“If you want to grow, if you want to challenge yourself, if you want to innovate, you have to force yourself to be playing to win.”
That’s what Ashley Merryman, co-author of Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, said in a recent NPR interview.
Because “play to win” is our CEO’s favourite expression, we thought we’d pick his brain about the concept in the form of a Q&A. Here, Gabe Batstone describes why achievement is all about relentless execution – and why a 3-0 lead is the kiss of death in a hockey game.
“Playing to win” means focusing on success, whereas “playing not to lose” focuses on preventing mistakes. Why do you think it’s important to “play to win” in business?
I’ll give you the short answer: If you are not playing to win, you can rest assured that somebody else is.
Do you have an example of a time when you “played to win”?
I have always believed in taking calculated risks in my professional and personal life. This approach has led to some of my most rewarding experiences in life — whether it was trekking up Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania or Mount Elbrus in Russia, or travelling with the US Army to Afghanistan in 2008 and 2009. In each case, there were moments where I wondered how exactly I got myself into these situations, but I have learned one important thing: never let being uncomfortable stop you from pushing forward. Achievement is a blend of sacrifice, risk and relentless execution.
You were into hockey growing up – Can you tell us a bit more about that? How did that shape you as a leader?
I was lucky enough to play Junior A and varsity hockey and I can honestly say that I learned more about leadership and interpersonal dynamics through competitive team sports than through formal education. You learn the importance of roles within a team and in fact live each of these roles during your sports career. As a rookie, I remember just trying to fit in and make the most of every opportunity. Then later as a captain, I learned about leading others, setting an example and interfacing with the coaching staff. Sports also make “cause and effect” more immediate, providing a great laboratory setting for understanding risk – and that context has direct relevance to the business world. One of the greatest quotes on risk came from Wayne Gretzky: “You’ll always miss 100 per cent of the shots you don’t take.”
Do you have an example of a time when you “played not to lose” and learned from that experience?
Over a few decades of playing competitive sports, I have been a part of teams where the “fear of victory” has set in and with it the “reality of defeat” has come knocking. In hockey, I have always found that getting an early 3-0 lead is the kiss of death…with a 1 or 2 goal lead you still play tight and hard, but for some reason, that third goal leads to a strange combination of complacency and lack of intensity. The lesson learned here is that you must never stop taking risks because once you do, you are immediately at a disadvantage – the other side will continue taking risks and will ultimately play to win.
A key message on the WIRED Business Conference website is that “now is not the time for small advances and gradual improvements.” Do you agree with that statement? Why?
I think that, in most cases, evolution will outperform revolution. But there are exceptions. I do believe that during times of economic uncertainty, larger risks are required to mitigate against a stagnant environment.
What is an example of a smart risk you recently took?
Last year we took a calculated risk, and invested heavily in applying our technology to the domain of ”blue collar” augmented reality. We developed a robust prototype, and are getting some great market feedback to ensure our future product solves real business problems.
What advice do you have for other business leaders who are currently evaluating whether to pursue a particular risk?
At the end of the day, every decision has risk. But the biggest (and least strategic) risk you can make is decision by indecision. It is far better as an individual and as an organization to try and fail than simply wait for the perfect opportunity – perfection is the enemy of good enough. A favourite quote of mine is from John A. Shedd: “A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are for.”
One reason is a general cultural shift in the perception of voxels, fuelled by the “old school” feel of video games like Minecraft. But 3D scanning and 3D printing will also play a role in the voxel resurgence. These technologies come with many promises, but also some technical challenges that are best addressed with voxel-based 3D visualization.
Accelerating 3D printing with voxels
There is a lot of buzz about 3D printing and how it will revolutionize manufacturing. 3D printers can accept a range of data types, such as CAD and DCC formats. In the process of 3D printing, this data must be converted into voxels, since 3D printing works like a slicing machine, where each slice can be considered an x-y row worth of voxels (other formats can’t be represented this way). However, there has been no attempt for 3D printers to accept voxels as the input format, since there is no standard for a voxel format! We expect to see some industry developments in this area, which will accelerate the 3D printing process.
Making sense of 3D scanner inputs with voxels
A decade ago, they were a budget-busting item, but now 3D scanners are becoming more affordable and sleek. Scanners are great, because instead of taking pictures from multiple angles of something that you want to model, the laser automatically scans and rotates the part to produce “point cloud data” (hundreds of thousands of closely packed 3D data points).
But to make this data usable, you have to visualize it somehow. Point cloud data typically either generates too much “noise” or it’s too detailed for polygons to handle. Voxels (3D pixels) are in the best position to display this kind of data because they are so similar in structure to point cloud data, but can simplify the complexity automatically. So voxels will play an important role in turning this data into something that can easily be visualized.
Real-time voxel rendering
Computing hardware has come a long way in just a few short decades. Mainstream laptops now have integrated graphics chipsets that can easily render 3D graphics. As computers continue to get more powerful (and affordable) we will also see greater interest in using voxels for real-time rendering. (Essentially, real-time rendering allows the viewer to interact with a virtual environment as they would in a video game, but typically this requires a lot of computing power.)
We’ll be talking about voxels (a lot) at ITEC 2013 in Rome, Italy, May 22-24. If you want to learn more about how you can manipulate voxel data to create immersive 3D visualizations, stop by booth B122 for a chat and a demo. And follow @ngrain on twitter for more updates!
Naomi Kawase has a pretty cool job: as NGRAIN’s UX (User Experience) Designer, she’s focused on industrial augmented reality interaction design and production management. We recently picked her brain about industry challenges, upcoming trends, and the ins-and-outs of the job. Read on to find out what a day in the life of an AR UX designer is like and why she thinks collaboration is so important in this emerging market:
What does a user experience designer do?
Hmm….That’s a pretty tough question to answer simply, even amongst those of us who place ourselves in the UX bucket. There is a wide range of work that falls within the user experience domain, but I think the overarching theme involves designing products that support a smooth and satisfying experience for the end user, regardless of platform. For me that’s not the visual or graphic design (although they play a part for sure), it’s the functional design of how a system should be built and presented to support interaction with its user. You’ll hear UX people talking about a ‘user-centric’ perspective and it really is that – I’m designing with someone else’s needs in mind, not necessarily mine.
You’ve worked with game industry players, including Electronic Arts and Ubisoft, in the past. How is user experience design different for industrial augmented reality vs. games?
The actual process isn’t any different; UX design doesn’t discriminate between games, websites, desktop apps, or mobile apps. The biggest difference is that right now my design thinking is applied within the emerging technology of AR. In the game industry there is more historical data to work with and a more established group of end users to access for feedback. Like many others also vying for a piece of the AR pie, we’re operating a bit more lightly in some areas where we’d normally have more proven and historical data to work with. It’s more of a risk, but that’s a big part of the fun. I’m a firm believer that innovation and smart risks go hand in hand.
What is your role as it relates to AR at NGRAIN?
At NGRAIN, I am using any knowledge I can gather to design features that support real-world use cases for on-the-job users like maintenance technicians, for example. I start simply with functional feature designs and small user stories, and work iteratively with my (amazing) engineering team to drive development until the capabilities are live and working in our product. We want to show our users a complete story thread that will take them from a 3D model of their equipment in Producer Pro on the desktop, to that same 3D model on a tablet with augmented reality capabilities.
What are the current challenges of the AR community at large?
In the community, we all know that the current challenges will get solved — it’s just a matter of time. I can’t stress enough the importance of relationships with others in this space right now. We are all riding the same upswing of this new technology and it is our collective efforts that will help validate the big-picture value of augmented reality to the market. The reality is that we are still in the early adopter phase, though it feels like the pace may be picking up.
What AR trends do you see coming down the pipe?
Right now we are having success using metaio’s AR SDK to support tracking/registration of our equipment using markers. In the near future we want to transition to markerless 3D tracking and hands-free execution to create that smooth user experience I had mentioned – Those are just two of our many areas of research.
If you are following current technology reports and social media, there is a lot of activity going on with wearable hardware, primarily eyewear. It has really gained momentum so I’m chomping at the bit to get a chance to see, feel, and experience a good sample of eyewear at the Augmented World Expo this June 4th-5th at the Santa Clara Convention Centre in California. We’ll be presenting there on the 5th, and will be getting our kicks in Booth 66, so drop by to see our latest work and say “Hello!” If you are interested in tracking our progress, follow me (@kawasemodo) and NGRAIN (@ngrain) on Twitter.
If 2013 is the year for early adoption of AR, then 2014 will be the year when things will really start to take off. Juniper Research predicts that mobile augmented reality will be a $5.2 billion industry by 2017, up from $82 million in 2012.
Certainly gaming and marketing applications will play a big role in fueling this growth. But the promise of AR extends beyond those industries. Within the next five years, augmented reality will change the way that professionals such as engineers, medical doctors, and equipment maintenance technicians acquire and share knowledge.
Here are 10 emerging uses for AR you may not already know about. Existing AR technology capabilities can enable:
- An aircraft maintenance technician servicing an airplane to visualize the flow of air through a jet engine in real-time.
- Mechanics to view the maintenance record for a specific gear on a car – all at a glance using a mobile device.
- Soldiers to identify Improvised Explosive Devices while deployed.
- Doctors to analyze suspicious moles and detect skin cancer.
- Instructors – with no programming experience — to make contextually-relevant manifests that can be viewed through a mobile device.
- Amputees to learn how to effectively use a new prosthetic device.
- Neurosurgeons to visualize the brain in 3D on top of the patient’s actual anatomy.
- Mechanics to view equipment hot-spots they should avoid.
- Deployed sailors to perform maintenance checks on a P-100 pump, visualizing parts with 3D computer graphics.
- Children to race against animated Lego characters. (So maybe this one falls in the entertainment category, but there may be applications for professional athletes here, too!)
At NGRAIN, I’m (mostly) focused on serious business. But a while ago, I let my inner sci-fi geek take over while doing some internal conversion testing. I found countless lightweight 3D models inspired by Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars and Star Trek, along with models of real-world objects like dinosaur skeletons and NASA equipment.
If you are looking to explore interactive 3D in a fun way, check out these project ideas below. You’ll learn how to use our free 3D animation software (Producer) to turn static 3D models of popular objects into interactive voxel-based 3D simulations.
Project 1: Test your friends with an interactive 3D Imperial Star Destroyer
Let’s say you’re enjoying some downtime with friends or colleagues, and a healthy debate emerges about the precise location of the deflector-shield generator dome on a Star Destroyer. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could whip out your tablet and show off a newly minted interactive 3D model of an Imperial Star Destroyer that you created, complete with custom call-outs identifying the locations of various parts?
To create your own interactive Star Destroyer, you can find a free or low-cost model of this vessel on a site like TurboSquid (make sure to respect the artist’s copyright requirements). I found this gorgeous Imperial Star Destroyer model by Ansel Hsiao, via his online 3D gallery:
Next, you’ll need to convert the model into an NGRAIN 3D Knowledge Object (this blog post will help you get started) then use Producer to add equipment part names. If you really want to test everyone’s skills, you can use the software to create dynamic questions and validate that your friends have acquired the required equipment parts knowledge.
Project 2: Rainy day with the kids? Play paleontologist
The Tyrannosaurus rex had about 200 bones. That makes for one complicated 2D diagram. Why not use 3D to teach your kid the names and placement of these bones? This is what I did with my son when he was only six. I found a 3D T-Rex dinosaur model at ARTIST-3D.com and converted it into an NGRAIN interactive 3D object.
My son then used Producer to play with the model and create animations. You can use the software to create a task that would require your child to put the bone back on the right area of the dinosaur. You can export the animations into AVI format and create a cool video for your kid’s next science fair project.
These are just a couple ideas, and the possibilities are endless. Stay tuned – I have an International Space Station-related project idea to share.
So have fun! May the force be with you.
When it comes to creating immersive 3D animations, people usually think graphics resolution is the most important factor. This may be the case for special effects in film, but not necessarily for e-learning applications, operations support, serious games or even games used for entertainment.
Consider the Nintendo Wii, the first mainstream video game console to introduce interactive, motion-controlled game play. Even though its 3D graphics were inferior to those produced for the PS3 and Xbox, millions of consumers grabbed a Wii, overlooking the lack of visual detail just to experience the immersive interactivity. Sony quickly followed suit by rolling out their Move Motion technology and Microsoft has its increasingly popular Kinect.
The common denominator for all of this is interactivity. If you truly want a captive audience, get them involved. This is crucial when you are creating 3D content for serious purposes. (For example, if you are animating an interactive virtual diesel engine or brake system that will be deployed on a gaming system, PC, laptop or smartphone). Here are some best practices we have implemented over the years that you can use to create immersive animations that represent complex systems:
Do your homework and shoot some rough video
Much of your success will be based on understanding what you are building and eventually bringing it to life through 3D animation and interactive tasks. Almost every 3D animation and interactive task used for serious learning or operational purposes should be guided by recorded video of the real thing. (The video can be rough – it’s just to capture what the steps or interactions are.) When replicating mechanical movement of real-world equipment, make sure to always visit the client site to get a firsthand look at what you need to model. Capture the actual equipment in operation with video, then study these videos and refer to them for guidance during development.
Talk to experts
Video recordings and interactive 3D animations can only provide visual information. Things like temperature change of fluids and electrical current can’t usually be captured through a visual medium. What else can you do?
Always talk to Subject Matter Experts and make sure to have the expert on hand to narrate the animation – This way you can couple good aural descriptions with the visual information. Plus, the insight that you gain, in general, makes you more knowledgeable and it can be fun learning about the subject matter.
This doesn’t just pertain to mechanical equipment and movement: if you are going to animate animal movement, why not watch a National Geographic Documentary or go to the zoo to video record the animal and try to talk to a zoo keeper?
Create practice tasks
If you have a 3D render on-hand, you can use our free 3D animation software (Producer) to create interactive content that allows people to virtually practice tasks, right down to the nuts and bolts level. (In this previous post, I outlined the steps you need to follow to convert 3D models into our format).
One way to engage people is through practice tasks delivered as part of tests. With our free software, you can add levels of customized, automated feedback to real-time practice tasks, and create dynamic questions. This video shows you how:
I hope you enjoy finding all the interesting ways to animate complex equipment! I certainly have over the years.
…….no matter where you are, you can conjure up connections to rendering, planar-quad meshes and interactive 3D applications. That’s what happened to me when my family and I spent our March break in Calgary and its neighbouring regions. It was an awesome trip, but reminded me of what a technical weenie I really am. Here are some key observations I made during the trip:
Is that giant head a 2-manifold planar-quad mesh?
Most people would look at this sculpture in downtown Calgary and see an interesting work of art. What went through my mind? This is a planar-quad mesh that appears to be 2-manifold – then I noticed the opening at the bottom that lets visitors inside – well, that totally ruined the 2-manifold property!!
These dinosaurs could use some Augmented Reality
We brought our son to the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller. It has a huge and magnificent exhibit of dinosaur skeletons, for dinosaur enthusiasts of all ages. And what was going through my mind? Wouldn’t it be cool if museum-goers could access an augmented reality app (using an iPhone or iPad) and see what the dinosaurs looked like with their skin 3D-rendered and overlaid on top of the real-life skeletons?
In the same dinosaur museum, I saw some software that was designed to teach people about dinosaur bone identification. It allowed people to identify bones located at the bottom of the screen, and then attach the bones in the right place on the dinosaur model. What was I thinking? You could create these tasks with our free interactive 3D animation software.
Will computer graphics replace the need for animatronics?
We also went to the Science Centre in Calgary and saw an exhibit on animatronics that displayed very cool movie props, among them the alligator used in the Peter Pan movie. My techie inclinations led me to think about whether computer graphics applications will eventually replace the need for animatronics. I also saw how 3D printers could be used to replicate creatures for use in animatronics. 3D printing has been a very exciting area to explore in many domains in recent years, and something that we keep exploring internally.
What’s more difficult to render, a summer or winter scene?
Finally, we spent a couple of days in beautiful Lake Louise. The scenery is just gorgeous, though some would say we are nuts for going to a -17c hike in Johnston Canyon. However, during this hike, I wondered many times whether it is more or less technically difficult to photo-realistically render summer or winter scenes.
It was a wonderful vacation, though my technical mind did wander a number of times. I am sure my wife loves me for this characteristic.
If it’s your job to take care of IP protection, patents will certainly be a big focus for you. This focus is not without its challenges, however. Here are three tips – based on some best practices I have put in place over the past decade – that will help you tackle some important patent issues. In addition, foster a good working relationship with your patent lawyer to get the best out of your patent strategy and patent claims output.
Tip 1: Set aside any bias you may have towards patents
Like many technology leaders, I used to be a lot more interested in publishing papers than filing patents. I was a little frustrated with patents because they are very difficult to write and understand, and do not provide any form of visual feedback (images are not allowed in patent applications). I was also weary of “patent trolls” – companies that are unduly aggressive about patent enforcements.
So I was initially not too keen when I was handed the responsibility of evaluating and filing patents when I joined the NGRAIN team in 2001. But I quickly found new purpose in patenting – I realised the objective was not to be a “patent troll,” but to achieve investor confidence, as well as instill pride in individual inventors and employees. And of course, patents do have an important defensive purpose.
Tip 2: Target the most appropriate ideas to pursue patenting
After reconciling any bias you may have towards patents, the next battle ground is cost. It costs a lot of money to prepare, file and defend against the patent applications, so it is not feasible to patent every idea. A good approach is to determine whether the idea would add value towards your business plan – even good ideas should not be patented if they do not pass the “business plan test.” To be more specific, if the good idea is something like a clever algorithm that is embedded deep inside a system that does not protect or strengthen key aspects of current and future flagship software products, then it does not play a critical role in supporting the business plan. This is an important area to discuss with members of the executive team.
Another cost consideration relates to the countries where you intend to file the patents. The costs and effort are prohibitive if the intention is to file in many countries. It is best to consider which country is (or countries are) most important to the business plan. For example, if your company expects to sell the majority of the products in in the US, then the prime target for patenting would be the US patent office.
Tip 3: Understand the impact of referencing prior art
In this case, “prior art” means existing literature that has already been published about an idea, whether as a patent or as a paper. Recently, I found out that certain large companies do not want their employees to know anything about existing prior art so that if they are sued, they can claim they were not “knowingly infringing” on a patent, because “knowingly infringe” means larger financial penalties. At NGRAIN, I insist on an internal policy of doing initial prior art search before proceeding with algorithms employees intend to implement based on what they read from papers or websites. Something as simple as searching for the title and/or author names will often reveal immediately whether there is existing patent on the topic. This is an important consideration for a small to medium sized company to consider (as opposed to large companies who have many lawyers at their disposal) to avoid knowingly infringing against existing patents.
When I speak with people I like to use analogies — it helps everyone arrive at a common understanding. I’m particularly fond of movie analogies. For discussions about teamwork, one movie that comes to mind is Apollo 13.
The movie, which chronicles the true story of NASA’s near-tragic 1970 lunar mission, is a great example of solid teamwork during a crisis. In the story, mission specialists and a team of engineers successfully bring three astronauts back to earth after there is an explosion onboard the spacecraft.
In managing a 3D media production project, you won’t have the lives of three astronauts hanging in the balance, but in today’s competitive environment, 3D development has critical factors that can’t be overlooked – especially when it comes to meeting deadlines and avoiding cost overruns. Here are a couple Apollo 13-inspired tips you can use to keep your team of 3D artists and animators on track – and save time:
Listen — but maintain control — to keep the team focused
Throughout the movie, flight director, Gene Kranz, remains decisive and focused as he leads his team through the crisis. But he’s also open to receiving critical feedback and acting on the advice of his engineers.
For example, during the movie’s “failure is not an option” sequence, the team debates how they will get the astronauts to conserve enough power to successfully make it back to earth. When engineer John Aaron recommends that they turn off virtually every system to run the spacecraft on only 12 amps of power, his teammates protest. But the flight director gives the engineer one hard stare and says: “Okay, John – the minute we finish the burn, we’ll power down the LEM.” (LEM is short for Lunar Excursion Module, by the way.)
Like Gene Kranz, it’s important to know who on your team is an expert about a particular area, whether it’s rendering problems or graphics compression. This will help you avoid the “forest for the trees” problem when there is disagreement over how to proceed on a particular task, saving you hours of development time.
Keep the client’s perspective in mind to minimize changes
In a previous post, I discussed how it is essential to create content with a genuine focus on providing real solutions for the client’s needs. To successfully help someone, you must be able to see the situation from their point of view. This is especially important if you are creating 3D content – like a serious game – to fulfill real learning objectives.
A good example of how the Apollo 13 problem solvers immersed themselves in another person’s reality is that scene when Mission Control discovers the CO₂ levels inside the spacecraft are close to toxic. The astronauts must fit a square filter into a round hole before they run out of oxygen.
In this scene, the team on the ground put themselves in the astronauts’ shoes to overcome a critical roadblock: The engineers find all the items that the men in the spacecraft have at their disposal, and proceed to build a fitting out of those materials, then communicate the assembly instructions to the astronauts. The fitting works because it was designed with a clear understanding of the end-users’ true needs and constraints.
What the movie doesn’t illustrate (and what I think is key) is that an understanding of the client’s perspective can – and should — be acquired through advance planning, and not only during a crisis situation. I have worked on a variety of 3D media production projects as a 3D artist, manager and director – I have learned that it’s important to always ensure that team members from all departments understand their role and how their work impacts the big picture. This can be accomplished through open communication and the right team structure.
I always liked this movie, and could go on about how it effectively illustrates great teamwork and change management techniques, but I’ll leave this for another post…..
What do you think it takes to lead a successful team of 3D artists and animators? I would love to get your input, so please go ahead and leave a comment.
I’ve heard people say that voxels (which are essentially 3D pixels) were only cool in the 90s. But I think that voxels are coming back – in a very big way.
General interest in voxels has increased in the past two years because of games like Minecraft, Voxatron and Fez. These games are inspiring a whole new genre of titles based on the aesthetic look-and-feel of voxels, which are like grains of sand in a sand castle (see this previous post for a longer voxels definition). Major game studios are looking into voxels for realistic terrain generation and fully deformable surfaces, while major Hollywood special effects companies are exploring the use of voxels to realistically render hair, fur, and grass.
The Web is full of examples that showcase the versatility of voxels. As points on a 3D grid, voxels naturally lend themselves to Lego-like artwork. Check out the work of Vimeo user Tobias Wustefeld, who used voxels to animate a lizard:
And then there is the HoloDome – an open source volumetric display capable of displaying up to 200 million voxels per second. (Unlike triangular meshes, which are a mainstay of 3D modeling in computer graphics, voxels are uniquely able to model not just the surfaces of 3D objects, but their cores as well. Just like a digital camera with more megapixels, the more voxels an object has, the more realistic it can be in a 3D app.)
Many people have seen voxel technology in action without even knowing it. Hospitals routinely use voxels to visualize CT scans in 3D. This voxel foot video, submitted by user Matt Ebb on Vimeo, is a good example:
Voxels can easily do things that would otherwise be difficult for polygonal models. Voxels are more malleable – for example, it’s surprisingly difficult to model holes with a triangular mesh, but very easy with voxels. Likewise, voxels enable models to take on very fine details such as bumps and imperfections without resorting to graphical “hacks” such as bump mapping, which merely simulate bumps by playing with how light interacts with the surfaces of objects. Voxels turn out to be a much more natural way to digitally represent the real world.
So, for all their coolness, why aren’t voxels used everywhere?
The drawbacks to using voxels have traditionally been in the size and computational complexity of voxel data. In the past, voxel-based simulations needed a lot of computing horsepower relative to their polygonal counterparts. Today, the general availability of GPUs for massively parallel rendering and the relentless, year-on-year increases in raw computing power are making those drawbacks increasingly obsolete. We are at the tipping point where computing power and storage may make voxels the 3D representation of choice. In the future, voxels could be as commonplace as polygons – or even more so.
It is now possible to achieve real-time rendering and interactivity with voxel-based simulations consisting of several billion voxels. Here at NGRAIN, our Producer Pro and Production Suite 3D authoring tools permit students, researchers, and technicians alike to visualize, animate, and interact with complex 3D models consisting of thousands of parts in real-time – from fully detailed models of the human body to the engines of flying airplanes (on your typical desktop or laptop no less!).
This is an exciting time for voxel-based applications in computer graphics… the fun is just getting started!