30 April 2016 From 0 to Legolas1 in 10min.
Last night, helped by a bottle of wine, the VR (Virtual Reality) team of myself, Mark Abbott and Sean Cooper met to review progress so far.
We now have 4 3D apps written using three.js, three of which are on-line. We've made a lot of progress understanding 3D programming, but we are underwhelmed by what 3D has brought to my scientific apps. They mostly do what can actually be done pretty well in 2D, and moving around in 3D space is awkward and inconvenient for no great benefit. None of this was a surprise as we had expected as much, but it was only when we saw the specific results that we could confirm what we had merely expected.
Although the 3D programming isn't brilliant, the limitations are not due to the 3D itself - the limitation is our lack of ideas as to what 3D is for. After 2 hours of pleasant discussion and some tweaking of the code, we had hardly advanced. So we changed to the topic of VR games, of which I know nothing and won't be able to explore till my Occulus Rift and HTC Vive arrive - both launches were rather optimistic in terms of delivering to paying customers. It was then that the topic of a VR archery game came up, with a comment that people go from "0 to Legolas in 10 min".
Apart from the fact that this introduces the unit of L/min (in this example the rate was 0.1L/min), the comment totally changed our conversation. My scientifc apps are really just explaining stuff, they aren't so much about teaching stuff. Visitors can read about a topic and explore it with an app. A 3D app, at best, will make the exploration a little richer. But what if I change mindset and set out to teach some key ideas using, for example, a VR laboratory? Could we mix surfactants and oils in a lab to teach the techniques (and sometimes frustrations) of measuring Cc and EACN values for HLD theory? Could we formulate and test adhesives? Could we try to coat/print something and see the results of our machine settings?
We don't know the answers to any of those questions. Instead, we finished the meeting with the feeling we had made significant progress. We hadn't found any great answers, but we had found some much better questions. And that's progress.
1Legolas was the Elfin archer in Lord of the Rings.