooms, each filled with objects created by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. …

“But in three of the rooms, visitors must walk through 30-inch doorways and onto platforms less than four feet wide to achieve the full experience. …

“It took roughly four months to plan and design the Infinity Mirrors virtual reality experience on Unity, a program typically used to build video games, Doucette said. …

“ ‘We essentially had to take a step back from trying to recreate the rooms and get into the head of Kusama and say, “What was she trying to do? How did she end up using mirrors?” ‘ Doucette said.” Read more.

Photo: Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post
Volunteer Megan Walline experiences the installation “Infinity Mirrored Room — All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins” at the Hirshhorn in Washington, DC.

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