Sansar: LOOT Interactive Creator Profile

LOOT Interactive NASA Apollo Museum

Linden Lab published a new Sansar Creator Profile video on Thursday, December 21st. It’s one I had heard about some time agao, and hard started to wonder what had happened to it. Regular readers will understand why my interest had been piqued when I say that the subject of the video is LOOT Interactive, the makers of the NASA Apollo Museum experience, based on the Apollo Saturn Centre at the Kennedy Space Centre Visitor Centre, and the Sea of Tranquillity experience, commemorating the Apollo 11 Moon landing.

These were two of the first experiences I visited in Sansar, given my interest in space flight and space exploration. As such, I was hoping the video, once available, would delve into the creation of these two experiences and examine the collaborations between LOOT Interactive and NASA and with Linden Lab’s Sansar team which brought the experiences to fruition. Sadly, this isn’t the case. Instead, what is presented is more of a promo reel, in keeping with the other Creator Profile films released in the run-up to Sansar’s Public Beta commencing at the end of July 2017. As such, this video in some ways feels a little out-of-place.

LOOT Interactive NASA Apollo Museum

Which should not be taken to mean the video isn’t worth watching; that promo reel bias notwithstanding, the video does a very good job in underscoring the potential of VR in markets such as education, learning and even – although not directly discussed – virtual tourism. Certainly, it explores the power of something like the NASA Apollo Museum to engage and inspire – and educate – simply by allowing people to experience an environment as personally as if they were there.

Take the Saturn 5 centre-piece for example. Being able to stand under its flank whilst in VR and look along its length brings home not only its gargantuan nature – but the sheer size of the technical and human endeavour that went  into it and the entire Apollo-Saturn programme. For adults and students alike, it, and the entire experience, deeply ingrains the entire voyage of Apollo 11 to and from the Moon in a deeply personal way; one not easily matched by watching archive video footage alone or without actually visiting NASA’s Visitor Centre complex. As the LOOT team note, there is a powerful way in which this immersive engagement translates into retained understanding and knowledge one which could apply to many areas of education and learning, formal and informal.

If you’ve not visited the NASA Apollo Museum experience in Sansar – with or without VR – it is a location I recommend as being a good leaping off point to discover what can be achieved within the place even at this stage of its development. Yes, there are niggles, but these are not enough to detract from the sheer scale and depth of the experience. And if you’re not sure, perhaps this video will also help to persuade you a visit could be worthwhile.

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Return to ISM in Second Life

International Space Museum

It’s been over five years since I wrote about the International Spaceflight Museum (ISM) in Second Life.  At that time, this two-region facility, offering something of a history of space exploration, had just come through something of a financial crisis (see here and here).  Prior to that, my last visit was far back in 2012 – so I thought I’d hop back over for an update.

Comprising Spaceport Alpha and Spaceport Beta, and entirely funded by donations and sponsorship as a 501(c)3 non-profit, ISM is a large-scale undertaking, providing a good introduction to the history of space flight, charting many of the key events and the systems they used. It provides insight into international space operations covering – America, the Soviet Union/Russia, Europe, Japan, China, India – together with something of a look at commercial activities.

International Space Station: Rocket Ring

A visit starts at the main landing point / information hub. This features a citation to a letter from Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky, the Soviet Russian rocket scientist regarded as the “grandfather” of modern rocketry. Given as Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot live in a cradle forever, the quote is from a phrase Tsiolkovsky wrote in 1911, which transliterates as Planyeta yest’ kolybyel razuma, no nyelzya vietchno zhit’ v kolybyeli – “a planet is the cradle of mind, but one cannot live in a cradle forever”. However, both this literal translation and the more popular quote point to the same ideal: that to grow as a species, humanity must as some point reach beyond the planet of our birth.

A path leads away from the landing hub towards ISM’s most impressive feature: the Rocket Ring. This provides models of some of the major launch systems used by countries around the world. This includes vehicles such as the V2 rocket – which both Russia and America utilised in their early post-war experiments; launch systems developed from ballistic missile systems – such as America’s Titan and Atlas; through to more familiar launchers such as the Soviet / Russian Soyuz and Proton families, and a look at some of the more recent vehicles to enter the market: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy.

International Space Museum: SpaceShipOne

The ring is far from complete – systems such as Blue Origin’s New Shephard and New Glenn are lacking, NASA’s Space Launch System is missing (although the cancelled Ares launchers from the US Constellation programme are present, dominating the ring alongside Russia’s massive N1 lunar booster). However, space is limited, and what is presented is still a rich array of launch vehicles which, for those interested in the less well advertised space programmes – such as Japan’s, India’s or China’s, provides some excellent models of their current fleets.

Beneath the Rocket ring are further exhibits, including models of the Apollo Command and Service Module (CSM) and Lunar Excursion Module (LEM), the Gemini capsule, and a look at the lives of  Tsiolkovsky and Robert Hutchings Goddard, regarded as the “father” of modern rockery. NASA’s Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) in both its original form, with rounded solar arrays and a more recent design, featuring twin rectangular solar arrays. Orion will use a Service Module based on the European Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), which used to haul up to 5 tonnes of supplies and equipment to the space station, and include the ATV’s unique arrangement of four solar arrays.

International Spaceflight Museum: an historical look at the ISS with the shuttle docked, and a European ATV resupply vehicle arriving. Also docked is a combination of Soyuz+Progress vehicles

Further out from these are further displays, including the Apollo Saturn 1B rocket, information centres and more. These also include interactive elements, such as a Gemini V / Atlas II rocket, which offers a ride up to one of the sky exhibits – that of the International Space Station (which can also be reached from the ground-level sit-on teleport kiosks). Also in the sky and reached from the ISS display, are models of the solar system.

Spaceport Bravo, reached via a runway-like bridge over which the first sub-orbital flight of SpaceShipOne is recorded, sits a reproduction of NASA’s Vehicle (or Vertical, as it was originally known) Assembly Building (the VAB). This is where the Apollo rockets and space shuttle systems were “stacked” and readied for launch, and where the SLS rocket will be assembled ready for flight. One of the bays in the VAB feature the space shuttle Atlantis, which has just been mated with its External Tank / Solid Rocket Booster units; the other features a Saturn V leaving the bay atop its crawler-transporter. Alongside of this is an Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF), the interior of which is somewhat sparse, but does offer models of NASA’s lunar rover vehicle and the  Lunniy Korabl (LK) lander vehicle which formed part of the Soviet Union’s manned lunar programme aspirations.

International Space Station: Mercury recalled

Visually, ISM offers a lot to see, not all of which is expressed here – and at one time hosted a range of events (it’s unclear whether this is still the case). However, there are some disappointments. An attempt has been made to link exhibits to a wiki, but the majority of pages have yet to be populated, for example. Several areas appear a little sparse – such as the OPF building, as noted; all of which gives a feeling the ISM is caught in time – as if in the midst of a still-to-be completed update, including elements which might be relatively easily seen to. Take the photo map of the Florida space coast, for example. This shows the facilities at both Kennedy Space Centre and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, but has yet to be updated to reflect SpaceX’s use of Kennedy’s Pad-39A and Canaveral’s SLc-40 and SLC-13.

Even so, for those who want to dip their toes a little more deeply into the world of space flight, ISM retains a lot to offer, while across the water NASA’s Explorer Island offers an interesting looking back in history to the US space agency’s involvement in Second Life.

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International Spaceflight Museum (Spaceport Alpha, rated; General)

Magic Leap previews its first AR/MR system

Magic Leap One. Credit: Magic Leap

Magic Leap has had its share of ups-and-downs over the past few years. Founded by tech wizard Romy Abovitz, the super-secret company has been at the centre of hype, speculation and doubt. Much of the hype has been spun by the company itself, much of the doubt has been driven by reports of friction in the company, issues with the technology, and so on.

Now, a year after scepticism around the company overtook the hype, Magic Leap has announced the availability of its first product: the Billed as the Magic Leap One Creator Edition augmented (or mixed) reality system, the unit comprises three parts:

  • Lightwear: a headset utilizing the company’s “Digital Lightfield” display technology with multiple integrated sensors to gather spatial information.
  • Lightpack: a  circular belt-worn hip pack that contains the computer powering the headset via a tether.
  • Control: a hand-held controller that can be tracked in space that helps users navigate menu selections, etc.

As an augmented / mixed reality system Magic Leap One is designed to blur the divide between the digital and the real, with the company promoting a series of potential use-cases for it, including:  web browsing and shopping, working on multiple virtual monitors, social telepresence, theme park “rides” and experiences, and gaming.

The system is somewhat removed from some of the hype built-up around Magic Leap’s initial designs – which tended to suggest something far more glasses-like.

There’s no doubt the headset is a lot bulkier than might have been imagined from past descriptions, and while nowhere near as bulky as a VR headset, it leaves a lot to be desired in the ergonomics department, particularly when compared to the likes of AR headsets like Google’s Glass Enterprise Edition or AR systems using  Qualcomm’s snapdragon processors. My own impression on seeing the Magic Leap One images is that the headset looks sci-fi bug-eyed  – almost sinister – and the size of the lenses has me wondering about effective field-of-view.

Lightwear, Lightpack and Control. Credits: Magic Leap

The Lightpack has also come in for critique, with some tech journos calling it “large” or “bulky”. been called “large” by some in the tech press, it’s actually about the same size as Walkman CD players people used to happily clip onto their belts and wear.

The Control has a trackpad and six degrees of freedom (6DOF) tracking, and some six option buttons.

Other than that – details are currently light right now. There are no technical specifications or pricing. However, and in fairness, Abovitz does refer to the announcement as “a small reveal“, rather than any kind of pre-release notification. Instead, interested parties (defined as developers, reporters and the curious) can register their wish to learn more by supplying their e-mail details via a form as the bottom of the Magic Leap home page.

So far, Magic Leap has demonstrated various iterations of their equipment to assorted people from the technology and entertainments industries. All seem to have been thoroughly impressed – although sworn to secrecy – which has been frustrating for those trying to figure out exactly what the company has got. This approach actually continues with this pre-announcement about Magic Leap One – Rolling Stone magazine has an extensive article about Magic Leap in Glixel – but the use of an NDA prevents much in the way of really solid facts around the technology from being revealed, while descriptions of environments are sans images.

Telepresence with Magic Leap One? Credit: Magic Leap

There are, however, some intriguing little pieces of information within the article – such as this ability to generate very life-like characters, which Brian Crecente, writing for Glixel, suggests could become a kind of virtual assistant for those using the Magic Leap:

She walked up to me, stopping a few feet away, to stand nearby. The level of detail was impressive, though I wouldn’t mistake her for a real person, there was something about her luminescence, her design, that gave her away. While she didn’t talk or react to what I was saying, she has the ability to [do so] … I noticed that when I moved or looked around, her eyes tracked mine. The cameras inside the Lightwear was feeding her data so she could maintain eye contact. It was a little unnerving and I found myself breaking eye contact eventually, to avoid being rude.

One day, this human construct will be your Apple Siri, Amazon Alexa, OK Google, but she won’t just be a disembodied voice, she will walk with you, look to you, deliver AI-powered, embodied assistance.

Which sounds very sci-fi-ish, raising the idea of virtual tour guides and suchlike – as well as the question of whether or not we’ll have to cross the uncanny valley with AR as well as (possibly) VR.

I’m somewhat of the belief that AR / MR has the potential to be far more ubiquitous that VR, and garner a much larger, multi-use audience. The likes of Glass Enterprise and several of snapdragon headsets demonstrate considerable interest within healthcare, engineering and retail. The very nature of the technology means it can be integrated far more easily into our everyday lives and work than VR allows. That said, where and if Magic Leap fits into all of this remains as murky as ever. Perhaps the upcoming “Creator Portal”, promised for “early 2018”, coupled with a lifting of the restrictions concerning direct reporting on the system will do more to answer questions.