Looking at the Future of Technical Training

Personal Reflection Blog

We started our studio with a lot of excitement around the project brief — to design for/with mixed reality. Being such an open brief, I pondered over the right questions to ask. Just as I was thinking what exactly is right and wrong, our professor mentioned — no question is wrong, so ask anyway. As our brief brings forward many questions about what kind of technology to consider, it also puts forth questions around how do you design for empathy, or inclusiveness? I find this aspect of the brief the most interesting.

Understanding technology, and the future systems of what technology is bringing in, is a key part of the Microsoft design brief. While I am slightly intimidated by the new forms of technology that we will be exploring this semester, I am also excited to learn about them, and harvest their strengths to design for good. So what exactly is Mixed Reality?

I came across this article, “VR? AR? MR? Sorry, I’m confused.”, which acts as a handy guide to what all these new technology acronyms actually mean, and why they are not the same thing.

VR — Virtual reality is the umbrella term for all immersive experiences, which could be created using purely real-world content, purely synthetic content or a hybrid of both.

The Martian VR Experience is 20th Century Fox’s first step into the world of VR entertainment.

AR — Augmented reality is an overlay of content on the real world, but that content is not anchored to or part of it. The real-world content and the CG content are not able to respond to each other.

CG VR CG VR is an immersive experience created entirely from computer-generated content. CG VR can be either pre-rendered and therefore not reactive — in this way it is very similar to 360° video — or rendered in real time using a games engine.

Nickelodeon is pushing into the VR world by way of its gaming business.

MR — Mixed reality is an overlay of synthetic content on the real world that is anchored to and interacts with the real world — picture surgeons overlaying virtual ultrasound images on their patient while performing an operation, for example. The key characteristic of MR is that the synthetic content and the real-world content are able to react to each other in real time.

“Mixed Reality” fits HoloLens better than Augmented Reality.

So the question really is, Where might Mixed Reality, which opens a new dimension across space AND time, lead us?

It is going to take me the better half (or whole) semester to come to understanding what MR is and what its scope (and limitations) are. But that is a journey I am excited about! For now, the opportunities seem endless — from healthcare to travel, agriculture, neuroscience, therapy, manufacturing, industries, teaching, cooking (YAS), physical fitness, services and what not! Our next steps as a group is to search out project territories and try to narrow down (but maybe not too narrow?) towards a project goal.

Week 2 & 3 — Exploring space (!)

As we dive into what mixed reality means to us, we are also scoping out various potential spaces and topics that we would like to work at. As a group, we The “Real” World looked into different topics and scenarios where we might see the most impact created by Mixed Reality. At the same time, we are also exploring new (and old) research methods to help us scope down our interest area. As a first presentation to Microsoft, we have to scope out our territory and stakeholder maps and as well as deliver a “next steps” ideation at what we as a group will do. This is great not just for the Microsoft team, but specially for us, as it gives us a good base to study our progress on.

Getting inspired by the brief — to design a Mixed Reality solution to create “positive cultural impact” — we brainstormed to consider a range of opportunity areas for mixed reality. From cultural exchange, to disability, to exercise, we sought to focus on education as an interest area to explore more in depth. We studies the pros and cons of what MR and what it can give us around education and learning — not just studying as a focus but also as teaching. We pushed ourselves to look at more positive aspects of MR, and how it can make education not only accessible but also inclusive .

To begin, we begin identifying opportunities for Mixed Reality within education more broadly and developed a framework to understand how and where different types of learning happen, as well as map the challenges associated with each.

We focused our attention towards the top two quadrants — where we saw that MR might have more impact on embodied learning, both in a structured and self-directed process. Looking at the benefits of the technology in this space — providing remote access to tools and technology for skills-based training, increasing safety and reducing cost of this training, and providing immediate feedback in remote learning settings. — we were excited to narrow our focus. We however, needed to narrow it a bit more to understand and create our territory and stakeholder maps. We identified several industries that use embodied learning, and found that we as a group constantly kept referring towards the automobile industry for reference. Just a disclaimer, we collectively have very limited knowledge about cars, let alone the industry. Personally, I do not even have a drivers license. (-.-*) I used public transport back home or used to ride my bike everywhere.

But this is also what excited us. It was a new space, and to learn more about it, to build off from it towards something bigger using new tech, is what drove us towards it. So we decided to move forward with auto repair as the problem space for our exploration of mixed reality. We created our territory map, as you can see in this post. Moving forward, we are diving deep into research, with interviews and workshops lined up for the coming two weeks.

Week 4 & 5 — Getting out in the field

The past two weeks have been inspirational in so many ways! We had the opportunity (and luck) to meet people from various backgrounds — but all with very strong passions. For ur exploratory research, we sought out people who had interests associated with automotive, or bike repair, maintenance, customization and education. We also sought out experts in the field of wearable computing and human-computer interaction design.

We also visited many places! We went from a bike repair collaborative space, to a feminist maker space and then the best of all — a technical training college in Pittsburgh that offers courses in Automotive and HVAC repair. At the technical training college, we met with the head of admissions who talked us through the entire campus and spoke to us about the college’s vision and mission. The atmosphere at the space was one of positivity and a strong sense of community. You could see how invested the faculty and staff were in the education and care of their students. The workshop spaces and the infrastructure present to help students learn the latest technologies associated with automotive training, truck driving and maintenance were astounding, and honestly not what I had expected to see. I was pleasantly surprised by the advanced nature of the college and their passion towards technology.

Im looking forward to collaborating with the technical training college and diving deeper into the education and training system. Its exciting to see how we as designers can collaborate with them, and what we can learn from them!

Week 6 & 7 — Working wth Rosedale

This was probably my favorite part of the exploration phase. We organized two generative workshops this week; one with two high school students who are taking classes at Rosedale and another with Chuck’s electrical class. What was exciting is they response we got from each of these groups. We did have to coax them into using our weird array of clunky objects — but once they got the gist of the exercise, the class spun off to create future technologies. We assigned a domino piece as a far future technology — it could be VR, it could be teleportation, even a shape shifter. It was great to see both the groups show their creativity so easily. After the workshop, we left behind a panel of sorts that prompted students to talk about the tools they use, the environment they are in and what difficulties they face. Coming back to university the next day, our group sat down and did they same workshop with ourselves — this was more for us to create quick dirty concepts based on our learnings from the previous day.

Week 8 & 9 — Synthesizing and Initial Concepts

All our research has been leading up to theses stages — to make our concept sound and viable. The involvement from Rosedale has helped us achieve so much and has rooted our project in reality. This is an interesting mix when working for a technology that still is being developed. What’s most exciting is the visioning of this future and untangling the realms of complexity associated with real and future visions. Our initial concepts are ranging from haptic virtual feedback to asynchronous and synchronous collaboration to learning through virtual immersive spaces. While these concepts are letting us explore multitude of storyboards and various levels of interaction — I wonder how we might further narrow them into a matrix of value features. Thats our next step I guess — bust our assumptions with real users.

Week 10 & 11— Synthesizing and Initial Concepts

We created almost 18 storyboards using different scenarios and concept features to show the faculty at Rosedale. We conducted a speed-dating exercise that was extensive in its reach to better understand for ourselves what features were most important in a educational as well as professional setting. Our synthesis led us to create a matrix of value vs effort of our features.

Leading ahead, we wanted to ground our concept features to resonate to personas that would use our system

Jesse, a 19 year old automotive student and his instructor Alex. Jesse is an automotive student enrolled in a traditional vocational training program. He’s interested in the content, ambitious to learn, and loves cars but really just wants to graduate and get a job. He also struggles with mastering the curriculum’s abstract theory in a hands on learning environment.

Alex is his instructor with more than 20 years of experience as a mechanic and and engine diagnostics instructor. In addition to teaching, he also works at a car dealership in the evenings to make extra money and keep his skills fresh. He wishes he could share some of his real world experience and case studies with his students in the classroom.

We narrowed down our feature list that Jesse ad Alex would use and created a story board to explain our concept. Next steps would be revisiting Rosedale with prototypes to explain our system and test it out.

Week 12 & 13 — Prototyping

I adore prototyping. Probably a weird word to use, but its true. Its what all our efforts lead up to and making our concepts to life and testing them with real world users is the most satisfying step in a design process. So yes, i adore it! We created a action plan of creating various levels of prototypes for both instructors and students. I created video prototypes to explain interactions in AR as well as created a 3D UI iteration in Cinema 4D to export to Hololens. Both these mediums worked really well and can be read further here. We also created Paper prototypes to explain the instructor backend and AR experience to students.

Week 14 & 15 — User Testing + Final Concept Development

We tested our prototypes and got valuable feedback from both students and faculty at Rosedale.

Our testing was such a success — we got incredible feedback from both user groups and they helped us zero down on our design language, information architecture, user interactions using touch, voice, gaze and gesture and also enveloping our entire system together. Our final steps are close and we couldn’t be more excited to finish our service details.

Final Presentation

Presenting Otto to Microsoft and a room full of design faculty, students and visitors was unnerving today. But also a great success. We were ready for the questions that came our way and our presentation and video was applauded for being concise and elaborative at the same time. Our team was selected by Microsoft and our faculty to present at the Microsoft Design Expo this summer in Seattle! I am so excited to present our work there and be able to get more feedback from industry members and really push our concept out. This is going to be a great summer!