A massage bed? Pregnant boys? An Oculus rift?: Totem's adventure into immersive technology

When working in an innovative, cutting edge field such as Serious Games and Learning Simulations, it can be all too easy to get carried away with exciting technology for technology’s sake, or get so deep into fascinating academic research findings that we become detached from what our end users really care about.

The best way to get to know what your market responds to, what their needs and desires are, is to hang out with them and test the water.

So when we were invited to attend the Big Bang event in Coventry this week (a nationwide event to promote STEM subjects to local 11-18 year olds), we said YES! It ticked many boxes for us.

We selected the following from our catalogue to show, from brand new prototypes to old favourites:

  • The Oculus Rift (demo): A demo of this celebrated Virtual Reality headset
  • A Pregnancy Suit and Ultrasound Simulation: Students experience pregnancy
  • An Anatomical Scan: Students view their internal organs!
  •  Chemistry Lab: A gamified virtual chemistry laboratory. See video
  • The Business Game: Students set up and run a business, learning key business concepts along the way to support GCSE business studies. See video
  • Experience Works: Students gain and negotiate a ‘virtual’ work experience. More info

  • Enclosed! Life or death safety training for crew on board cargo ships

Highlights, Insights and Sound Bites!

The Oculus Rift

Students queuing to try the Oculus Rift, Big Bang event, Coventry

Students queuing to try the Oculus Rift, Big Bang event, Coventry

Developing on the Oculus Rift is still in its early stages for us and we’ve got a few hurdles to overcome – but we’re confident these will be resolved in the forthcoming rush to make Virtual Reality mainstream. The reaction from students, teachers, and even the event organisers was incredible. For something that hasn’t even been launched officially yet, there is so much hype around it. Those of you that have tried it will ‘get it’ though, as the comfortable, lightweight headset allows you 360 degree vision that moves with your head to give you a real feeling of immersion. We’ve got the first version and I hear the second has HD and no lag which will make it even better and take away that slight feeling of motion sickness.

We showed a demo of a roller coaster ride and amused ourselves watching the kids move with the car and let out the odd gasp of fear despite themselves. When they finished we heard: “wow I actually felt it in my stomach” and “that was amazing, it really is like being on a rollercoaster”.

Imagine that total immersion applied in a learning game context, I think you’ll agree the possibilities are endless, and happily we’re working on some of those!

The Pregnancy Scan Simulation

Trying on the pregnancy suit before viewing his ultrasound scan!

Trying on the pregnancy suit before viewing his ultrasound scan!

The pregnancy ultrasound simulation was great too. Students (male and female) tried on a pregnancy suit designed to simulate a late stage of pregnancy (it weighs a surprising amount!) Our ‘Doctor’ Nicky Rhodes’ day job is as our 3D artist and she had created all the wonderful images of the baby inside the mother’s womb at various stages of development, and given it effects to simulate an ultrasound scan so that when the Razer Hydras moved over the baby bump of the pregnancy suit, an image displayed on screen that had kids amazed – some to the point of asking “is there really a baby in there?”!

The Anatomical Body Scan

Doctor Reece showing a teacher his internal organs

Doctor Reece showing a teacher his internal organs

The next project received great feedback too. This time we had brought a bed along and had the students lie down and be our patient. Then we calibrated the Razer Hydra to the length of the ‘patient’ and were able to move the controls over their body to show them a simulation of their internal organs. What’s more we could lift up the layers to show the rib cage, bronchial tubes, lungs, etc., pan around and zoom in for more detail. We got some great feedback on the concept from teachers who said that kids need to feel connected to an experience for it to be meaningful to them and for the learning to stick – and we witnessed that connection with the queues of kids waiting to be ‘scanned’ and saying “is this really MY insides?”

The Next Generation of Developers...

Our ‘Doctor’ on the day for the body scan was Reece Smith-Ward who proactively approached us for work experience during his summer holidays between GCSEs and college and instantly became a real asset to the team. At our next show, the Digital summer Trip, in London we’ll be showcasing some of his development so watch this rising star!

And On Reflection…

We got a lot out of the day, ideas for where next to take some of our projects, some subject matter expert contacts and the encouragement of 4000+ student and teacher’s energy and enthusiasm for our ideas.

We also hope that we gave something back to our local community, inspired some young people to study technology, and demonstrated to education professionals the power of mixing the real and the virtual, and the doors that lower cost technology is now opening for the education sector.