Posts tagged virtual environments

Want to find out about Avatars – make your own!

Robots and Avatars discusses and debates the future implications of using avatars within education and for young people; how they might or might not be best used to mediate identity or how we can think about collaboration with them but it is important not to forget that one of the best ways to find out about virtual presence is by making and using your own avatar. On the right is one I have just created! Alex - Avatar

The progression from experts having to create avatars to pretty much any user being able to experiment with virtual presence and virtual worlds has enabled a far greater integration of avatars, not just into our experience of using the web but also, into our everyday lives. The foremost environment for this is of course Second Life but avatars pop up all over the place – sometimes we don’t even realise that we are using them. Facets of more complex avatar identities found in Second Life and online gaming environments can be seen in much simpler terms on our Facebook profiles and Twitter accounts and more and more sites are asking you to create an ‘avatar’ as an important basis for communication via websites, in comment boxes and so on.

As security is a vital issue for students who wish to have an online presence Robots and Avatars seeks to find ways to open out the discussion and create new models for leaners around how to safely, creatively and intuitively empower them to make these decisions themselves. There is also another more playful and creative exercise in actual the creation of avatars themselves. Underpinning this is a consistent interplay between your ‘real’ self/identity and the virtual version you choose to put out there.

OSOQ100525300YTBelow are a series of tools that you can use to create an avatar to express your identity but still retain a degree of anonymity. These would be an excellent starting point for teachers and educators interested in integrating avatars into their lessons as they allow simple, playful and creative engagement with virtual identity. Robots and Avatars is just putting the final touches into a series of workshops which explore these sorts of issues in more depth and with key experts and professionals. To find out more about this check out our new education section.


Avatar Making Tools:

Osoq – A nice little tool to create an animated Avatar, plenty of options and works very well.

Simsonize Yourself – Have you ever wanted to be in the Simpsons?

Doppel Me – Creates a very life-like Avatar in no time at all.

Build Your Wild Self – Something a little different. This allows you to build an avatar which is half human half animal.

LegoMan – Create a lego version of yourself. Not as lifelike obviosuly and you need to do a screen print in order to copy the image as there is no way to export the image.

Meez – The most sophisticated tool which creates an animated avatar to use as your identity. There are a range of download options, if it cannot be embedded directly to your website you can download the file as an animated gif which can then be inserted as an image file.

Mikons – This site doesn’t allow you to create a personal avatar but rather a personalised icon (Mikon) which could be used to represent your students. This is a screen shot and well worth a look if you are looking to create an online presence/logo etc.

Evolver – A new site that allows you to create a 3D avatar. Complete control over the look and avatar can be saved as a static image or an animated Gif. There is also a function to upload a real photo of you. This site also offers access to a 3D world.

HeroMaker – Create your own superhero avatar.

Voki – allows you to create personalized speaking avatars and use them on your blog, profile, and in email messages created by Oddcast

Avatar yourself – Oddcast is the leader in providing talking characters- a more sophisticated option over Voki. They produce tools for a range of marketing campaigns and they can be viewed as a collection by following the link. Simply upload a picture of yourself and begin.

Some sources from Web 2.0 in Education

Surgical Robots

At the Robots and Avatars Forum, Pear Urishima from Apple flagged up the use of the iPhone in terms of health, explaining how doctors could monitor patients statistics in real-time right from their phone. She also showed images of how projections of x-rays and scans could be placed onto human bodies to allow doctors to operate more effectively and precisely. This introduction of the virtual into the health sector marks a significant development in how doctors will carry out their work in the future and highlights the skills that the doctors of the future need to be learning today.

How will this increase in information from benefit the specialised work that doctors and surgeosn do? Will the role of the doctor or surgeon develop to become based soley around virtual interaction and avatars rather than the physical ‘hands on’ approach? These questions are pertinet at South Miami Hosptial in the US where the year just 19 surgeons will be performing over 1,000 robotic surguries.DaVinci-Robot

Since the programme began in 2007 the hospital has become one of the key locations for using robots in surgical procedures, which are known as the Da Vinci Surgical System. Dr. Jonathan Masel, a urologist in the Memorial Healthcare System who does surgery by open, traditional laparoscopic and robotic methods, is convinced the robot is the most precise.

“The more complex the procedure, the more I move to the robot. Its 3D optics are just like the movie Avatar.”

Even though there is still more work to be done in terms of scientifc studies regarding the use robots in surgery – to a layperson the developents are remarkable. The human surgeon sits at a computer console peering into a monitor that gives him or her a virtual view inside the patient’s body that is full-color, three-dimensional and magnified 10 times. Across the room, the robot’s four massive arms wield delicate surgical instruments inside the patient, carrying out the surgeon’s instructions with space-age precision.

“The robot is better,” says Dr. Ricardo Estape, a gynecological surgeon at South Miami Hospital who helped start its robotic program. “You can see what you’re doing so much better than even with open surgery. You can’t stick your head in somebody’s pelvis with open surgery when you’re doing a radical hysterectomy.”dvss-v2

“The robot is amazing,” says Dr. Lynn Seto, a cardiac surgeon who performed 450 robotic heart surgeries at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio before South Miami recruited her to help start its robotic heart program. “The view is so good you actually think you’re inside the body.”

NASA’s Robotic Avatars

6a00d8341bf7f753ef01310fac105a970c-320wi“If every habitable world in the universe is unique, and the precise chemical conditions of a planet helps shape the life that evolves there, then avatars could allow aliens to visit other worlds from the safety of their spaceship. Could it be that all the stories of alien encounters on Earth were really encounters with alien avatars? Maybe aliens don’t actually look like grey humanoids with large eyes and no noses. Instead, that haunting image may simply be what we look like to them.”

Astrobiology Magazine

At the Kinetica Art Fair Collaborative Futures Panel, Anna Hill (Creative Director of Space Synapse) explained that she is “…working on systems to get from space to Earth, and offer some sort of collaboration between the two.”

She offered some examples, including Remote Suit, a wearable system designed to share the experience of being in space with people on Earth, and the Symbiotic Sphere  – a pod which gathers inspirational space data including images, videos, sound and haptics from space, the idea being to give those who sit in it an idea of what it is like to be in space.

Anna outlined her vision of the future: “I can envisage a feminising of technology. I’m very interested in augmented learning and collective and systemic thinking – there will be fewer top-down organisations. And there’s a need for robots not to replace humans.”

NASA is no stranger to robotics, with more than 50 robotic spacecraft studying Earth and reaching throughout the solar system, from Mercury to Pluto and beyond. But their latest development in the field of ‘Telerobotics’ marks a new development in how robots and avatars could work together to facilitate more sophisticated unmanned space exploration.

“Tomorrow’s NASA space program will be different,” says Wallace Fowler of the University of Texas, a renowned expert in modeling and design of spacecraft, and planetary exploration systems. “Human space flight beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO), beyond Earth’s natural radiation shields (the Van Allen belts), is dangerous. Currently, a human being outside the Van Allen belts could receive the NASA defined “lifetime dose” of galactic cosmic radiation within 200 days.”

The current Robots used by NASA, however, are a long way off the vision proposed in the film Avatar where human users truly ‘experience’ the environment they are placed in. This is where virtual reality environments begin to change things as highlighted in the Daily Galaxy blog:

The Virtual Interactive Environment Workstation (VIEW) was an early virtual reality instrument developed at NASA Ames. It was a leap forward in true ‘immersion’ of the user in a virtual environment, and was the first systems to use a ‘data glove’. This glove measured and tracked how a user moved their fingers, allowing interaction with the virtual world.

Today, NASA uses 3D and virtual technologies for a number of public outreach and education projects. The technology can also be used for training purposes, allowing an astronaut to practice, say, walking on the surface of mars. NASA is developing technologies that will  allow a human explorer based on Earth, or in the relative safety of a space station or habitat, to actually experience exploration of a distant location. If the technology can be tied to robotic ‘avatars’ on a planetary surface in real-time, the user would not simply experience a simulation of the world – but could directly participate in exploration and science as if they were there.

Closer to the exploration front, similar technologies are also being used in NASA’s most avatar-like experiment of all – the Robonaut. According to researchers on the project, “Robonaut systems are the first humanoids specifically designed for space.”

138676main_robonaut-006_1Robonaut is a collaboration between the Robot Systems Technology Branch at the NASA Johnson Space Center and the US military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to build a robotic ‘astronaut equivalent’. Robonaut looks a bit like a human, with an upper torso, two arms and a head – all controlled by a human operator through telerobotic technologies. Robonaut was designed with the concept of creating a robot for tasks that ‘were not specifically designed for robots.’ In order for the Robonaut to complete these ‘human-like’ tasks, it is equipped with hands that are actually more dexterous than those of an astronaut in a pressurized spacesuit.

In 2004, the second generation of Robonaut gained mobility when engineers attached its body to a Segway Robotic Mobility Platform (RMP) commissioned by DARPA. Using virtual reality instruments, a human operator was immersed in the Robonaut’s actual environment and was able to perform remote operations.

More recently, NASA revealed the next generation of Robonaut, dubbed R2. General Motors has now joined on as a partner, and hopes that Robonaut will not only explore other worlds, but will help humans build safer cars. For more information on the R2 project, click here to see videos with some of the key researchers involved.

According to researchers on Robonaut, “As the project matures with increased feedback to the human operator, the Robonaut system will approach the handling and manipulation capabilities of a suited astronaut.”

With more ’haptic technology’ which uses sensory feedback to recreate the sense of touch, a user might wear gloves that allow them to ‘feel’ objects in a virtual world. You could examine the texture and weight of rocks, or even experience the crunch of icy martian dirt.

Dr Grace Augustine’s Avatars on Pandora go well beyond current technologies. We’re not going to be growing any biological avatars for human explorers in the lab – but modern robotics are getting close to providing a ‘human’ experience through increased dexterity and mobility. Robotic avatars could allow humans to fully experience the environment of other worlds. Through the eyes of robotic avatars we could watch the sunrise over the rusty, red crater rims without having to “experience suffocation, the icy death of -200 degrees C on their skin or the sting of microscopic dust in their eyes.”

Even though NASA and others have come a long way in developing avatars, the technology still has a long way to go before we’re having adventures on Pandora-like planets. Perhaps more advanced civilizations on distant worlds have developed avatars just as good as those in the movie.

Sources: Steve Boxer on the Robots and Avatars Collaborative Futures Panel, DailyGalaxy.com