Posts Tagged 'technology'

RayModeler: Sony’s volumetric display ditches the glasses

A pair of CrystalEyes liquid crystal shutter g...

Shutter Glasses NOT required ...Image via Wikipedia

The current paradigm shift in display technologies – i.e.,  the move to 3D –  took a further step into an unknown future when Sony demoed its RayModeler technology at SIGGRAPH 2010 three days ago.  Sony’s “Sonystyle Blog” discusses the technology, termed a “360-degree autostereoscopic 3D display” and also contains a short video demo.  The display consists of a cylinder 27cm high and 13cm wide – obviously not the biggest display around. It’s not quite small enough to carry around in your pocket, but just big enough to show off the technology. The  interface is gestural, giving users some control over the display with hand movements, and the really great thing is no overpriced shutter glasses are required.

Obviously this is a first step for Sony, testing the water for future (presumably larger, or even scrollable) displays.  The unknown and intriguing aspect is not the technology itself, but how people will respond to it.  I can immediately think of dozens of disciplines where volumetric displays could add a new and exciting dimension to learning materials and our perception of them.  One problem that suggests itself is the concept of scale, however.  Currently when we see a non -3D television broadcast of, say, a Friday night football match our brains accept the idea that the small figures running across the screen are players who are obviously far away from us (and therefore not life-size).  Once we introduce displays that include 360 degree views, that perception is immediately compromised, so the scale adjustments made in our cortexes become rather harder to make.

I’ve always believed that true 3D displays would need to be glasses-free to qualify for inclusion in a Jetsons-style future.  Maybe Sony is going to get us there.

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Kaizen: Room for Improvement in Ed Tech Delivery?

Kaizen Kanji Characters


The Japanese word kaizen generally translates into English as “improvement”.  When used in the context of technology or management practice it usually means the process of continuous improvement to a product or process, and has been applied to manufacturing industries,  health-care, banking and government departments, with varying success.  Wikipedia’s entry on kaizen mentions that it was “first implemented in several Japanese businesses after the Second World War, influenced in part by American business and quality management teachers who visited the country”, the best-known being W. Edwards Deming who introduced quality assurance methods to several Japanese industries.

Toyota probably qualifies as the company with the greatest success record in the introduction of kaizen approaches to car manufacture, as evidenced by its current dominance of the world car market. The company developed a management philosophy known as Lean management which turns some traditional management processes on their heads. Toyota’s Lean approach to car production lines can be summarized as: “getting the right things to the right place at the right time in the right quantity to achieve perfect work flow, while minimizing waste and being flexible and able to change. (Wikipedia)”.

So how does the above relate to the development and use of educational technologies? I think some of the processes in play when building this year’s (Toyota) Lexus sedan can be mapped onto the way tools that can assist the process of learning and teaching are developed. Both initially identify a need or market, produce a design, prototype it and test it with a sampling of end users. Both rely on feedback to provide a basis for improvement, echoing a simple learning process we can all recognize.  Once an educational technology is implemented, helpdesk operations represent the feedback loop that can potentially allow for continuous improvement to the technology itself, or the way people are using it.

The Lean management approach has also been used in the health-care industry to improve the efficiency of health services delivery.  Mark Graban’s Lean Blog define the Lean concept from a health delivery point of view, and discusses how this management style is being implemented in a number of different health-related settings.

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Hardcopy Video is (almost) Here

cbs-video-print_IVeIn a recent radio article for the BBC’s weekly Digital Planet program, reporter John Stewart discusses a new spin on blending media.  In this case, Entertainment Weekly’s hard-copy magazine has included an insert that plays a full-motion video ad (Pepsi – what else?)  and CBS trailers with sound in a 320×240 pixel LCD-based window, visible inside the ‘max’ text in the image above.

As always, the technology is being driven by the needs of advertisers to stand out in a crowded marketplace.  In an introductory aside, presenter Gareth Mitchell mentions that Americans are exposed to around 3000 advertising messages per day.  Early-adopters of innovative display systems are usually the ad guys so there are no real surprises there.  I can certainly see some educational possibilities in this technology though, such as photo montages of topical news items, procedural sequences for, say, simple cuisine, or dynamic maps of geographic spaces, just for starters.  I included the word ‘almost’ in this article’s title because the cost per insert is still far too high to make this anything more than a gimmicky loss-leader for the time being.

BBC Reporter Rajesh Mirchandani also compiled a BBC One Minute News video clip on this topic on September 17th.

(image sourced from here.)

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Singularity University: one possible future for graduate education?

Ray Kurzweil

Ray Kurzweil

It’s not often that a book has the power to spawn an entire university. This seems to be the case with Ray Kurzweil‘s book  The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology (2005), a futurist discussion of where technology is leading us and an update sequel to two previous books of his: The Age of Intelligent Machines (1987) and The Age of Spiritual Machines (1999).  In an in-depth article on the 2005 book, this Wikipedia article defines the Singularity as “a point in the future when technological advances begin to happen so rapidly that normal humans cannot keep pace, and are ‘cut out of the loop’.”

Most people would probably agree that technology is advancing so rapidly that we’re increasingly subject to information overload, but Kurzweil’s main thesis is basically an extension to Moore’s Law;   that technology is accelerating at an exponential rate and will soon get away from human control.

In a scenario that could only happen in America, a group of educators and scientists have established an entrepreneurial university backed by NASA, Google and the  International Space University, to be funded in part by venture capitalists and based largely on the ideas presented in Kurzweil’s book – then made him the university’s Chancellor.


Peter Diamandis

Singularity University aims to attract the world’s top graduates, who will study across disciplines, in subjects such as A.I., robotics, nanotechnoloy, bioinformatics and finance and entrepreneurship.  In this promotional video, vice-chancellor Dr. Peter Diamandis explains where the original idea for such an institution came from, where they’re headed,and promotes some lofty ideas about addressing the world’s major challenges.  To quote Ray in the video:  “The goal of Singularity University is to get the best minds in these information fields with the best students in the world.  Both will contribute to each other and we will basically foster a deeper understanding of how we can solve the world’s major problems.”


AMES Research Park

Initially, the university will run 9 week summer sessions from the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.  The emphasis will be on introducing grad students to other, complementary disciplines, presumably to foster a synthesis of ideas through cross pollination.

While the notion of using technology in an altruistic way sounds very appealing, I’m concerned that tying research to profits means there will be a price to pay at some point, no matter how fantastic the output that the university’s promoters are trying to produce.  As one example, corporate sponsorship of pharmaceutical research can result in drugs that are of minimal benefit, that have side-effects that rival the malady in their voracity, and end up being over-prescribed by GPs who fall victim to a barrage of promotional advertising from the drugs companies keen to recoup their original investment.  This all sounds a little forced to me, more of a “pressure-cooker” approach to research than a community of practice drawn together by common goals.

(images of: Ray Kurzweil sourced from here, Peter Diamandis and AMES Research Park sourced from here)

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