It’s been a while…

Friday 13th April 2012…

In common with my last post, the title of this blog entry is misleading.
I hold my hands up: I have fallen victim to procrastination - he was lying in wait, lurking in the fridge behind the cheese, or under my PC, or behind my power amp or something. Wherever Procrastination hides, he came out to play. Not for long though. Today is Friday 13th.

Unlike the last post, I have nothing more to get off my chest. I have spewed all I shall onto my server (not literally) - and as such have had an immense load lifted off my shoulders. Now we can get on with some semi-intellectual blogging (yes, we).

A tale of two modules

Once again, I have been trying to sandwich my Creative Media Applications module and Dissertation together - not to save work as some of you might think - but rather because the subject matter seems to overlap, pretty much entirely I may add.

As a recap, my dissertation looks to investigate whether it is possible to combine Haptic feedback technology with 3D audio (Binaural or surround etc) in order to create an immersive audio experience for an end-user to experience content - specifically a live music event. Meanwhile, my CMA module looks to utilise the same combination of technology - albeit for a completely different application. The purpose intended for CMA is that of a safety demonstration for young learner drivers - to help convey the full seriousness of getting behind the wheel of a powerful vehicle.

However, both of these applications focus on creating an "immersive" sonic experience. I’m beginning to think that because there are several haptic/force-feedback devices already available on the market, my research can focus on the methodology behind interconnecting these devices and ideas to satisfy a new purpose.

Not so fast:

Before I can begin my time saving research into - which is quintessentially a "Convergence" project not unlike last year’s - (no, not more procrastination), I must first carry out some research of a different nature…
I’m not exactly sure what this involves - and it’s due quite soon too - all I AM sure of is that I have to study a current industry service that has been made possible because of one or more current or emerging technologies.

I have put together a list of idea stuff:

Abbey Road’s online mastering service (lecturer’s example)
Faster internet access (including SDSL)
Faster computers to run data transfer services
D/A/D conversion, if needed
Payment processing system (i.e. PayPal)
iTunes Store
Use of audio compression algorithms i.e. AAC
Increased broadband speeds = short download time
Use of ATOM/RSS for syndication i.e. Podcasts
Secure payment, HTTPS

and so on… - except that I’m not exactly sure if I’m on the right tracks…

CMA: ’Ullo John, Gotta New Motor?

Right, my brain is broken from the above list of blue-sky thinking.
Time to move onto my CMA idea :o)
I’m sticking with my initial idea for Creative Media Applications - mainly because I cannot for the life of me remember any other ideas.

My idea is based around liaising with local education and road safety authorities to develop an immersive driving accident simulation - basically intended to scare the life out of any potential "boy racer". “You have to be cruel to be kind” as the old phrase goes, and in my mind (I sound like a Daily Mail columnist) an underwear-ruining experience now is better than a life-ruining experience later.
Lads, It could be me you hit (again).

What I am proposing is to identify potential "boy racers" (it would be unfair and impractical to subject EVERYONE to the experience), invite them down to a test track (or what they think is a test track) and get them into a familiar vehicle (Corsa, Nova, Punto, 106, Saxo etc) pimped out with spoilers, a modified exhaust, tinted windows and a stereo system that would rival most PA systems. They would then be subjected to a realistic driving experience, intertwined with my SUPERSONIC CRASH EXPERIENCE - or something like that.

We’ve all watched crash test simulations in physics class at school, as well as sophisticated recreations of vehicle collisions - not forgetting those scary public service videos at 3am with the "sign language lady". At the time of writing, there are plenty of driving and crash simulators available online - however, none (in my opinion) really convey their message in a hard-hitting manner. One example being ROSPA’s Pedestrian Injury Simulator - while the online demonstration may have all the scientifically correct data, the premise seems more akin to that of a really bad Playstation 1 game.

It is possible to see these efforts as an attempt to trivialise road accidents - making them appear as though in a computer game (i.e. without consequence). However, I propose that the use of what must essentially be viewed as shock tactics can increase awareness of road safety and the consequences of improper road use.
For this reason, I intend to use my Foley design skills to create hyperbolic sound effects (for the impact etc) - including gut-wrenching bass for when a supposed human body is propelled into the windscreen at 100 MPH.
I was only hit at ~30 MPH, but that’s not the point.

Also, at the time of writing, there are boy racers diving round and round my estate on the wrong side of the road at twice the speed limit with the worst EVER dance music…

Don’t Drive My Car

There is no one correct way in which to implement my findings - the good news being that the base technology is already in existence.

The two main ways to facilitate this product would either to be have a kiosk-style set-up similar to Honda’s, or to have an in-car simulation similar to what Pfeffer & Howat describe in their research. Either way, the simulation will require convincing audio, visual and tactile sensory information.

It is therefore important to now look at several technologies that will form the basis of the simulation:

Because the simulator audio (car engine, road, music, foley - and environmental effects such as in-car convolution reverb) will be presented in 3D - this can either be through headphones, or via speakers. If headphones are used, then simple Binaural can be used as a format - whether the sounds are recorded or mixed into this format. If speakers are used however, an appropriate surround technology such as Edgar Choueiri’s 3D Audio or Dolby’s Pro Logic will have to be used to present the realistic sound information.

To complement the realistic audio, realistic visual information will have to be relayed to the victim user. It will probably be impractical to set up an elaborate projection-style display - so for this reason, a head mounted display is the best option. Either way, the visual display would have to include the real inside of a vehicle - in addition to the simulated events from "outside".

To complete the experience, we need tactile information to make the simulator as life-like as possible. Sensory information of this kind can be conveyed both with low frequency effects and by using force feedback motors (not unlike Sony’s DualShock technology) embedded in both the steering wheel and the car seat. An example of an LFE being used in this manner is the Bum Chum used by drummers and the Rumble Chair as used by gamers. As for force feedback, Disney have developed a chair with an array of tactile vibration motors - which can generate complex gestures and motions to be felt by the human user. Essentially, what someone has done is to take a massage chair and combine it with haptic feedback.

Cue Grampa Simpson: “Why, the fax machine is nothing but a waffle iron with a phone attached!”

I hope this mega-long post has illuminated my thoughts in a reasonably cohesive way.

I’m really looking forward to exhibiting my findings - as I’ll be able to implement my studies from all previous years into the project…
My Advanced Systems Design can act as the basis for my Creative Media Applications, using my Audio for Multimedia and Studio Production skills for the Foley design, my Sonic Arts for exhibiting the project - and the results can form a part of my Dissertation.


3D Audio from Ordinary Speakers:

Abbey Road online mastering:

Boy Racer Guide:

Crash test with and without safety belt:

Disney Research - Surround Haptics - Immersive Tactile Experiences:

Dolby Pro Logic:

Gizmag: The Bum Chum:

Honda driving simulator:

I-Glasses PC/SVGA Personal PC Monitor:

ROSPA: Pedestrian Injury Simulator:

Rumble Force Feedback Chair:

Top-25 Driving Simulator:

Using a driving simulator to evaluate a road safety education programme for young drivers:

Binaural time…