28 May 2011

Eurographics 2011 Educational Paper

Last month an educational paper, I co-authored with colleagues from Interactive Worlds Applied Research Group (iWARG), was presented at the 32nd Annual Conference of the European Association for Computer Graphics (Eurographics 2011). The conference took place at Llandudno, Wales, 12-15 April 2011 and the paper was titled ‘In at the Deep End: An Activity-Led Introduction to Creative Computing with Interactive Computer Graphics’.

The paper reports on our academic group’s attempts within creative computing degrees at a UK university to counter these problems through the introduction of a six week long project that newly enrolled students embark on at the very beginning of their studies. Having run in two iterations, we believe that this approach has been successful, with students showing increased interest in their chosen discipline and noticeable improvements in retention following the first year of the students’ studies.

A draft version of the paper can be downloaded from here.

25 May 2011

VS-Games 2011 Workshop Paper

On Friday 6th May 2011, I presented a co-authored paper (with my student Vikramaditya Jaligama) with title ‘An Online Virtual Learning Environment for Higher Education’, to the Workshop ‘Natural Interaction and Player Satisfaction in Games’ of the 3rd International Conference in Games and Virtual Worlds for Serious Applications (VS-Games 2011). The paper describes a novel online virtual learning classroom like environment focused for higher education.

Students can login to this virtual world in the form of their avatars and follow lecture classes and laboratories in a collaborative manner. To prove the feasibility of the system, the lecture materials from ‘3D Graphics Programming’ module were ported into the online virtual learning environment. Initial evaluation with 20 users showed that overall the online virtual learning environment is enjoyable and has the potential to be used for the development of distance learning courses and degrees.

A draft version of the article can be downloaded from here.

24 May 2011

VS-Games 2011 Short Paper

On Wednesday 4th May 2011, my student, Mr. Athanasios Vourvopoulos, presented a co-authored (with myself) paper with title ‘Brain-controlled NXT Robot - Tele-operating a robot through brain electrical activity’, to the 3rd International Conference in Games and Virtual Worlds for Serious Applications (VS-Games 2011). The paper focuses on the research of human-robot interaction through tele-operation with the help of brain-computer interfaces (BCIs). To accomplish that, a working system has been created based on off-the-shelf components.

The experimental prototype uses the basic movement operations and obstacle detection of a Lego Mindstroms NXT Robot. There are two versions of this prototype, taking readings from the users' brain electrical activity in real-time performance. The first version is made by using a Neurosky Mindset, and is based on the attention levels of the user as the robot accelerates or decelerates. The second version is using an Emotiv Epoc headset taking readings from 14 sensors, being able to control fully the robot.

A draft version of the article can be downloaded from here.

22 May 2011

Virtual Bladder

Bladder cancer is the fourth-most-common cancer in men and one of the most expensive cancers to treat from diagnosis to death. After initial diagnosis and surgery, patients must return to the urologist at least yearly for a costly, time-consuming and uncomfortable bladder scan. Tumors recur in more than half of patients. Researchers at the University of Washington are proposing a more automated approach that could be cheaper, more comfortable and more convenient for both doctors and patients. Their system would use the UW's ultrathin laser endoscope, which is like a thin piece of cooked spaghetti, in combination with software that stitches together images from the scope's path to create a full, 3D panorama of the bladder interior. The semi-automated scan could be done by a nurse or technician. Resulting images could be reviewed by a urologist at a later time, potentially in another city or country.

Currently, urologists conduct bladder exams using an endoscope that's manipulated around the bladder during the roughly 5 minute scan. Because a specialist is required, some patients have to travel long distances for appointments. Unlike ultrasounds, X-rays and CT scans, endoscopies are only performed by medical doctors. Often no records exist beyond the doctor's notes. The UW software checks that no part of the organ was missed, so a nurse or technician could administer the procedure -- especially using a small scope that doesn't require anesthesia. The current user interface projects the reconstructed organ onto a spherical ball or onto a flat map. The resulting mosaic matches the images to a single pixel of accuracy. Ultimately, the digital display would incorporate all the original frames, so a doctor could zoom in on an area of interest and observe from all angles at the highest resolution.

More information:


20 May 2011

Virtual Possessions Affect Teenagers

Digital imagery, Facebook updates, online music collections, email threads and other immaterial artifacts of today's online world may be as precious to teenagers as a favorite book that a parent once read to them or a t-shirt worn at a music festival, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers say. The very fact that virtual possessions don't have a physical form may actually enhance their value, researchers at Carnegie Mellon's Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII) and School of Design discovered in a study of 21 teenagers. A fuller appreciation of the sentiments people can develop for these bits of data could be factored into technology design and could provide opportunities for new products and services, they said. One of the subjects said she always takes lots of photos at events and uploads them immediately so she and her friends can tag and dish about them. The penchant of people to collect and assign meaning to what are often ordinary objects is well known. For their study, researchers recruited nine girls and 12 boys, ages 12-17, from middle- and upper-middle-class families who had frequent access to the Internet, mobile phones and other technology.

The researchers interviewed them about their everyday lives, their use of technology and about the physical and virtual possessions that they valued. If a house is a place to store your stuff, then a mobile phone might be considered a treasure box that gives you access to your stuff, the interviews revealed. The "placelessness" of virtual possessions stored online rather than on a computer often enhanced their value because they were always available. The degree to which users can alter and personalize online objects affects their value. Participants noted that they could display things online, such as a photograph of a boyfriend disliked by parents, which were important to their identity but could never be displayed in a bedroom. The online world, in fact, allowed the teenagers to present different facets of themselves to appropriate groups of friends or to family. Developing privacy controls and other tools for determining who gets to see what virtual possessions in which circumstances is both a need and an opportunity for technology developers, the researchers said.

More information:


19 May 2011

Virtual Schizophrenia

Computer networks that can't forget fast enough can show symptoms of a kind of virtual schizophrenia, giving researchers further clues to the inner workings of schizophrenic brains, researchers at The University of Texas at Austin and Yale University have found. The researchers used a virtual computer model, or ‘neural network’, to simulate the excessive release of dopamine in the brain. They found that the network recalled memories in a distinctly schizophrenic-like fashion. The hypothesis is that dopamine encodes the importance-the salience-of experience. When there's too much dopamine, it leads to exaggerated salience, and the brain ends up learning from things that it shouldn't be learning from.

The results bolster a hypothesis known in schizophrenia circles as the hyperlearning hypothesis, which posits that people suffering from schizophrenia have brains that lose the ability to forget or ignore as much as they normally would. Without forgetting, they lose the ability to extract what's meaningful out of the immensity of stimuli the brain encounters. They start making connections that aren't real, or drowning in a sea of so many connections they lose the ability to stitch together any kind of coherent story. The neural network used by is called DISCERN and it was used to simulate what happens to language as the result of eight different types of neurological dysfunction.

More information:


18 May 2011

In Therapy With Avatars

Researchers are developing so-called VRET systems (Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy) which can be used to help people deal with their anxieties, such as fear of flying, fear of heights or claustrophobia or psychotic disorders, such as paranoia. One of the first products to emerge from the Delft Mental Health Computing Lab was a vibrating aircraft seat. TU Delft researchers have been working with other parties to develop a system to enable people with a fear of flying to experience the sounds and feel of flying via a virtual reality helmet and the vibrating seat as if they were really in the air. This helps them to become exposed to the feared situation and so overcome their fear. The system is already being used intensively.

Recently, researchers have concentrated on programmes like the virtual pub that are designed to help people with social problems. The idea is that reconstructing the social environment in a virtual world and exposing people to it will enable psychiatrists to study psychotic symptoms more effectively and ultimately provide better help to patients. The virtual pub is still in the pilot phase. It all needs to be made even scarier. Patients find it extremely frightening when people look at them for long periods. So this feature needs to be added. It also needs to be possible to conduct a simple conversation. The aim of the research is ultimately to develop a method for cognitive behavioural therapy.

More information:


16 May 2011

Drafting Without Drivers

Less accidents, less fuel consumption, and less traffic jams: Autonomous, computer-controlled vehicles have many advantages in road traffic. In particular, if many cars join to form long convoys. On May 14 and 15, 2011, ten research groups meet in Holland for the first time and tested convoy driving without drivers on an about 6 km long motorway section in the Grand Cooperative Driving Challenge (GCDC). KIT researchers involved in the AnnieWAY team will take part. Autonomous vehicles are equipped with sensors that perceive the position, movement, and environment. From these data, a computer calculates the next driving maneuvers that are executed autonomously. During the GCDC, the vehicles will also exchange information via radio communication to coordinate driving in a stable convoy. Thanks to cameras and sensors on the roof, AnnieWAY gets on safely, efficiently, and rapidly.

On the test track near Eindhoven, various models and autonomous systems will meet. Consequently, the GCDC will represent a realistic test case for future conditions on the road. Apart from acceleration and braking tests, it shall be studied whether reliable convoy driving at up to 80 km per hour can be achieved. In 2007 already did the Karlsruhe AnnieWAY team take part in the Urban Challenge in California and reach the final of eleven autonomous vehicles of a total of 89 starters. AnnieWAY, the KIT vehicle, is equipped with satellite navigation and speed and acceleration meters. Cameras generate a stereoscopic image and a laser scanner constantly measures the surroundings. For information exchange with other vehicles, a special WLAN system (802.11.p) is installed. Based on these data, the on-board computer calculates in real time the position of traffic participants and prognosticates how the situation will develop. Accordingly, it will determine its own reaction.

More information: