#Marketing Technology

Using machine learning to detect microplastics

Animmersion UK | User Interface Development | Virtual reality logo

A new approach combines 3D coherent imaging with machine learning to detect microscale microplastics in filtered water samples.

There is an increasing awareness that the largest percentage of marine litter consists of plastic waste which can take decades to biodegrade, and the ensuing concern over the negative effects of microplastics – plastic material with a diameter of less than 5mm – on fragile marine environments.,

Already found abundantly on the sea-bed, in the water column and at the sea surface, recent studies have also detected microplastics in freshwater and drinking water sources, causing concern about their potential health threat.

Microplastics are usually identified visually in environmental samples by using an optical microscope, so long as the particle size ranges between 1 and 5 mm. Anything smaller remains unidentified so an automated identification and counting method to perform effective ecological risk assessments and a means of identifying, isolating, and extracting the microplastics is a timely requirement.

Researchers from the Institute of Applied Sciences and Intelligent Systems (ISASI) and the National Research Council (CNR) in Italy have developed a process called holographic plastics identification (HPI), which combines 3D coherent imaging with machine learning to detect microplastics in filtered water.

Digital holography is used to image microplastic particles, providing a fast and effective means of identification with a potentially field-portable, real-time, low-cost system for environmental monitoring. Combining this technique with AI should improve its accuracy and capability.

“We used a machine learning paradigm relying on features extracted from holographic images,” said the researchers. “We demonstrate that it is possible to determine an optimal set of ‘holographic features’ extracted from the digital holograms, with the scope of identifying a distinctive marker for the [microplastic] class. Thus, these can be thought of as a specific ‘fingerprint’ for the whole MP population.”

Because other microscale organisms such as plankton are easily confused with microplastics, the researchers have created a library of holographic images of other populations of micro‐objects: nine single-celled plankton species and mix of microplastics sized from 1mm down to 20 μm.

The process was able to recognise microplastics in pre-filtered water samples with 99% accuracy and differentiate between sizes, shapes and plastic types – creating an automatic prescreening tool that could replace unaided microscope observation of pretreated water samples.

AR applications and cars of the future

Animmersion UK | User Interface Development | Virtual reality logo

Augmented reality, where real images are superimposed with virtual animations, could provide car drivers with highly relevant information about their immediate environment in the near future.

Applications being developed for cars include driver-visible heads-up displays (HUDs), wearable tech and the windscreen as an interactive display. Information from a phone contact list to diagnostics from car sensors could be made usable and easy to access through various routes such as gaze tracking, gesture recognition and speech.

The displays used for AR applications could either be wearable or integrated in the car. AR glasses provide additional information about the world we see so for example, switching between different scenarios regardless of the driver’s location could enable them to find a car park using projected maps.

However, it could be argued that wearables are distracting, making a case for car-integrated technologies such as windscreen-based AR or HUDs which provide information without the need for drivers to take their eyes off the road. With video-based AR systems, the vehicle’s forward-facing camera has an additional layer of information laid over it.

The car can provide drivers and passengers with additional, complex information using AI-based technologies which collect information through speech, gaze-tracking, or gesture-based interaction, plus cabin surveillance systems or advanced sensor functions.

Obviously, the interface significantly influences the choice of feasible applications and user-experience. Technologies such as the smart windscreen from Saint-Gobain Sekurit use the entire windshield as a transparent display of targeted, intelligent content without compromising visibility.

In the future, AR technologies will allow the windscreen to be used for infotainment – such as finding places to eat; convenience – using the windscreen to interact with on-board systems or online content while still having eyes on the road and safety – using AR in combination with eye-tracking technologies and sensor fusion to direct attention to hazards, other vehicles or pedestrians.

AR applications for cars and drivers are constantly developing. The focus should be on benefitting drivers and passengers through a driving experience that is entertaining, informative and safe.

3D holograms bring North York Moors National Park’s visitor attraction to life

Animmersion UK | User Interface Development | Virtual reality logo

Animmersion has teamed up with the North York Moors National Park to create an immersive, interactive experience as part of a major refurbishment programme at The Moors National Park Centre.

The established Middlesbrough-based immersive solutions company has produced a new tablet-based app alongside a series of holographic 3D animations showcasing landmarks and sites across the National Park.

The animations are helping to catalogue, as well as bring to life, a selection of 3D models produced during the National Park’s Land of Iron project. Visitors can browse the animations that depict the many ruins and surviving structures from the iron mining heritage of the North York Moors.

They will be accessible through a pair of interactive holographic displays, with additional images being added over time.

Animmersion is continuing to work with the National Park’s team to design a number of new immersive visitor attractions to accompany family days out across the moorland and at the upgraded National Park Centre in Danby.

The refurbishment of the National Park Centre is part of the £4m Land of Iron landscape partnership, which is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund along with the David Ross Foundation, North York Moors National Park Authority and other partners.

Through Land of Iron, the partnership is undertaking a programme of preservation and conservation of the main historic ironstone mining and pioneering railway sites within the North York Moors National Park.

Improving the natural habitats has also formed part of the project together with surveying the archaeological and historical heritage of the ironstone landscape, which has been stored as digital assets that Animmersion has used to create the 3D holograms.

This project is part of Animmersion’s growing presence in the heritage, culture and visitor attraction sector. Building on the successful delivery of a revolutionary mixed-reality display, DeepFrame One at the Great Exhibition of the North, and its appearance at the Museums and Heritage Show in London in the spring, the company has seen an increase in enquiries from the sector.

Dominic Lusardi, Owner and Managing Director of Animmersion, said:

“We are proud to be able to transform the information within the digital assets generated by the North York Moors National Park’s team into immersive attractions, which will enhance the visitor experience at Danby.

“This is a great example of how we can apply our expertise for creating immersive experiences from an organisation’s digital information. We have been successfully supporting industry with these solutions, for example bringing to life an underground network of pipelines to support engineer training, and are now applying our approach and technology to the leisure, cultural and heritage sectors.”

Tom Mutton, Land of Iron programme manager at the North York Moors National Park, said:

“The 3D holograms created by Animmersion bring a new, exciting dimension to the visitor experience at Danby. It forms a key part of our refurbishment programme at the centre, which really enhances the Land of Iron project and the stunning North York Moors National Park landscape.”

David Renwick, National Lottery Heritage Fund Area Director North, said:

“Over the past two years, the Land of Iron project has brought together a host of partners across the Park to reconnect people with the beautiful landscape and fascinating stories that make the North York Moors a vibrant place. We are delighted that thanks to National Lottery players the Moors National Park Centre will provide a focus for visitors and local communities to discover the important landscape that surrounds them.”

Wearable skin that lets you touch virtual objects

Animmersion UK | User Interface Development | Virtual reality logo

Researchers from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and Northwestern University have created a battery-free, wireless and multi-layered material that allows users to feel vibrations through the skin thanks to sensors, actuators and a chip. Constructed from silicone, the soft-textured skin essentially enables the sense of being touched by someone who isn’t actually there.

Though we are now used to VR and AR providing experiences through visual and auditory stimulation which recreates sounds and visual sights, the other senses have been notoriously difficult to recreate in VR and AR. Because sound and light are wave-based frequencies they can easily be digitised and although augmenting the sense of taste is still in the early stages of research, it has been somewhat successful by using electrical signals.

Touch, however, has proved more difficult to recreate. The researchers behind the project explain that while skin hasn’t yet been widely explored within tech, it can “greatly enhance experiences at a qualitative level, with direct relevance in areas such as communications, entertainment and medicine.”

Developing this innovative technology could enhance medical advances in the future – for example by enabling better prosthetic control through a stronger sense of touch, or ‘touching’ – such as holding hands at a distance. Likewise, it could allow VR gamers to feel strikes and pushes while playing, or ‘touch’ objects within the game.

In addition, Swiss researchers are creating an artificial skin which at 500 nanometers thick is less obtrusive and more sophisticated than existing haptic feedback systems – giving VR gamers a sense-filled experience.

Lead author of the Swiss research paper, Harshal Sonar, says: “The next step will be to develop a fully wearable prototype for applications in rehabilitation and virtual and augmented reality. The prototype will also be tested in neuroscientific studies, where it can be used to stimulate the human body while researchers study dynamic brain activity in magnetic resonance experiments.”

An impressive touch.

How holograms will change the way we work

Animmersion UK | User Interface Development | Virtual reality logo

Developing technology that enables us to share information in a hologram and interact with lifelike avatars is predicted to transform remote working.

As the general workforce becomes increasingly dispersed, emerging virtual communication technologies using avatars, 3D holographic images, VR and AR is set to re-unify it.

Spatial is a new virtual communication app that uses the Microsoft HoloLens 2 headset and allows workers – using avatars or holographic shapes of themselves – to participate in meetings together even when based in different locations.

Teams, using VR and AR, are able to see and interact with 3D images of projects they are working on, and drag and share information such as text and images from devices into a real-time shared holographic space.

Manufacturing and offshore oil and gas firms have been early adopters of technology that uses AR and VR to teleport expert knowledge to locations where it is needed.

Using mixed reality headsets, senior BT field engineers and the University of Essex ran a trial that involved remotely viewing and advising junior colleagues in different engineering tasks providing expertise and reducing response times. Professor Hani Hagras suggested that eventually, a junior engineer could be guided by an artificial intelligence-powered avatar instead of a real-life colleague.

Immerse, a virtual experience platform, with DHL and Shell has created a virtual world where new employees can experience hands-on training in critical situations remotely, creating cost savings and performance tracking benefits.

In the future, sensor-captured data of a person’s body language and facial expressions can be fed into machine learning algorithms to create accurate and lifelike AI-powered holograms, and a consumer trends report by Ericsson found that many respondents expect mixed reality and a full sensory experience in the future.

Advancing technology in the cloud, 5G, AI, interconnectivity, sensors and faster processing means that virtual communication technologies are developing more quickly now than ever before.

VR headsets instead of general anaesthetics?

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Doctors in Colorado have helped some patients to get through painful procedures avoiding general anaesthetics by using virtual reality.

Several patients, using VR as a distraction, have been able to undergo mild to moderately painful treatments, not under anaesthetic, which reduces recovery time and the need for medication.

Joe Albietz, medical director at Children’s Hospital Colorado said,

“The human brain has limited bandwidth for what it can pay attention to. The more it is engaged in a VR experience, the less it can perceive the pain signals coming through. If it’s not paying attention to those pain signals, they might as well not exist.”

The technology is being used so that only a local anaesthetic is required when patients face an invasive procedure, for example an endoscopy, lumbar puncture or while dressing limbs. In some cases, no additional anaesthetic is needed at all when the headset is worn.

In another study at Imperial College London, researchers have found that burning pain could be relieved if patients using a VR headset were immersed in scenes of oceans, icescapes and icebergs. The study suggests that besides distracting the brain, VR may also activate the body’s built-in pain-fighting mechanisms, regulating the spread of increased sensitivity to pain.