InstaVR Interviews: Meet the VR Practitioners
InstaVR Interviews is a blog series where we turn the spotlight on our customers. We find out why they create VR, how they use InstaVR, and what the future of VR will look like. To read more interviews, visit the InstaVR Interviews homepage.
Dr. Matthew Frew, Senior Lecturer in Enterprise, University of the West of Scotland – School of Business and Enterprise
Dr Frew is a Senior Lecturer in the UWS School of Business & Enterprise. He comes to academia with over 15 years’ industrial experience across the cultural and creative industries. His specialism and expertise lies in applying socio-cultural analysis with digital, social and transformational technologies to develop and enhance innovation, enterprise and business growth. Current work focuses how ubiquitous, convergent, augmented and virtual technologies are challenging traditional business practices, product development and promotion. In this age of acceleration he argues that consumers, increasingly, desire and demand multi-sensory experiences that deliver immersive intimacy as they seek experiences that re-create, re-live or re-boot life itself.
Dr. Frew studies societal transformation via digital technologies like Virtual Reality; first proposes a Virtual University in 2000
Question: Tell us a bit about yourself. What do you focus your teaching and research on?
I describe myself as a social theorist of digital, social and transformational technologies. Basically, in the United States, it’s what you might call a “Futurologist.” Our job is to look at the social and cultural phenomena that is changing the world. To look at how trends in digital, social, and transformational technologies are challenging and changing how we we work, live, and learn.
Whether that’s for education or enterprise, we look at the integration of technologies like virtual, augmented, mixed or extended reality with haptics and interactive sensory touch. We’re looking at how it will change students’ interactive experiences, because Generation Z is here and Generation Alpha is coming up hard and fast, and we can’t teach them the same way as we did in the past. By the same token, businesses are being transformed as well by what we call this “Age of Acceleration”.
I’ve been doing this for a number of years, using these types of technologies for ten years or more. Actually I first proposed a ‘Virtual University’ in the year 2000 when I was working at Glasgow Caledonian University. Of course they thought I was crazy – not anymore! Actually I just proposed a Virtual University for frictionless learning to the University of the West of Scotland. Also put a proposal to Google’s Magic Leap for what I’ve termed ‘EducationXR’. This is education via Extended Reality, the umbrella term integrating VR, AR, MR and 360. No need for smartphones, tablets, PC or Mac. All in a headset allowing global engagement, interactive skills development and contextualising concepts in multiple VR environments.
The key point is this “Age of Acceleration” that we’re in right now holds massive change for us. Of course there is that quote that ‘new technology is common but new thinking is rare’ and that’s the core for us – the creative concepts integrated to these technologies. Again things like virtual reality have been around for ages. But now it’s become democratized, so most people can use it and with this we open new possibilities. I believe we are at an unprecedented time where we can create mind-blowing experiences and techno-cultural dreamscapes. My job title is simply a Senior Lecturer of Enterprise, but I’m really a Senior Lecturer for Innovation in Digital, Social, and Transformational Technologies.
Dr. Frew’s team creates VR tourism app to promote island of Arran
Question: What is an example of VR you’re building using our platform?
In the VR space, for example, we’ve just worked with the island of Arran. It’s called ‘Scotland in miniature’ they have just got super fast broadband connectivity. The government has put millions and millions of pounds into
building the infrastructure, so that island is very popular. It’s very scenic, a gorgeous place, beautiful and popular tourist destination.
What we did there was, using InstaVR, build a tourist application, so you’ll actually start at the highest mountain in Arran in VR. Then we have multiple teleportation points so you’re able to teleport all around the island. So you can go to the spa resort, the golf courses, and the whiskey distillery. And every time you teleport, you can actually go into the distillery or see them making cheese.
UWS hosts Polish artist D.O.M.; additional VR apps built by Dr. Frew’s team to help first responders in assessing risk
Question: Can you discuss some more areas where you’re building VR on campus?
The latest one interestingly is D.O.M. ArtVR. Dominika is an artist who is very adventurous and open to the transformational power and potential of AR. Led by my colleague Theo Tzanidis we got Dom to creates virtual reality art piece. Also Theo went on-site, captured her gallery, interviews about the creative process, which was all developed into an Insta build. Theo and I then showcased the whole process at Dominika’s ‘My Queendom’ launch event, letting people see the build in Oculus Rift, Oculus Go and via the smartphone app. Also we had the event live streamed to YouTube using the Insta 8K camera.
Also we are working on a “StalkerVR” project. The client, Action Against Stalking, want us to use VR to inform people that have/are being stalked, educate professional policy makers, support services and groups. The idea is that people can understand and ‘feel the fear’ of what it is to be stalked as it ruins people’s lives. It’s a really interesting and unusual use of VR but as stalking is a big thing and impacts employment, economy and health it resonates across lot of countries. Theo and I intend to showcase the final output in April 2019 at Action Against Stalking’s conference where we expect it will have a similar impact to D.O.M. ArtVR.
Another one that may be interesting to you is about risk and resilience. You’ve seen the terrorist attacks in London, you’ve seen the terrorist attacks in Glasgow, you’ve seen them all over the world. So we have a few experts in those areas of risk, and we’re now creating a few virtual reality scenarios around risk for the police, the military, and for the fire brigade. With VR we can have far more realistic simulations and we can build plugins that provide differential tests of skill and judgement calls giving it a far deeper level or realism and interactivity.
UWS invests in 8K Insta360 Pro cameras
Question: What kind of hardware are you using for image and video capture?
When we were first doing it like a lot of guys using rigs for VR, such as the GoPro rigs. But they’re pretty clunky and can be expensive. Also we have an Orah 4i which is give good 4K quality and live stream but, again, expensive. Funnily enough you have the much cheaper consumer ones, like the Theta Vs, which are pretty good as they are small, very portable, given 4K resolution and can live stream. Similarly we’ve got a few Samsung cameras that, like the Theta V, are pretty good consumer cameras.
Now we’ve got a couple of the 8K Insta360 Pros, which are really good and give a much greater depth and quality of content. Actually when you add the smaller 4Ks, which are so portable as I demonstrated recently with a shoot on the mountains of Tenerife, to the power of the Insta360 Pro you can get great VR builds
Our university is quite happy to invest in these technologies because we’ve got the “Immersive University”. Theo and I have been at the forefront of this driving the uses of VR in education and enterprise. That said it’s not all plain sailing as even in academia you run up against the naysayers, cynics and traditionalists. I’ve been pushing digital, social and transformational technologies applications for years and having worked at Bournemouth University, Glasgow Caledonian University and now here I’ve had to fight and convince folks all the way. So it can be a struggle.
Dr. Frew starts by asking questions similar to storyboarding; utilizes a project manager to keep things focused
Question: What is your primary approach to filming in 360?
Obviously when you do 360 camera capture, you have to set the scene. So it’s a lot like storyboarding — What are the spaces you need to capture? What are the subjects that relate to the scene? What is the story you’re trying to tell? And what is the sensations that you’re trying to trigger or release in the 360 VR?
For the Arran one, we had to climb the mountain, which took us about 4 hours to the top. The cameras aren’t that big now. Even an Insta360 is about 5 pounds, so you can move it and get around. But we had to get to the top of Arran’s highest mountain, which was bloody hard!
Just like with any type of filming, you’re looking to make sure you have nice weather and clear views. In Scotland, of course, the countryside is quite famous and a very beautiful place, so we make sure to capture the scenes. I have a Digital Project Manager named Kirstin Ledger, she our superstar and keeps me, Theo and the team right. When we are doing a project, she’s running the schedule, literally moving us along every half-hour or hour, from place to place, shoot the scene, capture the content, in, out and on time. If you are doing digital projects you need Kirstin worth her weight in gold.
Obviously once we have capture all the scenes and all the content, then we stitch them all together, and we do a proof of concept just like D.O.M ArtVR and StalkerVR. So once you do a proof of concept, and then if the client likes it, we take it to the next level. With InstaVR the sky is the limit as it allows you to build inside it pretty much anything you’d like.
New form of teaching at UWS incorporates VR and has been highlighted for numerous awards; utilizing VR allows students from all around the world to be included
Question: Can you talk a little bit about your Immersive University, a new teaching approach that incorporates VR?
We’ve got what’s called a new form of pedagogy for education or cybergogy as I prefer to call it. We call it “Accelerated and Immersive Education” and its becoming a big part of the Immersive University project of UWS. It’s been up for a number of awards just this year — the Guardian Award, the Herald Award, and the Pioneering Digital Awards.
The Accelerated and Immersive Education approach integrates the use of VR to enhance the educational experience. I started the approach a number of years ago and worked with Apple’s iTunes U. I then came to UWS and met Theo and we have developed and driven the approach ever since so now its integral for the Immersive University. A big part of that is we build everything into a Google G-Suite for Education, which hosts all the Insta360 content on the Google Platform.
So we have the interactive touch lectures, and the students don’t need to come into class — they can do it any place, any where, any time. The Accelerated and Immersive Educational approach allows a student to get all the lecture materials on their phone.
A simple example is let’s say you’re teaching a student about law, you can teleport them via InstaVR to a courtroom. Or to the top of a mountain, a beach or to a hotel resort. One of the things is when we’re giving the students a lecture, underneath the touch lecture we have an Insta, and they can go inside and see what we mean.
That’s the beauty of VR — you can literally have students all over the world. We have a number of what are called “transnational education units” all over the world. So we have students in Seychelles, India, Sri Lanka, all over the place. You can have them from China, you can have them from Australia, you can have them from America. We can invite them into the headsets to see the lecture and be digitally teleported to contexts all over the world to enhance and embed learning.
So when you make an application, you can say “OK, guys you’ve just heard me talking about the Oak Tree Inn on the banks of Loch Lomond, Scotland. So jump in the headset and ‘bang’ they are there in 360.” Then you can explain to them the impact of tourism on a beautiful island, but an island that is being loved to death. That is to say, too much tourism kills the very thing they’re going to see. I’ve actually done this very example teleporting students from Loch Lomond, Goat Fell on the Isle of Arran to Mount Teide on Tenerife, which really brings learning to life.
UWS using InstaVR to embed WebVR and publish to Oculus Go & Rift; hotspot analytics key advantage in digital marketing
Question: Can you discuss the specifics of how you’re using InstaVR?
We have been using InstaVR for embedded plugins be it 2D videos, sites, media content or other 360s. One of the reasons we use InstaVR is because it’s incredibly versatile.
The hotspot analytics are fantastic. We do a MSc Digital Marketing, and part of digital marketing is content creation. And with content creation, the holy grail is to work out what the viewer is interacting or engaging with. The beauty of InstaVR is you can see through the hotspot analytics what they’re looking at and where they’re going.
The phrase I tend to use with InstaVR is I can create an “Alice in Wonderland” scenario. How deep does the rabbit hole go. So we have all the teleportation points built into it, we stitch it all together, we put in the plugins, 2D videos or whatever, and this gives what we call “edutaining” — so it’s entertaining and educational at the same time.
We download them as apps into all the headsets, including the Oculus Go. We’re using lots of headsets such as the Rift & the Go. The beauty of the Go is it is untethered, so you can import the InstaVR apps straight into the headset. It’s really fantastic.
VR is democratized, but coming up with a creative concept still the Holy Grail
Question: Any final thoughts on making good VR applications?
I often use the quote ‘New technologies are very common, but new thinking is rare’. Getting a good creative concept is the key. I’d argue that is what we’re pretty good at – coming up with the creative concepts that give you difference and distinction. Take your creative concept, and with software like InstaVR and a 360-camera like Insta360, and you can now put it all together pretty quickly.
I think our Accelerated and Immersive Education approach is a good example. With interactive touch lectures that are visual and vibrant that integrate VR, giving you the ability to virtually teleport or place shift students contexts all over the world where you can contextualise and discuss learning represents a real shift in the educational experience. It a from of education that gives you a level of versatility that I don’t see anywhere else at the moment.
Interestingly, with EducationXR I’m taking this to the next level. Simply put you we’re looking to create intimately immersive education where we blur the boundaries between the real and virtual. Think everything inside a VR environment where students from anywhere can converge, create and consume experiences, learn new skills, new ways of thinking and innovating. Add in the likes of hotspot analytics, AI and biosensory haptics, where we can think, feel, interact and create, and you are looking a revolutionary form of education with transformational power and potential. Anyway that’s always been the dream that’s, increasingly, getting closer to a reality.
VR is part of the puzzle and as it’s becoming pretty democratized, anyone can now create VR, we will see lots of developments. When you see the integration of transformational technologies under the XR/extended reality banner I believe we are looking at creating new worlds that offer mind blowing experiences. Of course the problem is always the power of imagination that drives the creative concept? That’s the Holy Grail. Give me a creative concept first, then we can go and build those future worlds!
Thank you to Dr. Matthew Frew for his time and insight! For more on him click for a TouchCast biography or contact via email at matthew.frew at uws.ac.uk.