Field Testing in Philadelphia

My big final project for one of my graduate classes is to conduct a field test using an emerging technology to tell a story. There is a lot of emerging technology out there and for some, I do not see an effective purpose in accurately telling a story— but that is why we go to school, to learn. I have since changed my mind about the value of virtual reality, 360 video, voice-activated artificial intelligence (Siri and Alexa), drones and even streaming video like Facebook live.

I decided to conduct my field test using virtual reality to share the story of Philadelphia, specifically the National Constitution Center where visitors can walk among the founders of our country. Philadelphia is chock full of historical landmarks, museums and founding history and some of it goes unnoticed because there is so many hidden gems. I chose the Signer’s Hall where visitors can sign the Constitution along with the 42 founding fathers present at the original signing on September 17, 1787. Signer’s Hall is one of the most popular exhibits of the National Constitution Center and would not only serve in telling the story of each founding father but would also serve as an interactive way of promoting the Center across the country.

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Signer’s Hall invites you to sign the Constitution alongside 42 life-size, bronze statues of the Founding Fathers.

Accomplishing this will be a challenge and I fully expect several issues in scanning each statue and building my virtual environment since I will be using free versions of Sketchfab, Unity and Autodesk. Another challenge will be planning the time that it will take to conduct the scans needed and then the time it will take to build the VR components. All challenges that are worth tackling to bring something historical to life.

 

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Storytelling Sensors

A lot of complicated or complex issues or ideas can be made into easy to understand stories through the use of visualizations or by collecting data. One such complex or abstract issue is the ongoing drought conditions in the southwest and southeast parts of the United States. To illustrate the levels of drought conditions, the SparkFun Soil Moisture Sensor can be used to gather data on those drought conditions in the southwest. The soil moisture sensor would be plugged into an Arduino and would light up if moisture was present. A sensor array could then be used to distinguish the amount of moisture on a scale of 1-5 by using the SparkFun LED 8×7 array. By coding, the level of moisture concentration can be indicated by each pin and show differences in drought areas.

Virtual Concessions

Now that this long, presidential campaign full of inappropriate comments, accusations and threats is over, I started thinking about the swift about-face that both “establishment” party politicians took. The calm platitudes from the former reality TV star turned President-Elect and then the tasteful, call to unite from the former Secretary of State got me thinking how different it must be for journalists covering the candidates, they would see these two people “off the air” while traveling, while interacting with staff and voters.

What if 360 cameras were taken on the airplanes of the presidential candidates to show what goes on while in transit? Viewers could see how reporters cover a campaign and how candidates interact with those reporters. This could be the new way of getting to know a candidate running for office, not just the edited and prepared candidate that we get now.

An opportunity for a virtual reality story could be following the election, when the President-Elect meets with the President to talk about the role. Imagine being able to virtually be present in the Oval Office as the two men, address the press and answer questions about how their meeting went. Another one, virtual reality of the political rallies each candidate has in every state during the campaign. What better way to show the true climate of a rally or see how many people are in attendance or what the energy felt like at these rallies.

One thing is for sure, it may help show the true climate of an election and be a more accurate predictor than traditional polling or focus groups.

Reality Capture: The New Camera Phone

Reality capture technology is has come quite a long way from what we know from movies like Avatar, Lord of the Rings and King Kong.

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Avatar (2009) Image: imdb.com
Film Title: King Kong.
King King (2005) Image: imdb.com

Nowadays there are 3D capture applications that are available for your smartphone, that allow anyone to capture an object in 3D. There even more apps that are now available for download that will take that 3D file and animate it. It’s amazing times when it comes to technology.

Often we cheer the innovation of such technology and how cutting edge or beneficial it is for sharing information, telling stories or providing a unique experience. What about the long term ramifications? When it comes to gaming,

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Kit Harrington from HBO’s Games of Thrones is featured in latest video game, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare (Release date November 4, 2016).

3D and virtual reality is the name of the game. But what about everyday life? What about allowing anyone the ability to capture video for 3D. The question becomes about privacy and the ownership of a person’s likeness. Much like when cameras started appearing on cellphones, the issue of a person being photographed without their knowledge became an ethical discussion. Now, with easy access to 3D and virtual reality apps and software the same concern is appearing again. What if someone mistakenly makes a 3D capture of another person available publicly? What happens to that person’s reasonable expectation of privacy? What if that person is a celebrity? Who then has control of their likeness and is there any recourse for inappropriate or illegal use of that likeness?

Not long ago (9 years), one of the television stations I worked at began using digital avatars of their on-air news anchors and meteorologists. Their digital selves were made to walk onto the corner of your computer screen or television set and tell you what the weather forecast would be or notify you of breaking news. Most of the time, though, it was promoting the programming of the station. This new digital presence didn’t last long, because there were some concerns on the part of the on-air personalities of what their likenesses would be used for beyond what they agreed to, and let’s not the forget the basic issue of compensation. How do you compensate a person for their likeness? Royalty fees? What happens when those on-air personalities move on to other networks? How can they know that their digital selves have been deleted?

3D capture and virtual reality are definitely some very fun and creative outlets that can make a huge difference in medicine, education or even specific storytelling. However, unlike cameras on cellphones and the now ubiquitous selfie, treating 3D and virtual capture in the same way would be detrimental and controversial.