3D training. It might sound like something out of a science-fiction novel, but it’s starting to happen now. From the basic to the complex, 3D approaches are under development and—in some cases—already available.
Several companies currently offer solutions to create three-dimensional computer diagrams, which can be rotated and manipulated, for training or e-learning. (Check out Parallel Graphics and Lattice3D.) Examples show these 3D graphics used to teach learners assembly, disassembly, or repair of mechanical systems. Another use (of which there are many) could be enabling medical students to explore the human body.
But 3-D training can also be more complex. Sophisticated augmented reality approaches currently under development (primarily for the U.S. military) will eventually be able to overlay virtual characters and buildings on a learner’s vision. Then, he will be able to interact with those items using his physical body—unlike in current computer simulations or virtual worlds, where a participant can only interact using a digital avatar.
Somewhere in between 3D diagrams and high-tech augmented reality approaches is a middle way. ZFUZION is an enterprise working in this space and creating products that will soon be available on the general market.
The ZFUZION solution, which combines digital storytelling, 3D holographic technology, and advanced audio and motion systems, will produce content for workforce development, education, entertainment, gaming, and other uses. Unlike traditional two-dimensional or even 3D computer-generated images, ZFUZION’s holoprojection technology “creates a first-person enhanced reality experience which the human brain accepts as real.”
The venture is a strategic alliance between three separate companies: 3dh Corporation, a group of researchers, scientists, and technology experts; i.d.e.a.s., a “storytelling organization” that creates content for learning, entertainment, and marketing; and Worldwide Interactive Network (WIN), a company specializing in learning and knowledge management systems.
According to a ZFUZION press release, the three companies will create and market content using “3dh’s patented 3D technology, driven by i.d.e.a.s.’ creative story content and production expertise.” WIN’s delivery infrastructure and distribution services will deliver software and courseware to users around the world.
Dr. H. Lynn Cundiff, CEO of 3dh, asserts that the ZFUZION solution can increase accurate retention by 40 percent and learning acquisition speed by 11 percent. The partners hope the company’s immersive content will “significantly impact the way memorable experiences and effective learning are achieved.”
Learning Circuits spoke with Robert Allen, principal executive and chief storytelling officer at i.d.e.a.s., about the collaboration between the three entities and the leading edge technology that ZFUZION is creating.
Can you tell me a little more about the three companies that make up ZFUZION?
3dh Corporation has been working on lots of different kinds of image-making and display-making technology for many years. And the thing that appealed to us was the fact that the 3dh holoprojection and imaging system is designed in such a way that it really has two things going for it. One is that it isn’t nearly as expensive for a commensurate level of fidelity as other 3D systems. Lots of people do 3D, but what 3dh figured out is how to do is to do it really well for a reasonable price.
The second is the way that their technology works provides a great deal of flexibility on the display end of the system. The compensation is that there are some pretty rigorous rules on the production end, but that’s the way it should be set up, because we want this to be available to a really broad base of users. So that’s what those guys do.
Our company, i.d.e.a.s., is all about making creative content for entertainment, for learning, and for marketing. And we met 3dh in the middle and said, you guys have a tremendous technology. How about we help you do things with it, by bringing our stories and our ability to create engaging content to your system? So that’s how that connection was made.
WIN, Worldwide Interactive Network, has a great LMS that they have populated with different content. They have access to lots of very interesting markets, especially in the training and education front. So that’s the tripartite agreement.
Can you describe exactly how this technology works?
It, like most stereooptic projection or display systems, uses a left and right eye polarization system, which means that under most circumstances, you have to wear glasses to see the 3D effect. There are some cases, and advancing technologies and displays, that will allow you to do it without glasses. But the glasses way is the easiest way to think about it. So the material is produced, whether it’s computer-generated imagery, live action, animation, it doesn’t really matter. It’s produced according to a set of specific criteria that allow the 3D effect to work.
And then it’s post-produced and edited in normal straightforward ways. Then it’s re-rendered—just like you would mix a soundtrack for left and right—it’s actually re-rendered one track for the left eye and one for the right eye. And then 3dh’s technology is what allows that dual-channel, dual-visual channel if you would, to be simultaneously multiplexed and displayed, whether you’re displaying it from a video source or a computer. Generally speaking, what we’re playing back are computer files when we do it.
Let’s say it’s a projection environment, like the one we have here at our studio. The neat thing about 3dh’s system is that it will run on a regular desktop computer, and it can be projected by two regular off-the-shelf LCD projectors and displayed on a very industry-standard screen. So it makes the applicability of it and economics of it really work. You can also do it on a CRT, you can do on the web.
Does the user put on the glasses and then stand in front of the projection screen?
Stand or sit. Or you could be at a [computer] desktop environment. It’s most impressive obviously when it’s a theater environment—you can be in a theater and it really comes out at you—but yes, you put the glasses on and now you’re in. The Z in ZFUZION is really about the Z access, the forward and back access, and the imagery comes right off the screen.
Are users then interacting with the objects that they see?
It depends on what we’re designing. You certainly can interact to the degree that you can. For instance, you could drive around in a space. You could, if we were to combine the ZFUZION technique with the basic game engine with physics, you could probably pick things up, move them around, throw them at each other, whatever you wanted to do. So, yeah, again, the ZFUZION approach is simply a way of taking something that you would’ve normally done in a flat world and doing it in a 3D environment. So pretty much anything you could do on a screen, you could do in ZFUZION space.
There are some things that we need to teach people, that the simple act of showing it to them in 3D, which is the way that we experience the world, saves us 20 hours of trying to talk about it. Once they see it, they say, oh, I get it. On a little demo piece we have, one of the examples is a look at two submarines in the ocean moving relative to each other over the top of an ocean topography.
To explain that to someone, trying to explain how submarines navigate, would take long, long hours of language. To put that up there and just run that loop and show it and say, look, here’s what it looks like, and by the way, that ocean topography was all generated by real GIS data… Those are really appropriate-scale models of what those submarines really do look like. You put all that up there and say, does everybody understand? Yep, I get it. You see it. Then you can use a little bit of language and, of course, the proper instructional design is critical in any of these environments to support that visual cueing that you’re able to do. So what we like to say is that with ZFUZION, we can take a learner to places that they really can’t go any other way.
Your press release says the ZFUZION system is being used in a fitness center being developed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention? Can you talk more about that?
Yes, and I don’t know where they are with the project. We were involved with it early on. Their goal was, how do we get people who don’t like to work out to be willing to try a little bit of aerobic exercise. Maybe not become a total gym rat, but how do we get them to try it? One way we suggested was, well, you’ve got spinning cycles and you’ve got exercise bikes. How about we make a 3D theater so that the beginning spinning class, you come in, you get on the bike, you start pedaling, you’re given an RPM target, and that RPM target is designed to sync with a 3D image environment.
Maybe we’re bicycling through Paris. So we’ve got the glasses on and we see scenes going by and we hear the sounds of Paris and the wind blows in our face. Or maybe on a different day, it’s a little more rigorous. So we’re riding down a single-track bike trail. You’ve really got to crank it to keep up. So that idea of creating an environmental surround for an activity, in this case fitness training, is where that came from.
We even talked about tai chi classes or meditation. You could create a very elegant 3D natural environment, a nice wooded area to sit in instead of just sitting on your mat in the gym.
So you don’t know what stage they are on now?
We were involved in the conceptual design and I don’t know how much of what we offered them they will ultimately incorporate into what they’re going to do.
Can you talk more about the applications for this technology in workplace training and development?
Yes, we think there are a lot of them that are very important. The early ones, the easy ones that come to mind, are training people to do things that are conceptually complex. A good example would be, somebody needs to learn to work with a brand-new material, a composite material. They’re used to working with metal. How do you do that, because it’s really hard. Well, with this technology, we can take that technician all the way inside the molecule first and say, look, here’s how this thing is put together. Walk around in here. Now, let’s talk about how it’s structured, what stress points it has and how you work with this. That’s an example of being able to very viscerally give somebody a chance to play with something in a very modeled environment.
Even just simple maintenance training. How many times have you been trying to do a manual task and you’ve got the instructions and you’re looking at them, and most of us can’t program a VCR. So, if you amplify that a hundred times and you look at really complex systems, mechanical systems, electrical systems… We just got off a phone call talking about perhaps using 3D models of oil-drilling platforms—so that the oil-drill operators can really work through what it’s like in certain circumstances without having to actually go through them in the plant, which is very dangerous. So that kind of stuff.
You can go all the way up to high-level education. We can model physics concepts visually in a way that nobody’s been able to do before. There’s a tremendous amount of opportunity in the healthcare area. One of the things that 3dh’s systems will do is directly image from CAT scan and MRI data. So we can literally render in 3D human bodies and how they’re looking and those kinds of things for healthcare professionals. So it’s really a very sophisticated picture-making ability.
It’s a way of saying, give us your toughest training problem, because they’re usually conceptually difficult, and we’ll be able to image that in a way and make it available to the learner in a way that’s very native to the brain.
Are there other projects that you have in the works that you can talk about?
Not really. This is a very early-on technology. The answer is yes, there are areas, I can’t talk about them. There are bunches of them, but I can’t talk about them because they’re usually for somebody else. But we’re very excited about them. As I mentioned, we think this thing over the next year or two years is going to become very robust. And we’ve been working to, as with any new approach, debug the system a little bit. The technology works great. It’s mirroring the technology with the rigors and demands of real production that has been the challenge, and I think we’ve seen lots of daylight from it in how to do it.
How long has ZFUZION been around?
We’ve been together for probably a little under a year currently. And then of course 3dh’s technology, they’ve been working on that for several years, and we’ve had our studio here for several years. But we’ve been together for the last year or so.
Your press release says you’re launching immersive emergency management training. How will that work?
We do a lot of emergency management and incident management training. In fact, a team we’re on just won the Florida tabletop exercise for next year. So we’ll go to Tallahassee in February and as part of a team we’ll train Florida’s emergency managers on whatever this year’s scenario is. We think there’s a great applicability in the immersive learning environment: Story-based immersive learning is one of the things we really do.
We think this is a new immersion technology that would allow the emergency management team to literally in the middle of, in this case a simulated emergency, visualize. Imagine doing this with GIS data—now you’ve got a 3-dimensional display of Miami or Tampa or wherever we’re staging the scenario in front of you and you’re looking at it, and you can move around in it, and you can see the consequences of certain actions. Let’s close off this road—well, when you look at it in 3D, you realize what happens.
So we think it’s going to be a really powerful visualization tool in that environment. Again, it’s a great way to bring more fidelity, more realism to a critical thinking training environment without having to take you out in the field. And actually, a lot of times when you go out and do a full-scale exercise in the field, it’s actually less high-fidelity, because the truth is, the victims are actors and they don’t really know how to do it, and they can get pretty cheesy pretty fast. We think this is a way to add some of the dimension of reality without having to put up with the risks of trying to do it out in physical space.
You’re developing a subscription-based service. How will that work?
Again, it’s very early on that, but here’s the model. Let’s just say that there are certain vertical markets that could probably really benefit by having a continual supply of content that they can use in a ZFUZION theater environment. So the idea would be, there’s a basic installation of the theater, or licensing the technology, and then titles are made available in a catalog environment to say here’s what you’ve got, and the title is leased for a certain period of time and then your lease is up and it’s returned to the library.
The model allows us to work at a very high level of production value and not compromise quality, because over time there are enough subscribers to pay for the content. Whereas if you do everything on a purely custom basis, it’s very expensive to make it good. So this way everybody benefits.
Anything else you want to mention?
The only other comment I would make is, you’re going to continue to hear about 3D imaging in general. It’s kind of the next holy grail, really, in the way that we display things. I think it’s going to be more powerful, frankly, in the learning environment than in the entertainment environment. We do both, but the learning environment has much more critical need. There are things that you simply cannot do well any other way.
And you’ll hear lots about different ways of going about 3D in the next few years. I think what 3dh has done and what we hope to be doing with them is to not simply be ahead but be ahead with some very strong market value. If it isn’t, I would say this, if it isn’t done intentionally, 3D isn’t any better than black and white. It’s just a trick, and if it’s just a gag, it doesn’t drive any value. When it’s done in concert with the right learning scaffolding, and highly engaging creative content, then it’s really powerful.
What is the right learning scaffolding?
Well, it depends on what we’re teaching and who we’re teaching it to and where we’re teaching it. So there’s no right answer to that. But the symptoms of the not right ones are people who disengage or who don’t understand, or that you use lose your audience, or you bore your audience.
We think about the word audience all the time. They’re all audiences. Because the relationship with an audience is different than the relationship with a student or the relationship with a trainee. Your audience is somebody you better respect deeply, and that’s the way we think about it.
But does that connote a more passive role than a learner or student?
Not to me. I’m a storyteller, remember, so there’s nothing more important in the world than an audience. And they can be extremely active, depending on what they’re an audience of.
Published: November 2005