Thursday, September 15, 2016

Escape the room for Education - in a box. An awesome open source project for STE(A)M.

Recently my friends and I went to an "Escape the Room" venue. We had a blast and it got me thinking - this would be awesome in a classroom.

"Escape the Room" games are a preset number puzzles that a group of people have to solve to ta da! Escape the room.

Think "Myst" or any of the Text based adventure games (eaten by a gru!!!), and there are plenty of mobile and web based ones out there as well - Except this is real. with real locks, puzzles that you have to manipulate, tools that you find in one part of the game have to be used for another.

These venues are all themed to each escape scenario - in the one I went to it was themed as a lab, with a desk, filing cabinet, xray viewer, secure sample box, then the next room that you got into (after solving certain puzzles- a magnetic lock opened a secret door) was like a industrial basement with pipes and grating. and more puzzles to solve to finally get out. Lots of micro controller usage with magnetic locks, LED displays, relays to turn on a black light when you completed a puzzle to reveal another clue, hall effect switches as well as physical locks.

It was really challenging, but we all had to work together and solve each puzzle, so it was collaborative and fun. It taught perseverance and the timer on the wall gave the whole thing a sense of urgency. Yes we got out with 7 mins to spare.

My thinking was there must be a way to integrate this into classroom teaching without the expense or effort to set up a themed room or two for each game...

I wasn't alone. Someone has already done the hard work... and it is open source (free)

It's a real world puzzle platform you can use to run free pre-made games for your students, plus a template to make your own. It can integrate both real world and ICT puzzles via website, QR codes or images.

You either buy the "box" of locks or make your own according to the specifications. There is also a low cost Lock app that you can use to create virtual locks.

There is a big element of STE(A)M with this and you could extend the puzzles with arduino or probably more beneficial - get the students to create their own scenarios and puzzles.

Anyway - if you were looking to do something cool with your middle schoolers at the end of the year - this is not a bad option.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Common Use Issues with the Epson 575Wi, 585Wi and 595Wi - Calibration issues and PC Free mode.

I just sent an email to one of my clients, and it seems I repeat this quite a lot when the Epson interactive projectors have been installed and I'm going out a for a service call. So I might as well put this on my blog so I can just refer it to them. It might also help anyone else who is having these issues as they seem to be universal in my part of the world.

2 biggest issues people run into with these projectors when working with the interactive functions.

1>    This projector has 2 modes of operation PC Interactive & PC free
a.      PC interactive is where the interactivity is connected with your computer, what you do on the projection is mirrored on your laptop or desktop. You can use your computer like a giant touch screen opening and closing programs, navigating websites. The stylus is your mouse.
                                                    i.     N.B. The USB CABLE MUST be connected between the projector and the computer for this to work
b.      PC free. This is where the computer and the projector are separated – you can write and draw over the screen but you can’t interact with it. You also can’t save your annotations.
                                                    i.     If the computer is connected to the projector – you will still see the screen – you just won’t be able to Interact with it. A good way to check is to draw something on the projection then compare your projection with the laptop or desktop screen – if they DON’T MATCH then you are in PC Free.
c.      To change modes touch near the edge of the screen and these two icons appear – a projector with a pen and a mouse with a laptop. The one with the orange highlight around is the mode that is in use. Toggling between the modes will show a 2 second on screen notification of what mode it is in.
                                                    i.     For most purposes in schools you need to be in PC interactive mode so you can use software like Smart Notebook, Easy Interactive Tools or any other software on your computer.

2>    This is a WXGA projector series – that means it is a wide screen projector and needs to be fed with the appropriate resolution. So you may go through the calibration procedure, but you still have issues in PC interactive mode. Switch to PC Free mode and the calibration is fine
a.      The calibration will be “out” if you are not set to a WXGA resolution on your computer – this usually looks like it is OK in the centre of the screen but as you move the pen out to the top and bottom of the screen it gets progressively out of sync.
                                                    i.     Set your resolution on your computer to a 16:10 ratio like 1280x800

I hope this helps.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Wireless projection in schools.

I had one of my clients ask me the way to use wireless with her new Epson interactive projectors. Specifically she wants to use iPads... but would also like laptops to connect. These projectors were purchased by someone else, otherwise I could have advised some solutions at the time of install - but no matter there are some easy solutions here.

Yes you can connect to them wirelessly and there are number of ways you can do it. Number 4 is the best option for most schools.

1.      You can purchase a wireless module  at about $110 each – they plug into the projector and then with free software from Epson you can connect to them via your wireless network.
a.      Please note you will need an app for your ipads and will only be able to show videos, web pages, text and photos – not currently running apps like angry birds.
2.      You can connect a network cable to them and then your projector become part of your network – and you connect to them via software from your computer or the app from your ipad
a.      The same restrictions apply to your  ipad  content.
3.      You can purchase an apple TV (@$110) and connect it to your projector via the HDMI – you then need to add the Apple TV to you school network. Once it is on the same network as you ipads you will be able to airplay directly to the projector.
a.      No restrictions, what is on your ipad will be shown on screen
b.     If you have an apple computer you should also be able to airplay wirelessly
c.      If you are using windows machines you will need software like airparrot to stream you laptop to the projector. @$15 per computer.
4.      This is my favorite option as it is the cheapest and easiest to achieve - You can get a piece of software call airserver @$15 that turns the computer connected to the projector into an Airplay server (like an Apple TV).
a.      This means
                                                            That you can use the computer as your main teaching computer - an interact with it.
                                                             ii.     You can also use ipads when needed with no cables
                                                            iii.     It can also Miracast – something that newer laptops and non apple tablets have built in. (use airparrot otherwise)
                                                           iv.     It can be done almost immediately and doesn’t require any cabling or hardware.

AIRSERVER can be purchased and downloaded from here -

Please note in all options – the touch/pen based interactivity on the board only works with the computer attached to the usb cable – you can’t control your ipad from the board.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

AAAAnd we are back

Well that was a nice break...

So what has been happening since I've been gone from this blog... quite a lot really and then not so much.

Interactive LCD's

As predicted the prices have continued to fall and schools are now looking at them as the obvious successor to their IWB+projector installation.

Keepad Interactive (the company I work for) have picked up quite a few options for schools and corporate installations. Surprisingly Viewsonic is back in the game (you remember their CRT monitors with the colourful parrots up in the top corner)  with a very nice interactive LCD line up from 55" to 70". I've installed a couple in a school recently and I'm really impressed with the surface, stand alone capabilities and responsiveness of the screen.

Keepad also now have license to sell SMART and Promethean screens as well as their software - so for schools already invested in that technology they can continue to work with it.

SMART Australia has has a bit of a rough 18 months with a new master distributor being appointed and issues with stock availability as well as confusion over their licensing... It looks like it has worked itself out.

Classroom Projectors

Epson are still leading the way with their 595wi interactive touch projector with more and more school picking it up as their replacement for IWB's due to the cost savings. We have come across a few issues with cheaply made whiteboards that are warped and bent that make set up for these very difficult and have ongoing problems. We are advising all our clients to invest in a quality whiteboard when installing these projectors to get the best results.

Large Format Projectors

We have just finished a major installation at a Perth high school. They wanted a projection solution for their gym. Originally wanting to project down court, we showed than a way to go cross court with two powerful G series projectors from Epson onto 200" motorised screens. We also integrated a PA system including wireless microphones and four 12" speakers to give them clear sound even when the gym is full for a school assembly.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Large Touch Screen Technology

I knew it was going to happen... in fact this post sort of let it out of the bag a little early.

With prices around $7000 all up for the bigger ones and the $5000 mark for the smaller ones (55") many schools are looking at this as their next display tool. It looks like touch screen technology is now on par for installation and trolley based IWB systems from 5 years ago with a couple of added advantages.

  1. Multi touch - these touch screens come in 2, 6, and 32 touch modes.
  2. Super bright - these can be used in very bright shared use area or undercover areas. - Glare and reflection is still and issue.
  3. No shadow - as the light source is behind the image.
  4. No lamps to replace and with most of them having expected lifetimes of over 10 years a very good TCO.
  5. Multi use - the touch screen can be just a TV for Free to air or cable content.
OK so this is the future of the hardware going into schools, I have installed  32 x 60" and 70" screens into a brand new school and more to come as some schools start to cycle out their IWB's for touch screens.

I have to say though, the touch projector from Epson  (EB595Wi) is maybe stemming the flow to touch screens as it is still a lot cheaper  at about 1/2 the price .

So what are the implications...

Software - Most software for PC and Mac is not multi touch enabled. There are a few like Google earth, but at this stage there is not much out there for content or content creation for multi-touch computing. We will see this change and there are some great multi touch demos from the old Microsoft surface project.

With Windows 8, multi touch is baked right into the operating system and many applications now support multiple touch natively.

I have come across Intuiface  which has a lot of promise as far as content creation goes. They have a free version that has a small watermark, but it is easy to use. Very much like PowerPoint with some extra muscle.

Others like snowflake are very expensive and hard to get your head around.

It's worse for Apple Mac computers that have no multi-touch embedded into the operating system and must rely on TUIO interface connectors. Hopefully Apple will come out with some form of multi-touch for their Macbook range soon. And as many of us lament - ipads have no USB interface so no dice there.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Worlds First Multi Finger Touch Interactive Projector - Epson 595Wi

Touch Interactive Projector

It has taken a while - but Epson has finally invented a pen-less interactive projector.

For about 5 years we have been selling the Epson range of ultra short throw interactive projectors. Starting with the EB 450Wi in 2010, then the EB 455Wi, then the massively popular EB 485Wi from 2012 until May this year. The final incarnation of this projector is the EB 585Wi - and we still sell these more than just about any other projector.

The ultra short throw form factor is perfect for interactive projection, with a reduced shadow, higher brightness and more accurate calibration.

The defining feature with these projectors was that the interactivity was smooth and responsive without the use of a special board, any whiteboard could be used as a projection and interactive surface. But there was one thing that customers asked for - finger touch capability. These projector rely on a stylus system, special pens that had to be used to interact with the computer and give the position of the cursor.

A couple of months ago Epson released the EB 595Wi - a finger touch based interactive projector. Looking exactly the same as the 585Wi pen based unit - the 595Wi also comes with a separate IR curtain module that projects a curtain of IR across the surface of the board  - and when a finger or any other object breaks or frustrates the curtain it lights up in infra-red and the camera in the projector picks up the XY position on the board and translates that break as a touch. It is a variation on the Frustrated IR touch screen system.

We have now put it in a few schools and colleges and the feedback we have had so far has been great - teachers find it more natural to touch without a pen - especially with Windows 8 and the gestures you can use normally with a tablet.

The one drawback is that the IR curtain projector must be placed above the projection, but on the same surface as the projected image - taking up about 15cm of space at the top of the board. This reduces the image size that can be projected on a standard 1200mm high whiteboard by about 5"-7" diagonally.. Yes I know I'm mixing up my measurements but diagonals seem to be standardised in inches.

Some of our clients are getting around this by buying non standard 1400mm high whiteboards to get back the full size of the the projection. others are just happy with a slightly smaller projection. Epson are apparently developing an off board solution as well.

These projectors are now on special - at less that $AU 2000 ex GST.