The Google IO 2018 consummated last week where benefits of intelligent technologies were trumpeted in the best way possible. With over 7,000 developers present, the program was also live-streamed by millions of people in different time zones who were eyeing over the company’s key announcements. The effects of the major developments can still be profoundly felt with many still in awe of the whirlwind progress in technology at Google.
A very special segment hosted by Benjamin Schrom, Product Manager at Google for Expeditions, highlighted the very important area of technologies that facilitate learning and form the pavement of immersive computing – Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality.
Both the technologies are improving pedagogy and Schrom explained why these technologies are so imperative to learning.
In his own words,
‘Virtual Reality’ can take you anywhere and ‘Augmented Reality’ can bring you anything.
While sharing the company’s vision for improving education, he acknowledged the efforts of the partners who offer Virtual Reality kits and expand the reach of the ‘Google for Education’ program. Out of the 10 partners showcased, VRXOne was the Middle East partner, responsible for bringing 1 Million Virtual Reality Expeditions for the students in the Middle East.
Combining abstracted textual and verbal cues coming from books, videos, and lectures with a fluid demonstration through the Virtual Reality technology, VRXOne is a product of Munfarid Consulting, a Bahraini Learning & Development company founded by the famous AR VR trainer and influencer, Dr. Sana Farid.
With sustained efforts and credible partnerships with leaders in innovation, VRXOne is being used to make an impact on the world of tomorrow. Its mention at the Google IO 2018 is a matter of pride and accomplishment for the region. It also clearly explains the efforts in the region by emerging companies to boost STEM learning and using innovation to the long-term vision of benefitting businesses, boosting entrepreneurship, and strengthening the economy.
With Virtual Reality being at the helm of education now at many government-owned schools, colleges as well as private institutions, other factors like boosting STEM learning, setting up innovation centers like the recent one at the UAE University campus, have further revitalized the shared goal towards enhanced skills in the students. It is the small steps towards innovation that make a nation and its citizens stand tall.
Determined entrepreneurs are reshaping the Middle East economy by building an Arab tech economy. Defeating the barriers by developing a growing local taste for technology, companies like Souq.com and Careem have channeled their potential and energy to drive growth.
In the Middle East, something path-breaking is happening, driving the world to honor its potential – be it the Amazon’s fondness for Souq, or be it the VRXOne’s mention at the Google IO 2018.
The month of May has already been pretty happening in the Middle East with Future Tech Week (GISEC/ GEMEC/IoTx) taking place in Dubai and Bahrain-based VRXOne being highlighted in the recent Google I/O 2018. And now, as Ramadan is close at hand, there is more to come. Let us put it this way…
Got a Ramadan-related query? Don’t worry Google is bringing all Ramadan-related information literally to your fingertips during this holy month. That’s right. As Muslims around the world have been gearing up for fasting schedule in Ramadan, Google has had its own preparations. Or as Najeeb Jarrar, the Head of Consumer Marketing at Google for MENA region, puts it, “As more than a billion people prepare for Ramadan, we too at Google have been working to help our users as they begin to adapt to the month-long occasion. From augmented reality in Qibla Finder to virtual reality in Qalam, we brought Google’s innovation to your fingertips this Ramadan.”
No matter what it is you are looking for – local prayer times, popular Ramadan recipes or useful tips – all of this and related information is going to be accessible on the main search result page throughout the month-long Islamic event.
Not only that, Google has also revealed addition of new features as part of Ramadan services called Qibla Finder and Qalam. These new features are a product of Muslims’ digital habits over years during Ramadan as per the Google Trends data which signifies a greater interest in ‘Qibla and Ramadan Kareem’-related searches throughout the holy month. So let us look at what are these novel features.
One of the features is an update to the Qibla Finder web app, launched last year which makes use of Augmented Reality on Android devices to find Qibla direction – a very useful app for Muslims at the time of prayer as they carry on with their activities throughout the day. The update enables offline use of the feature as well as allows to place a shortcut to Qibla Finder app on the home screen of Android devices, in essence speeding up the entire process for greater convenience.
The new product however is to do with Ramadan and later, Eid greetings for users to share with friends and family. Called Qalam (Pen), this app is a hybrid of calligraphy and virtual reality. The app offers over 35 artworks created by nine of the world-famous artists and calligraphists including el Seed whose is known for “calligraffiti” in his designs which is a mix of calligraphy with graffiti; Tolga Girgin from Turkey whose work unites calligraphy with typography; Soraya Syed from Pakistan, specializing in bringing together modern technologies like holography with calligraphy – as well as Diaa Allam, Karima Sharabi, Lulwah Al Hamoud, Majid Al Yousuf and Rachel Joy Price.
We are excited to benefit from these features during Ramadan as we dig through Google Search Engine for our desired Islamic queries. Ramadan Kareem, everyone!
The stability and prosperity of a country depend on many things, but the ones that stand out the most powerfully are employment and education. The Middle East vision dwells on marshaling all available resources, keeping diverse perspectives, while eyeing the same goal to harness these two areas. The focus is on the development of first-rate education, imbibing technology to harness processes, and encouraging the youth to identify their skills and helping them foray into entrepreneurship.
For this, the governments in the region are taking calculated, carefully navigated, and deliberate efforts. Mentionable steps include the establishment of an Innovation Center at the UAE University campus and a recent ministerial directive by the Bahrain education minister of acknowledging high-performing private schools and granting them numerous benefits in different forms. In Oman, the government is determined to build Smart Cities based on innovative technologies and applications and is taking required steps. The purpose of these investments is that the future generations grow and the region continues to enjoy social and economic stability.
The efforts are visible, and the results too. The latest validation comes straight from California that saw the launch and wrap of the Google IO 2018, the tech giant’s annual developers meeting. The event marked by the attendance of over 7,000 developers witnessed major exciting announcements, the key highlight being intelligent technologies. Millions of viewers from all over the world who live-streamed the program on Google Events website were convinced – penetration of technologies in their lives is going to make processes so smooth that it is awe-inspiring.
The takeaways from the introductory keynote by CEO Sundar Pichai are being heavily shared by the netizens and the excitement is ample enough to behold. The seemingly unreal yet true announcements include Google Assistant being developed to make real calls to a person and Google Photos getting the colorizing feature to convert black and white photos to colored with ‘one-click’.
In a special segment, the host Benjamin Schrom, Product Manager at Google for Expeditions, Google Apps for Education, Google Forms and other educational endeavors, highlighted the very important area of technologies that facilitate learning and form the pavement of immersive computing – Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality.
With a slew of new features to the Google Expeditions, the following were the takeaways:
- One can make their own VR Tour using imagery from 360-degree photos and Google’s Street View
- Google Expeditions AR has arrived, over 100 AR expeditions launched in different subjects
- Google Expeditions New extensive and User-Friendly Interface updated with a better interface for self-guided tours
- Experience Google Expeditions through rich, scalable, hardware & OS Agnostic Mode for improved access & viewability (now available in Chromebooks too)
In Schrom’s own words,
‘Virtual Reality’ can take you anywhere and ‘Augmented Reality’ can bring you anything.’
Besides explaining the new features coming to Google for Education products like Expeditions, G Suite, Google Slides, and Chromebooks, he appreciated the efforts of Google expeditions partners for widening the reach of the program in their respective regions and introducing cloud-based learning at schools and colleges.
The segment highlighted VRXOne, the Google Expeditions partner for Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, responsible for bringing 1 Million Virtual Reality Expeditions to the students across regions. Revolutionizing the face of learning and development technologies in the region as well as internationally, VRXOne is a pioneer & certified Google Expeditions partner, offering intelligent technology solutions interweaved with corporate and economic vision.
Combining abstracted textual and verbal cues coming from books, videos, and lectures with a fluid demonstration through the Virtual Reality technology, VRXOne is a product of Munfarid, a Learning & Development company founded by AR VR trainer and influencer, Dr. Sana Farid.
VRXOne is a critically acclaimed Virtual Reality expeditions kit that has been adopted in different schools, colleges, companies and has also been demonstrated to high dignitaries of different countries.
With sustained efforts and credible partnerships with leaders in innovation, VRXOne is being used to make an impact on the world of tomorrow. Its mention at the Google IO 2018 is a matter of great pride and accomplishment for the region.
Acknowledgment of successful Middle East businesses at the global level mark the nodal points of the region’s prosperity. It can be said that the Technology Plan for the region is suited to meet the vision for development.
I still remember being hit by a wave of fantasy and wonder the first time I saw Tom Cruise’s character John Anderton in ‘Minority Report’, tapping into the holographic overlays of his family memories in life-sized images that seem to just spring to life magnificently in the middle of the room. And then the 3D depiction of the character’s wife was something else too. It was not the first movie I saw that made use of such technological innovation but it was certainly one of the most powerful ones.
Today, however, we are seeing the realization of much more amazing and far more advanced immersive technologies being unfolded in the real world that are well poised to take the entire world by storm. As a matter of fact, they already have. Just a few years back what we could only read about in the pages of the books or experience by way of sci-fi movies, is all within grasp today. Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are indeed changing the dynamics of the world around us. Many industries have already been experimenting with these technologies mainly using them for training purposes but now these disruptive technologies are all set to go mainstream.
As the world continues to embrace these remarkable technologies, Middle East has become one of the fastest growing AR/VR emerging markets. Not only that, the region is also attracting entrepreneurs, experts and businesses from all over the world in attempts to be in the middle of the action. UAE has been hosting many consecutive events where the professionals, startups and technologists have just been pouring in experiencing and taking part in the technological transformation of the region. The government has a set socio-economic agenda where the future is led by these innovative technologies of VR, AR and Ai (artificial intelligence).
Following suit, many industries have made heavy investments into implementing AR/VR into their business models. The idea is to improve processes, methods and consumer engagement by connecting operational data and human experience. Both, virtual and augmented realities leverage much the similar technology, mainly tracking to follow the head movements of the user and create realistic virtual imaging accordingly. And while the potential is visibly obvious for virtually any type of business, healthcare is one of the most influenced and most rapidly transformed by these technologies. As the research findings by the Lumus Vision point out, the healthcare industry will have reached a whopping $5.1 billion by 2025, followed by engineering close behind with $4.7 billion. According to the International Data Corporation, the Middle East and Africa market is expected to achieve a huge growth soaring to a massive $6 billion by 2020 for augmented and virtual reality.
But other sectors are fast catching up. For example, food industry is beginning to adopt the AR/VR technology in order to create creative and innovative pre-purchase customer experiences. One such example is of the startup Kabaq, intending to lead the immersive experiences for restaurants by introducing the first ever augmented reality menu. Using the Custom Snapchat World Lenses, Bareburger is one of the first restaurants to offer the AR menu for their consumers at locations in the U.S. as well as Dubai – where customers are able to view their meals from every angle before placing an order.
However, this disruptive transformation is much more monumental in education sector where the students, teachers, educationists and institutes are experiencing a whole new world of possibilities set in motion for creative learning techniques and educational opportunities. Following Emirati school-going students, students at Sharjah University have started to learn in depth about the applications in ARVR, by the distinguished ARVR Strategist and Simulation Expert, Dr. Sana Farid.
The Women of Wearables President MENA, Co-Chair VRAR Association UAE, and one of the top women in VRAR Worldwide Ranking – was hosted by the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center – Sheraa, to speak about Virtual Reality, its applications in the corporate sector, related prospective growth sectors and emerging market trends as well as the utilization of the most impressive and engaging technologies aimed at reshaping the business policies in the light of future trends.
Likewise, other B2B and consumer-oriented businesses see the potential for growth in adopting AR/VR technologies aiming to contribute to successful customer engagement strategies including multi-sensory engagement, intellectual engagement and emotional connections. Grand examples are Abu Dhabi’s flag carrier Etihad Airways and Dubai’s real estate giant Jumeirah Group, two of the major Gulf brands adopting VR technology in order to create immersive customer experiences and promote their products and services. [Article]
As the awareness of these technologies grows among the public, this is not just what the businesses want to delve into, but also what the customers expect to see now. And while we may only just be beginning to see the tip of the iceberg by way of the potential that these technologies exhibit for future, AR and VR are already changing the face of the industries from entertainment to healthcare, from engineering to education, and from combat training to corporate world. And the important thing now is to join this evolution devising ways to build more holistic applications for AR and VR into the new business models and strategies.
Just as our body strengthens and becomes sturdier as a result of flexing and exercising our muscles, our brain benefits in the similar fashion becoming stronger and enhanced from exercise in the form of intellectual and creative activities, of which reading is a primary impetus. It is astounding the way reading adds to our cognitive ability and development attaining higher levels of awareness and augmenting neural activity as well as improving the overall mental health. The acclaimed novelist, scholar, translator, essayist and editor, Alberto Manguel has even gone as far as to describe his experience of learning to read as “acquiring a new sense, so that now certain things no longer consists merely of what my eyes could see, my ears could hear, my tongue could taste, my nose could smell, my fingers could feel, but of what my whole body could decipher, translate, give voice to, read”.
This promised horizon of possibilities and exposure to diversity and cerebral growth, is exactly what the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival 2018 (SCRF 2018) is all about, opening at ExpoCentreSharjah on 18th April 2018 for 11 days of discovery, creativity and exploration. Held annually under the directives of His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, the UAE Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, and the patronage of Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Bint Muhammad Al Qasimi, the cultural festival is aimed at inspiring and promoting a culture of reading, learning and applying that knowledge especially amongst children, helping to raise a generation of scholars and leaders that the society can benefit from at all levels.
A bright, eclectic constellation of authors, illustrators, speakers, thespians and publishing professionals will grace the SCRF, as Sharjah celebrates the 10th edition of the famous festival, alongside over 120 local and international publishers with a collection of their books on display for sale. Based on this year’s theme ‘Your Future… Just a Book Away’, Sharjah Book Authority (SBA) has revealed a packed itinerary of the most amazing and diverse range of workshops and activities for the children’s festival.
Celebrated authors, storytellers and illustrators will join to read their famous works and meet their fans at the festival such as Lebanese author and founder of Hunna Group for Female Emirati Writers and Creators, Sahar Mahfouz; Palestinian author and illustrator Fadwa Al Qasem Fadwa; and Egyptian author and scriptwriter Amr Samir Atef. Traveling down from other continents will be eminent writers, essayists and poets, talking about creativity, humorous literature, articulating information, as well as writing poems and illustrating like Ed Vere from Britain, Mirada Paul from USA, Natasha Sharma from India, Michael M. Coroza from Philippines, and regarded as one of the most innovative storytellers today, Mark Gonzalez, also from the USA.
Joining from the world of theater and creative arts, Egypt’s favorite actors Sabrin and Abdul Rahman Abu Zahra; Bahrain’s Haifa Hussein; Algeria’s Tareq Al Arabi Tarkan; Oman’s Mohammed Bin Khalfan Al Hanaee; Syria’s Dr. Mustafa Abdul Fattah, Founder and Chairman of the Children’s Literary Club and the much adored voice of animated movies such as ‘Mowgli’, ‘Captain Majid’ and the “Small Fisherman’, actress Amal Hawijeh.
This star-studded event will incorporate insight and discussion from Christine S. Bellen from the Philippines talking about the relationship between novelists and filmmakers and the journey ‘From Page to Screen’. Whereas Darya Yegorina from Ireland, the CEO of CleverBooks, will be sharing her knowledge about emerging and innovative technologies for education.
However, the 10th edition of the SCRF includes something huge in ed-tech that will be a part of the event for the first time. Led by Dr. Sana Farid from Bahrain, the pioneer ARVR & Ai Strategist and CEO of VRXOne, sessions will be held on Virtual Reality for education demonstrated by an Expert Google Expeditions trainer. In the spirits of delivering thorough understanding and connecting with the Emirati youth, these sessions will be delivered in Arabic language. This is an amazing opportunity for the youth to get familiar with the use of VR in education and experience Google Expeditions at the platform of VRXone – the biggest Virtual Reality program in the region, already taking a million VR sessions to schools in the Middle East. It is noteworthy here that Dr. Sana Farid has recently been awarded by UAE Ministry of Education earlier this month for her proficient participation in Gulf Teachers Training Forum, where she delivered workshops for Immersive learning platforms for teachers attending the session from all over UAE.
The festival will also host academics including Dr. Reem Al Fawwaz, Assistant Professor and Researcher in Children’s Literature and Literary Criticism at the Arabic Language Department of the King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah as well as Toqa Abdelrahim, a teacher and civil activist who founded the ‘Whites’ initiative on women’s and children’s issues, and Dr. Najla Bashour, Professor of Educational Science at the University of Saint Joseph, whose participation is noted for founding the Tala Establishment for Educational Aids and Instruments in 1984.
The Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival 2018 will be a jewel-speckled, happening event where children will be able to get in touch with their creative side and elevate intellectual tendencies – and to add to their inspiration and excitement– including the chance to win the “Innovation Award” for 9 to 15-year-olds, rewarding the creativity, originality and resourcefulness of those who exhibit the propensity lo lead with pioneering ideas and concepts in the fields of science and knowledge. The festival will further include four different competitions on innovation, news reporting, poetry, and cooking, in order to further shape and develop skilled based knowledge and competencies among the Emirati youth. So if you are anywhere in the Middle East during the month of April, this is where you need to be through these much-awaited 11 days of the SCRF 2018.
The trajectory of Virtual Reality technology has traveled far, and quite literally, over the boundaries.
While lessening the barriers and paving way for worthwhile developments, VR has found usage in a multitude of fields namely education, healthcare, aviation, real estate, travel, training, therapy, etc. Since the time of its inception to today, when it is on the cusp of a breakout, every development in the field has been termed as a major hit. Call it the obsession of tech evangelists or their overwhelming theistic belief, VR has given many hopes to innovation. It would not be wrong to quote that today, Virtual Reality has proven its power by gripping the minds and showing us its practical worth.
Allowing complete immersion & engagement, VR is touted as a development that is pro-innovation. As per many, it pumps up productivity and enables autonomous development. Interestingly, Google Expeditions VR’s mission is quite aligned with this belief – to transmute every child into a discoverer, capable of independent learning. The application that uses cardboard and stunning panoramic stills, captures the users’ minds and completely involves them.
Introduced in 2015, Google Expeditions have been recognized as a productive Edtech tool. Its app incorporates background information to help the students and teachers taking the tour. The tutor can guide the students throughout the field trips using an easy to use interface on a tablet. They can also manage multiple screens at a time and review the student login and screen.
By offering virtual tours to different places, Google brings ‘the world into the classroom’. Partnering with different VR companies across the world, the tech giant is determined to increase the reach of this application and benefit maximum students. Its Middle East partner Munfarid goes an extra mile with its ‘go to school program’, a VR awareness program aimed at conducting 1 million expeditions in the Middle East. The Expeditions are being demonstrated with the Virtual Reality kit VRXOne.
Amongst the various lessons available on expeditions, a particular field trip to Antarctica is very interesting. Here, the students get to understand fauna of the place better through a concise 3-D virtual trip. They learn about penguin colonies, leopard seals, Ernest Shackleton’s explorations, and much more. While the students are drenched in a virtual experience, they also move their heads, attempting to capture the full view of the place. They react and move their body in anticipation of what happens next. Deep immersion like this helps many children find their true passion and pursue their interests in the field. It is only a technology like VR that can engage every student, also those whose attention is hard to get, or the ones who struggle with information retention. It is a journey of discovery coupled with the righteous implementation of textbook learning.
Impressively, there are many places that students and teachers can now visit through Google Expeditions. The Ann Frank House, the Great Wall of China, Palace of Versailles and Romeo and Juliet’s Verona are some major hits.
Also one of the most amusing places, as per students, is the field trip to Mars. The pictures have real depth. Rocks and cliffs projected out towards the user. The immersion is enhanced by shadows that seem real enough across the surface of Mars. With so many organizations working for space research and exploration, this field trip enthuses the students and instills curiosity to learn more in the minds of budding space fans.
Also, talking about innovation & discovery, we cannot skip mentioning a major news coming straight from the land of seven emirates.
UAE seeks Red.
The country is gearing up to put its foot on Mars.
A huge investment by the government and its lookout for brilliant minds to make this mission a success talks volumes about the enthusiasm and passion for this space mission. This came off as a major highlight of the UAE Innovation month that was observed in February. The maiden Martian mission is named ‘Hope’. News reports suggest that an amount of 20 billion dirhams ($5.4 billion) has been invested in the UAE Mars Mission and the government is also building a Dh500-million Mars Science city. Tests will be conducted to examine the possibilities of food, energy, water, and agricultural on the planet.
If successful, the impact of this mission will be massive. A strong development will give a major push to the quest for life on another planet. That will probably be a ‘discovery of the century’.
At the same time, it intrigues me to think about the impact it will have on the existing Google Expeditions’ Mars field trip. Would it have stills of people walking around on Mars? Would we see man-made sources of energy there? Maybe too early to imagine, yet quite amusing.