Augmented reality

EVER SINCE Pac Man was introduced more than 30 years ago, video games have been an entertainment staple for most of the younger set.

This new technology blurs the line between what’s real and what’s computer-generated

AR INTERACTION: Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Alfred Jabu trying out the planetarium’s interactive AR programme at the Sejiwa Senada Exhibition in Bintulu — as demonstrated by planetarium curator Ismandy Ali (right) while Hamdan Sharbini (second left) from the Social Development and Urbanisation Ministry looks on.

Today’s increasingly sophisticated computer graphics are pushing the barriers of photorealism with researchers and engineers pulling graphics out of television screens or computer displays and integrating them into real world environments.

This new technology, known as augmented reality (AR), blurs the line between what’s real and what’s computer-generated by enhancing what we see, hear, feel and/or smell.

Because of AR’s diversity, everyone can now benefit from its ability to place computer-generated graphics in the field of vision.

Using AR within the education sector, for instance, can be a form of teaching aid to promote understanding and create interaction among students.

Sultan Iskandar Planetarium recently showcased various projects, featuring AR technology,     at the Sejiwa Senada Exhibition held in various regions of the state this year.

“The planetarium AR projects, developed by industrial training students from the Faculty of Science Cognitive and Human Development at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas), featured various astronomy programmes such as Planet in Cube, Space Shuttle, Fiction Space Craft, Solar System and Galaxy to introduce astronomy to the public,” planetarium assistant curator Alfean     Aziz said.

“The concept of using AR in the projects was introduced by the director of the Centre of Excellence for Semantic Technology and Augmented Reality at the university, Dr Edmund Weng, whose faculty has been constantly developing AR technology in various applications to aid industries such as education, research and development and healthcare.”

At the exhibition, visitors were given the opportunity to partake in AR interaction, requiring them to press the ‘runbat’ button to launch the webcam on the computer screen.

A marker would then be placed in front of the webcam, allowing the user to see various animated images of the solar system, planets or space ships on the screen.

“The visitors were amazed by the sophisticated technology we’ve incorporated into the projects. Children and even adults were equally surprised to see astronomical objects pop out of nowhere in front of their eyes when they placed the marker in front of the webcams,” Alfean said.

The AR astronomy projects, he added, were mainly to educate people, especially students, on astronomy on a different level where they could participate in an interactive exhibit as opposed to the conventional exhibition or seminar to disseminate information to the public.

To implement the AR system, the students needed various software such as Autodesk 3D Studio Max, Microsoft Visual C++, and Adobe Photoshop as well as equipment, including webcams, loudspeaker, computer and markers.

“The marker is a card which enables 3D objects to be displayed above the user through virtual reality,” Alfean explained.

He said the objects were modelled using the 3D Studio Max software whereas coding for projected animated objects on the markers was modified with Microsoft Visual C++.

“The markers were created using Adobe Photoshop and all data on the markers would have to be noted before they were deemed usable.”

Alfean also pointed out that several AR flaws were considered inevitable such as in complex objects that were difficult to be projected onto the markers because they may cause the system to slow down.

“This occurs because the particular complex object might have intricate polygons,” he said, adding that other weaknesses that may occur while the user interacted with the programme were either insufficient lighting or too much lighting which may make projection of the object on the marker difficult.

As a form of education, Alfean stressed, AR allowed students to envision how a given object would look in different settings.

“They will receive immediate visual feedback on the designs and ideas in a way that allows them to spot how things work.

“This technology has strong potential to provide both powerful contextual, learning experiences and serendipitous exploration and discovery of the connected nature of information in the real world,” he said.

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