A University of Canterbury (UC) computer game about protecting native forests has been named one of the top 10 global sciences games by a leading UK newspaper.
The Guardian paper says the new generation of online games don't just provide entertainment, they help scientists solve puzzles involving genes, conservation and the universe.
The UC-designed game Ora, listed as one of the best 10 science games, is an ecological adventure game saving the native forests of New Zealand.
Hazel Bradshaw, a UC HIT Lab NZ PhD student who designed and developed Ora, says the game is not just for geeks in lab coats but for people to immerse themselves in the game world and play to help save forests.
Gamers are charged with taking care of a plot of New Zealand forest and protecting it from ravenous possums. They can set traps, create sanctuaries or fly aerial operations to sow toxic bait to save a virtual forest.
The design allows the translation of complex problems into fun and engaging gameplay, with the goal of allowing the general population to get involved and contribute to serious research topics through play,’’ Bradshaw says.
Landcare Research has teamed up with the HIT Lab NZ at UC to find a new way to present scientific research and find out how people want to manage their forests: a computer game based on real data and models of pest and tree dynamics and management options.
Ora is a totally different way of making research results available for others to learn from. The game is based on real-life data and models of forest-pest-management interactions, putting knowledge at gamers’ fingertips in a fun-filled ecosystem adventure.
Players’ actions tackling the complex problems of pest control will feed back into research on control strategies, with the potential to influence management decisions.
The game is all about helping save New Zealand’s beautiful but fragile native forest from the jaws of hungry possums.’’
The management of vast tracts of New Zealand's forests for conservation is a complex issue, key parts of which are the need to educate people about the science on pest management and forest dynamics, engage with multiple stakeholders with conflicting values, and understand people's perceptions and aspirations for the problem and associated solutions.
To help raise money for the game, Ora's developers have released Possum Stomp, a mini game app available on iOS or Android. See: www.playora.net.
Landcare Research scientist Dr Pen Holland developed the extensive computer model of possum impacts on New Zealand’s native forests.
One of the greatest challenges in this kind of cross-disciplinary work is finding the right people to work with, and Hazel’s game design skills with the support of the HIT Lab NZ have been essential in the process of turning pest management research into an awesome game," Dr Holland says.
NZ researchers are at the forefront of a ground-breaking invention that could change the way we view the world around us. Jamie Morton reports in the final of a series on how scientific discoveries are affecting our lives
Google Glass projects a virtual computer screen into the field of vision of the wearer.
Despite whatever else 2014 enters the history books for, it's likely to be remembered as the year that saw the birth of everyday wearable computing.
It wasn't long ago that being physically attached to cyberspace was a concept limited to science fiction, but now it's set to become reality.
And it's not the first time the world has seen such a transition - the Star Trek communicator is now the iPhone, video conferencing first shown in 2001: A Space Odyssey has evolved into Skype, and electric cars shown in 1982's Blade Runner now drive on our streets.
The age of wearable technology will be ushered in this year with the release into the consumer market of Google Glass, the headworn gadget that allows you to check recipes while you cook, share what you see as you see it, speak to send a message and ask whatever's on your mind.
Essentially, wearable computers are computers that are worn on the body and are always on, always accessible, and always aware of the user and their surroundings.
But the concept isn't new: it dates back to the 1960s, with early efforts to develop hidden computers that could help people beat the casinos.
In the 50 years since, it has evolved from bulky backpack computers to devices that can be worn on the head.
However, most wearables have been confined to research labs or niche applications like the military.
Scheduled for introduction this year, Google Glass is the first truly wearable computer than could be sold in large numbers for general purpose use, and with its competitors, represents a fourth generation of computing technology.
Over the past 40 years computers have followed a trend from desktop, to laptop, to phone and finally wearables, representing an evolution from machines that you walk up to, to devices that are worn on the body.
Google Glass has similar hardware to mobile phones, but can't make phone calls and is worn on the head rather than held in the hand.
Information is shown to the user via a small micro-projector display, and input provided by camera, touch and speech.
The display is see-through and worn above the eye, so the user is able to see the real world and information superimposed over it.
Over three years in development, Glass was first released to selected developers in the middle of 2013 through the Google Glass Explorer Programme.
There are now more than 10,000 devices in the hands of programmers who are eagerly exploring potential uses for the technology.
The Human Interface Technology Laboratory New Zealand (HIT Lab NZ) at the University of Canterbury is one of the few organisations in New Zealand with access to Google Glass.
Its director, Professor Mark Billinghurst, spent five months at Google last year on sabbatical as part of the Glass team, and returned to New Zealand with the skills to develop Glass applications and several devices to continue the research.
The HIT Lab NZ team is exploring a number of application areas for Glass, the first being the use of the technology for Augmented Reality, or AR.
This is technology that allows virtual images to be overlaid on the real world, and until now has mostly been experienced on handheld devices such as mobile phones and tablets.
The HIT Lab NZ has a long history of conducting ground-breaking research in AR, such as running the first mobile AR advertising campaign in the world in 2005.
"Glass enables a new type of AR experience, where people can see virtual content in their field of view all the time without having to constantly hold a device in front of their face, as with a mobile phone," Professor Billinghurst told the Weekend Herald.
Researchers at the HIT Lab NZ have been exploring what type of AR experiences would be suitable for Glass, and one of the first they have developed is a version of their existing CityViewAR application.
"This software allows people to walk through the streets of Christchurch and see virtual buildings appearing in front of them, showing what the city used to look like before the earthquakes," he said.
"CityViewAR on Glass also shows panorama images taken after the earthquake, allowing people to look around them and use the head-tracking capability of Glass to see a full 360-degree photo of the city damage.
"This shows how wearable devices like Glass might be able to be used in city planning, architecture or tourism."
A second area of research is how Glass can be used to create new types of shared experiences.
Today, many people use Skype or similar video conferencing tools to connect with one another, but in this case, said Professor Billinghurst, "Glass puts a camera on the user's head and so when this is used in conferencing applications it provides a view of the user's workspace and not their face.
"This change in perspective can be used to create new types of collaborative experiences."
At the HIT Lab NZ, researchers are working on tools that would allow people to capture their surroundings and then send them to a remote person so that they can share in some of the same experience.
"For example, a person may be in a beautiful location and want to share it with their friend far away."
With the HIT Lab NZ tools they will be able to quickly capture an immersive photo on Glass and share it with their friend while talking so both people can enjoy the scene together.
"This is a very different experience than what is currently available on mobile devices," he said.
Finally, the researchers are exploring new interaction methods for wearable devices.
"The usual touch-screen methods for handheld devices don't work on Glass, so there is a need for new input methods.
"Glass has a touchpad that provides very intuitive simple touch input, but for some applications there is a need for other techniques."
The researchers have been exploring gesture input, developing technology that allows natural 3D hand interaction with Glass.
In this way, a person could see a 3D virtual object in the world in front of them, and then reach out with their hand to pick it up and rotate it.
This type of input cannot be easily done with existing Glass input methods, and so may enable a wider range of applications.
As can be seen, Glass changes how people can access digital content and at the same time creates new opportunities for researchers and developers.
"The team at the HIT Lab NZ is conducting ground-breaking research to provide new Glass user experiences," Professor Billinghurst said. "One day, technologies developed in New Zealand may be shown on the faces of millions of people worldwide."
By Jamie Morton, New Zealand Herald
Adrian Clark and Christoph Bartneck from the HIT Lab at the University of Canterbury have developed a software tool that can semi-automatically analyse colour in large sets of graphics. The were interviewd by Radio New Zealand to talk about their study.
The Human Interface Technology Laboratory or HITLabNZ at the University of Canterbury develops technology to help improve human computer interaction. Christoph Bartneck is interested in colour, as it’s used in various logos and brands, for example. In particular he’s been wondering about the possibility of fully automating the analysis of colour by computer. To do that he enlisted the help of post-doctoral researcher Adrian Clark, who works in the field of computer vision.
As Adrian and Christoph tell Alison Ballance, they began working on the problem using a rather unusual data set – 194 national flags – before analysing the logos of some large financial institutions, and they soon discovered that it was not possible to fully automate the process, as computers are not as clever as people at recognising colour.
They eventually settled on 12 colours, and found that the most popular colours were, in descending order, red, white, green and dark blue, making up 75% of the surface in all flags. The most popular two-colour combination was red and blue.
A correlation between economic status of countries and the colour of their flags showed that white was strongly correlated with economically strong countries, while green was associated with poorer countries, especially in Africa. You can read about their results in the paper ‘Semi-automatic color analysis for brand logos’.
Design Thinking is a multi-disciplinary approach to problem solving which looks at broad and often ill-defined problems. The innovative methodology engages users early and uses rapid prototyping throughout to achieve successful outcomes. You will learn key Design Thinking concepts and apply them to real world examples provided by our partner companies.
These effective problem solving techniques can then be applied across the career spectrum and will be especially useful in solving problems related to the Christchurch rebuild.
The course consists of 2 weeks of full time attendance (9 – 20 December) followed by 9 weeks of part-time project work. For more information visit: http://hitlabnz.org/index.php/education/hitd201-design-thinking or have a look at this video for an introduction: http://youtu.be/Q8iEXhTddYg. Places are limited, so enrol now!
Interaction Records - A New Approach To Publishing Your Work
We introduce a new academic journal: Interaction Records. This journal will focus on Human Computer Interaction and all its related disciplines. Papers submitted to Interaction Records must have been rejected by other publication channels at least three times. Articles will be published together with the original reviews and a response from the authors. This Open Peer Commentary approach will provide a public window into the peer-review process. It will show the “interaction records” between the authors and the reviewers.
Submission can now be made at http://www.interaction-records.org.
Interaction Records embraces the Open Access Policy. All papers will be published under the Creative Commons Attribution license.