Storie in XR: Carlos J. Ochoa Fernández

Le storie in XR hanno un respiro internazionale nel 2022. Chi frequenta i mondi di social VR e si occupa di XR conosce bene Carlos J. Ochoa Fernández che ho avuto il piacere d’intervistare per voi. Il nostro incontro è nato grazie alla VR/AR Association e in particolare all’Education Committee di cui Carlos è Co-Chair. Da formatrice ed appassionata di extended reality ho iniziato a seguire i suoi speech e a partecipare agli eventi da lui organizzati. Nel 2019 ho avuto anche l’occasione di ascoltarlo dal vivo a Piacenza all’evento ‘Scuola e virtuale’ dedicato all’education.

Per la prima volta l’intervista sarà in lingua inglese, ma ‘stay tuned’, perché ne seguiranno altre. Ampliamo i nostri orizzonti per conoscere e comprendere i cambiamenti in atto nella formazione e nella comunicazione.

Incontriamo Carlos J. Ochoa FernándezLet’s meet Carlos J. Ochoa Fernández

Founder and CEO of ONE Digital Consulting, President VRAR Madrid Chapter, Co-Chair of VR/AR Education Committee, Immersive Learning Founding Member, ICICLE X-Reality for Learning and Performance Augmentation SIG, Member of Smart Cities Experts Group of AENOR (Spain).

Engineer from Madrid Polytechnic University, MBA from Babson College, Postgraduate in Innovation and Entrepreneurship by Maryland University, Master in Digital Marketing for International Business Development (ICEX) and ITC & Gis Certificate by Siemens Data-Technic Schule (Germany).

With over 30 years of International experience in the Innovation and New Advance Digital Technologies in ITC Industry and Digital Education. Leading successful organizations (SIEMENS, Sagentia, Altran, Founder and CEO of E_Learning Consulting, ONE Digital Consulting & SmartEducationLabs) with a balanced strategic mission and innovative business development vision.

Author of many publications, articles, and the White Paper “Best Practices in VR in Education” and “State of Art of XR in Education 2020” by VR/AR Association.

Foto di Carlos Ochoa Fernàndez

And now Simonetta and Carlos will talk about XR, VR education and many other topics.

Let’s start with ‘WHY, as Simon Sinek’s Golden circle ‘docet’. Why did you approach XR?

Throughout my long professional career, I have been a very restless person, always attracted by emerging technologies and their application to the real world from different perspectives.

Especially in projects where the integration of complex solutions and technological convergence was required.

It was during my time at Siemens, when developing the Forest Plan project of the Community of Madrid, on environmental protection in forests and natural parks, we had the need to develop a simulation model of intervention and prevention of forest fires, evaluating its impact and subsequent reconstruction over the years.

To do this, we used different technologies, a GIS (geographical information system), integration of digital terrain models, cadaster data, land uses, and satellite images at different times of the year, in order to carry out evaluations and simulations, etc. At this time, together with engineers from different universities, we have already developed a very complex three-dimensional visualization and simulation system. Integrating vector, raster and alfa-numeric data in the same model.

At the Polytechnic University, I specialized in geodesy and photogrammetry and later, I expanded my studies in information technology and geographic information systems for two years, at the Siemens University in Germany. Which allowed me to have a very powerful knowledge and vision of three-dimensional environments, their integration with gis and subsequent modeling for simulations and impact studies.

I subsequently specialized in urban planning and cultural heritage, applying 3d reconstruction technologies, animations and virtual reality technologies in the development of various R&D projects in Europe.

This is the evolution and why I entered the world of Virtual Reality. What is synthesized and summarized in one of my favorite projects: The Virtual Reconstruction of the Islamic City of Cuenca, and its evolution over the years to the present.

City of Cuenca
Magical and Mystery Tour around Cuenca.
Cuenca in VR
Virtual tour – Cuenca Islamic City

When have you tried on your first headset? Do you remember your feelings? Do you have any funny memories to tell us?

Yes, of course, I remember those very first experiences. Recently a colleague from the VRAR association reminded me of it. It was around 1993, more or less, at a computer fair in Madrid. When I put on my first VR helmet, that giant device, full of cables, was super heavy and uncomfortable, to say something. The experience was like getting into a diver’s scuba diving suit.

I remember perfectly that I was in the middle of a deserted street, it seemed like the Wild West… I walked around for a while, and approached a mirror of that stage, and I began to move my arms and I could not see myself reflected. I automatically decided to take off the case and respond to the technical staff…this doesn’t work. If I don’t see myself, it’s not real… They were left with a face of absolute frustration… I left disappointed. I have to confess that I am very much an engineer, I like to touch, feel, and apply… I leave the metaphors for my intimate world.

In that time, my team and I at Siemens, worked with stereo graphics images from satellites with 3d glasses and silicon graphics workstations, overlaying vector maps in 3d for urban planning and environmental simulation…there were really exciting times. Have a look at this video.

You wrote the “White Paper” of “Best practices in VR Education” for the international VR/AR Association. You are a co-chair of VR/AR Education Committee and speaker in many conferences and workshops about innovation and immersive realities. What are the benefits of XR in education? Do you think that virtual education will have a great impact in 2022 in Spain and in Europe?

This is a question I ask myself year after year. And 5 years have passed since my presentation at the International Conference on Innovation in Education ICERI 2016, Are we ready for disruptive education with VRAR?

After all this time, many hours of investment, effort and evangelization around the world, I see that there is still a long way to go. It is an experience that is sometimes rewarding and sometimes frustrating.

Sometimes I have the feeling that we take two steps forward and one step back. And I keep wondering why. Why do we keep talking about the same things as 5 years ago, repeating the same slogans and set phrases… without too many promises kept?

But the lessons learned should make us reflect, listen more to the user’s needs, their priorities, in short, listen to reality, and not work and theorize about an imaginary or desired reality. This doesn’t work like that, and it’s very similar to what’s coming up with the Metaverse at the current time.

There are experiences, exemplary use cases… but acceptance and implementation take a long time, more than expected. Changes in the educational system require time, and a clear and well-defined value proposition. Beyond slogans about advantages and benefits, what is needed is evidence that supports the use of immersive technologies in the classroom and later, to see opportunities to replicate these successful models. But always from a global perspective, integrating technologies and not observing them in an isolated way. And it is here, for many reasons, that it is worth exploring and analyzing carefully.

How our ecosystem is configured, where we want to go, what are the real needs of the stakeholders, what is the implementation plan, the training plan, the budget and the sustainability plan that guarantees future investments based on results obtained. And this process, in public education, is very complicated to establish, beyond pilot programs, a lot of will, effort and investment.

During the last 20 years, I have had the opportunity to work with a large number of international educational institutions, publishers, governments, etc., assisting them in their digitization processes and the results are seen over time.

The basic pillars are well defined, and if we go down this path, the results, I am completely sure, will exceed expectations.

To support this conviction, I would like to highlight two of the most representative activities that we have carried out this year from ONE Digital Consulting: The VR/AR Train the Trainers program, with the participation of more than 1.000 teachers from all over the world, and the project “Music with the 5 senses” with the Reina Sofia Music School, to bring classical music and values closer to young people from 13 to 17 years old, to schools.

Music with 5 Senses. DES 2021 IFEMA

More than 1,000 students from different educational centers in Madrid have already experienced in first person, with a truly outstanding acceptance.

the Reina Sofia Music School

Education and training are the basis of everything, and especially when we want to implement new changes in the society.

The Covid-19 pandemic caused a disruption in education. We have experienced an important adoption of VR and AR in some schools and universities (Università degli Studi di Napoli ‘Parthenope’ and Politecnico of Turin). Someone started to teach in metaverse (Altspace VR, etc.)  What are the most important changes we should make in educational strategy and in learning methods?

Education is a system; teaching is an action; learning is a process.’ Terry Heick.

Yes, it is true that Covid has had a direct impact on all aspects of our daily lives and, of course, on the educational system. Revealing the great weaknesses that it maintains, the problems of sustainability and technological adaptation, methodologies and responsible adoption of devices, connectivity and accessible content.

It has been a global experience, where the answer has been: save yourself.

In the face of great challenges, small solutions. This has helped certain institutions, or rather I would say, individual evangelizers, have been able to find solutions that would allow virtual access to classes, monitoring and tutoring. And with more or less success, some institutions/teachers have entered the world of collaborative virtual platforms, learning with their students to get the best possible performance and results. Discovering how to apply them, improve performance and maintain contact with students, in the best possible way. And all this, expanding the local ecosystem and having the opportunity to share experiences with teachers and students from all over the world. Something completely unimaginable just two years ago.

I would not dare to call these platforms Metaverse, since they were not born under that architecture or functionality, but they have served to learn to interact in a virtual environment, interact in a community and carry out activities that would have been impossible otherwise.

During these exciting times, some truly pioneering experiences have been developed worldwide, in which I have been lucky enough to actively participate and collaborate. As the first virtual congress of AWE in 2019; the first virtual congress of Educators in VR in Altspace, with thousands of participants from all over the world connected 24-hour online sessions throughout a week; or the experience of ILRN and its virtual platform in Virbela. An authentic global virtual campus, with classrooms, work centers, meeting rooms and experiences, open to Universities and Communities from all over the world.

Now, with the progressive return to the new normal, it is time to carefully analyze what we have learned, and how to apply a hybrid learning model and how to restructure teaching and learning methodologies in this new context.

At this point, many contradictions and discussions between presence and virtuality appear. And this is not the debate.

Generally speaking, Schools and Universities must train us as citizens and future entrepreneurs or employees of organizations in the real world. And this real world is rapidly changing towards collaborative, multidisciplinary, virtual and global organizations. Where their main activities are developed focused on projects, with teams built specifically focused on that project. They start and ends very fast, and rebuilt based on the specific needs of every kind of project. Therefore, presence does not make sense and in many cases, it is expensive and unfeasible, since these multidisciplinary teams are spread all over the world, in addition to not adding value to the client.

Obviously, educational institutions, their leaders and governors, have to be aware of this, or else, the educational system, the years lost and the degrees obtained will not serve to get a job in the digital society, reasons for frustration and drop out.

In this context, the current staff and their role must also be redefined. They must become change agents, intrapreneurs in their organization, and be trained in new methodologies and ways of working that are closer to today’s societies, more digitized and transformed, in order to take on its new challenges and not frustrate students on their way to find work after years of study, effort and sacrifice.

Thus, a redefinition of the educational system at a global level, a methodology review of teaching and learning methods is urgently required. Combining real life experiences, with ethics and essential foundations of philosophy and science.

And why do I say this? Many of the current challenges of the human being have already been raised by the classics, and if we read and listened to them more often, they would help us to solve future situations much better, which have been repeated throughout the history and evolution of man on earth.

Regulation, transparency, and ethics for meta-humans, a challenge for real humans.

What would you suggest to a young person who wants to approach immersive realities? 

My personal recommendations would be the same that I make to the students who carry out their internships in our company ONE Digital Consulting center.

First, open your senses well and be willing to get excited and excited by living and experimenting unique experiences. If you’re not going to do something extraordinary, forget it. You better not to try.

Study, read and participate in reference forums and events, which allow you to complement your education and skills, and identify your future road to success. Looking for that space, where your commitment, contribution of value and knowledge, will make you feel that you are doing something truly unique and transcendent.

Do not get carried away by siren songs, bloggers and easy marketing mega trends, there are no shortcuts. Effort, work, study and the network will be your allies. These can be anywhere in the world and you can be one of them.

Study and let yourself be advised by experts, mentors who will help you develop this new career, which requires time and being constantly up to date.

Practice, enjoy and unleash the imagination where no one has gone before. There you will have your reward and it will be excellence.

Immersive realities, is the convergence of several advanced technologies, where you must find the best journey peers to complement your value proposition. You will find them on the net, groups of experts… there are innumerable channels of experts with incredible talent, you must be there.

During the summer of 2021 the metaverse became a buzzword and attracted many brands. What should we expect in the future?

We live in challenging and confusing times. A very harsh reality, where great inequalities appear between countries, cultures, regions… which makes us a much more fragile society than we initially thought. And this has its impact on the economy, personal development, customs, quality of life, and of course on education…etc. You have to be prepared to act and deal with unpredictable situations at all times. Be alert to signs, changes, migrations, pandemics, climate change, new forms of work, coexistence, leisure, communication, and personal relationships. This opens opportunities and in turn, closes doors.

The digital transformation agenda has been disrupted. There will no longer be a beginning and an end. It is a permanent state of adaptation to the social ecosystem that is in permanent transformation.

Although it is true that apparently many of these changes are not visualized, they are perceived as a tsunami, which arrives almost without warning and devastates everything.

The phenomenon of the Metaverse is a clear example of this. Something that everyone talks about, and very few know, understand, and are able to visualize it and materialize it in the future.

But there is no doubt that new business models are being developed, regardless of existing rules and regulations, where winning is the fundamental objective, at any cost. After great phrases, words, and marketing actions, strong trends appear that impose their fashions or part of them. In any case, this would be part of another very dense chapter, and for now, I do not want to go much further. But I am especially interested in some aspects, in particular those related to education.

And education is the basis of everything. Educate in, by, and for.

I recently had the opportunity to host the Metaverse at Education panel at the VRARA Metaverse Summit. “Are we ready for MetaEducation” was a complete success, with more than two hours of debate, 5 speakers, 60% women, and more than 200 online attendees. Here we talk about the current state of the ecosystem, the progress made in these two years, and the impact it was having on the world of education. We reviewed the benefits and barriers, as well as relevant critical aspects, on security, identity, bullying, harassment, equality, etc… a very interesting debate that opens the doors for us to work on these new horizons that are opening up before us and that I have allowed myself to go back into new immersive spaces and define the interrelationships between emotions, expressions and their temporary or ephemeral materialization in micro-universes.

Last but not least, I would love to share my very first experience around what I call “Metaphorical MicroUniverses”.

Carlos J.Ochoa MicroUniversos
MicroUniversos Metaforicos

Last year I received a commission from the Escuela Superior de Música Reina Sofía to record a classical music concert with works by Mozart, Tchaikovsky, and Respighi. In order to make it reach schools, during the pandemic, through immersive virtual reality experiences.

To do this, we recreate 13 unique experiences, around each of the themes of the three musicians. Contextualizing them around an immersive story and narrative, with the story of a luthier, who explained the history of the construction of a violin, until reaching the interpreter who manages to get the best sound out of unique wood.

More than 2,500 hours of work, recorded with 3 360º cameras, many hours recording sessions, ambisonic sound, more than 20 different locations, 3D models and recreations, virtual environments, and their integration into an immersive space, which recreates these “Metaphorical MicroUniverses”, which have already toured several schools in Spain with truly extraordinary success.

An experience that can only be enjoyed from this space in virtual reality, and that is the context where we continue working on new immersive experiences… that will soon see the light. Have a look at this video in YouTube.

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