I heard “that is so cool” many times at the FIRST Robotics conference in Detroit this year.
That surprised me because I didn’t imagine that we would impress tech-savvy, gaming-centric teens. I also heard “What is Nokia?” and “What is Bell Labs?” That is one reason for motivating Nokia Bell Labs to participate in STEM events such as these to build awareness of Bell Labs as a dynamic research organization. But you may not know that the kids inspire us, too!
Here’s what happened: we created video games that could be displayed on large screens so the players could be inside the virtual environment. We coupled the games to a wearable device – a research prototype – that is part of a research program looking at human interaction and sensing. In the game, players in our three-screen video enclosure were “in” a space ship dodging asteroids in one game and running down a street dodging obstacles in the other game. The games were designed to end in 4-5 minutes so we could manage the visitor traffic in an exhibit hall.
A note: I have “demoed” at a lot of tradeshows in my career, and this was unique mainly because the visitors were 14-18 years old. The teens were just as critical and inquisitive as any high-level corporate customer that I have encountered, often asking good technical questions. I noted one other difference between this group and an adult group visiting this experience elsewhere – these kids immediately checked out their scores on the leaderboard to compare with others.
I was surprised that these teens, who are typically active in video gaming, would find the experience so compelling. After all, the experience fell short of “immersion” at only about 40 degrees vertical FoV [see reference 2] and 200 degrees horizontal FoV. And our wearable gestural interface was not tuned to feel like a game controller. Finally, the games were not nearly as detailed as today’s commercial games. My conclusion was that the experience was sufficiently novel to surprise even these seasoned teens.
We brought this experience to the conference to talk about new concepts in human interaction and sensing - in the guise of a game - and maybe some of the kids will come back to Bell Labs as researchers to invent new ways to interact with humans!
FIRST Robotics asked Sanjay Patel, head of Emerging Materials, Components, and Devices Research, about how Bell Labs is working with FIRST with sponsorships, mentoring and other outreach. You can watch the entire day's events at FIRST Robotics, or fast forward to 6:24:24 to see Sanjay's interview.
Here is Sanjay Patel being interviewed in the middle of the competion floor.
 Acknowledging Igloo Vision Ltd, for the immersive display and gaming portion of the environment.
 An immersive experience is conventionally thought of as encompassing a “significant” field of view (FoV). Test subjects tend to experience balance problems at 120-150 degrees of horizontal and vertical FoV. In a separate public experience at an earlier trade show (Mobile World Congress 2018), we casually observed about 20% of our visitors required use of supplied seating to avoid balance issues. Refer further to a notable research study on immersive environments: H. B. L. Duh, J. W. Lin, R. V. Kenyon, D. E. Parker and T. A. Furness, "Effects of field of view on balance in an immersive environment," Proceedings IEEE Virtual Reality 2001, Yokohama, Japan, 2001, pp.235-240.