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Augmented Reality Learning Environments

Holy cow, have you guys checked out quadcopters?!

We live in interesting times, where a convergence of technologies, spurred by mobile phone development has led to a ton of very powerful things getting embedded into very small devices. This includes a wide variety of different kinds of sensors, and ever improving video/transmitting capabilities. Stuff’s getting smaller, faster, and more powerful, and it’s happening faster than you can get it shipped from China.

For games, this means we’re now talking about all types of new frontiers of interaction. Pokémon Go was just a taste of the opportunity for Augmented Reality gaming, with players ready to sign up for the dream of real-world integrated exploration and interaction. New technologies like the upcoming Tango are going to integrate even more aspects of sensors, community-compiled data and location-driven interaction.

There’s even a little slice of science fiction future right now if you’re interested- FPV quadcopter flying.

You are almost certainly aware of drones. From military, to aerial photography to plastic pocket drones in your stockings, the hardware for creating hovering, remote controllable craft has hit a new level of low cost and accessibility. But what you might not be aware of is that people are flying these things in first person (First Person Video, FPV), by mounting small cameras on the front and strapping on a pair of goggles to receive the feed directly. You fly the drone as if you were a teeny little pilot standing on the front.

The effect is you turn your world into a pod-racing course. Here’s a video to give you a sense:

This is complete, world-based immersion. If you’re someone who played waaaaay too much Tony Hawk back in the day, you might recall walking around and seeing the real world as an endless series of potential ramps and rails. Quadcopters not only induce the same sensation of “this abandoned factory would be an amazing racetrack”, they make the digital conversion of those spaces possible. It’s…it’s crazy.

So why is this in a games and learning blog? Thanks for sticking it out. My actual point is fairly simple – Augmented Reality isn’t just a method to deliver digital experiences that we know in new ways – AR offers ways to deliver new types of experiences altogether. FPV is a Augmented Reality gaming experience in a way that goes way beyond “oh my phone superimposed a monster onto my table”.

While VR is a step closer to world-integration than traditional videogames, it’s in some ways the mirror opposite of Augmented Reality – Augmented Reality games look for ways to integrate playful elements and interactions into The World That Is; VR games look to replace the real world, but in a way that is so immediate to your senses that it replaces reality. Virtually. So they actually have very different values in the importance of the world itself – AR sees reality as an asset, VR sees reality as a distraction.

So what about learning games, and games for impact? The first obvious opportunity for AR is to mitigate transfer problems. When we make digital games, often the secret final hurdle is “transfer”- getting the skills and knowledge that a player gained in the game to move back into the real world. This is a combination of the skills needing to be modeled in transferable ways, and preparing the player to think about transfer.

With AR, you have an opportunity to make the “distance” that the transfer has to take be shorter…possibly. If I were designing an AR game to teach you about the layout of a national park, and I built it so that you would fly quadcopters to literally fly through that park at great speeds, I am going to be less worried about transfer than having the player walk through a VR modeled version of the same park. Sure the VR park allows for teleporting and minimizes things like running out of battery or hitting a tree, but in terms of literally creating transferable knowledge about the park, AR has got that covered.

So that’s maybe an easy win – objectives that are focused on a sense of place, where fidelity of the place is critical, make for good AR learning game projects. What else?

We’ve seen with things like Pokémon Go and Ingress that AR games can encourage exploration. They can also create surprising dynamic social experiences, where all of a sudden you are meeting new people with shared (or even competing!) interests. If creating in-person social interactions and stirring groups of people together around common interests are an objective, AR might be a candidate.

But…man. We’re at a moment where the hardware changes are going to hit hard, fast, and relentlessly. Tech driven by mobile phone development is going to change so much of what we can do with place and space, we’re going to be just swimming in a sea of possibilities. And new possibilities for interaction mean new opportunities for impact. Exciting times!

In the meantime, drop me a line if you want to crash a drone with me!


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