SMART Mixed Reality

SMART Mixed Reality Cubes

Thanks to Electroboard SA I’ve now had the opportunity to play with the SMART Mixed reality cube.  I recently ran a session on SMART’s Mixed Reality system for CEGSA and was quite surprised by what I saw.

As you know, I am quite at home with Augmented Reality and I have already had a play with the 3D images inside SMART Notebook.  I was, to be honest, wondering whether the investment in the Mixed Reality was going to be worth the money or whether it was something that you could happily recreate using some of the Augmented Reality tools that are out there on the market for free.  Here’s what I discovered..

The Hardware

As you’ll know from my previous posts, the SMART Mixed Reality system only works on a  Smart Document camera SD330 or higher.  The features to use the system come as part of the SMART Notebook 10.8 install.  There’s an option to install it along with the normal system and to use it as a trial.  You also need a cube.  These are now available in South Australia and any school with a SD330 or higher will receive one from Electroboard very soon

You might wonder why you’d install that part of the software if you don’t own the hardware? Well, there’s still a lot you can do even without the cubes.  However, in order to continue to use the mixed reality features beyond the trial you have to plug-in an SD330 (or higher) to the machine that you’re running the software on.  The idea being that if  a school was to purchase one of these systems they could use it to permanently unlock the features which come with it on a range of machines.  Schools would simply take the document camera to each machine and plug it in. As soon as the computer sees the device, you have a license to use it’s features even when the camera is not attached.

What does it do?

The camera with the cube…

The software comes with a range of 3D models for you and your students to interact with.  A few are automatically added to the gallery when you upgrade and add Mixed Reality to your system.  You can easily add to your collection in by downloading new objects from the SMART Exchange website (The 3D, beating heart is amazing!)  or by heading to the Google 3D Warehouse.

Once the 3D object is on the page it can be controlled using the cube.  Simply drop the cube on the table underneath the camera lens and it will automatically configure itself.  If it loses contact with the cube as you move it around, just put it back down again and allow it to reconnect.

As you turn the cube you turn the object on the screen – giving your students the impression that they are holding the object that they are exploring in their own hand. However, you can do exactly the same thing inside the software.  When you left click on it, handles come up which allow you to push and pull the shape using the board.  Sure, you lose the hand-held feeling but you can do the same thing without the cube… pedagogically, I’m not sure you need it…

The camera without the cube….

For me, this is the best bit.  I can re-create what the cube is doing using AR Sights and augmented reality. Although, I wouldn’t be able to use the SMART 3D content with their software, I would be able to access any of Google’s 3D warehouse and operate with them inside of Google Sketchup.

What I can’t re-create is the ability to navigate inside the 3D objects.  To turn them into maps that we can explore together.  That, for me, is the real strength of the Mixed Reality system and you don’t need the cube to do it.

Once you’ve loaded your image into Notebook you can right-click on it and choose to “Enter the 3D scene”. From here, the object turns into something really exciting.

Maybe it’s the gamer nerd in me but I love the way we’re given a map of this object, the way we can explore it, walk around, zoom in, above, below and really examine the objects we’ve been given.

This works particularly well with buildings – I even managed to have a little explore of a 3D Globe theatre. Something I’ve been dying to do for years!   I’m not sure if anyone else out there has come across something that would enable you to explore the shape as easily as this.  I know you can move around inside Google Sketch up in a similar way but I’m not sure it’s as easy to use as this. What do you think?

In my opinion it’s not the hardware that creates the awe and wonder here. It’s the design concept, the 3D images from the SMART Exchange and that ability to “Enter the 3D scene”.  It would be interesting to see whether SMART will let us buy a license for those features without needing the camera or the cube.

The camera obviously has other features and uses too but a lot of schools have already invested in visualisers/document cameras and I wouldnt’ want them to miss out 🙂