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.

 

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.

avatar
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.

360 video or Virtual Reality?

Most of my posts on this blog are in response to assignments for my graduate degree in communications. I am specialising in journalism innovation so we talk and learn about all things technology and how it affects legacy media (old media) companies and new media (social). Within that discussion comes a lot of ethical considerations and many times we end up talking about sci-fi books or movies. I never thought I would talk at length about Demolition Man in graduate school. Needless to say, I will be bringing it up again (wait for it).

This blog is supposed to address how 360 video and virtual reality will affect my future or current career. Well, it already is affecting my career, which for the last 15-plus years has been television news and sports. It wasn’t long ago that we technical directors took 2D video and through video manipulation and use of angles that we tricked the human eye in seeing a 3D effect move across the screen. Then came HD television screens that had all on-air talent scrambling for MAC makeup and an air-brushed tan but ended up not being that bad. Yes, it was a much clearer picture, but you couldn’t see down to every pore on a person’s face as was claimed. Then there was the brief time period when television news stations were capturing the likenesses of their main on-air anchors so their mini version could walk out on your computer desktop or during your favorite daytime show and tell you the latest breaking news or weather update. That promotional feat lasted about as long as it wasn’t annoying (not very long).

Since then, technology has improved so much in the area of 360 and virtual video that there may be a real use for it. In my field, I could see it used for special events like the Fourth of July fireworks, 360 video cameras on a drone as fireworks are launched into the air would be pretty “spectacular” as we like to call them so often. Another special event: the Olympics, imagine being able to watch Katie Ledecky speed swim her events from the bottom of the pool. Or watching the World Cup as if you were standing in the middle of the field?

Are you talking about fluid transfers?

Using technology that can bring events so up close and personal, is a serious thing. From a journalism perspective, careful consideration needs to be made about when to use 360 or virtual reality video to convey information. It should not be used for death, destruction or manipulation of a person or people. Privacy rights are a formidable ethical issue as is disclosure of what the virtual story subject is. It is important that those choosing to transport themselves to a place of stress understand the ramifications. Whether viewing a virtual roller coaster or natural disaster, care has to be taken to avoid any incidents of stress on the viewer’s health. In the movie Demolition Man (I told you to wait for it), virtual and augmented reality have replaced the human connection so much that they live in a sterile and “clean” world.

I hope that sci-fi prediction does not become reality.

3D, Virtual and Augmented Reality

When I hear 3D, and augmented reality, I think of video games like Call of Duty and mobile games like Pokemon Go.

We live in exciting times, and scary times. Technology and innovation have never been more cutting edge. Who would have thought human kind would be living in artificial worlds through their video games, mobile games, and for combating mental illness.

When I hear 3D, and augmented reality, I think of video games like Call of Duty and mobile games like Pokemon Go. It was not until recently, with the continuing improvements in wearable VR like the Oculus, did I think a traditional “good” could come from an artificial world. Researchers are using VR to help those with acrophobia (fear of heights), fear of flying and other mental barriers that prevent a person from normal activity. That’s the exciting part. The scary part, is the possible use of virtual reality, 3D and such for reporting stories. It would seem a very few types of stories would benefit from such a technology, perhaps something that is worth bringing the reader intimately into the story environment. Perhaps the opening night at the Metropolitan Opera or Cirque du Soleil. Or perhaps transporting viewers to the current civil war going on in Syria. This is where I think some guidelines will eventually have to be set in place for journalists and content creators.

With enough patience and computer processing power, anyone can make a virtual world of reality or fantasy. The question becomes what is the context and for what purpose.

The very intimacy artificial reality, both virtual and augmented, even 360 video can bring traumatic events front and center causing the viewer to feel anxiety, stress and even triggering a response that may be detrimental.