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REMOTE EXPERIMENTATION USING AUGMENTED REALITY

Salaheddin Odeh
Department of Computer Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Al-Quds University, Abu Dies, Jerusalem,
Palestine
sodeh@eng.alquds.edu

Shatha Abu Shanab


Electronic and Computer Engineering Master Program, Faculty of Engineering, Al-Quds University, Abu Dies,
Jerusalem, Palestine
eng.shatha@yahoo.com

ABSTRACT
In engineering and science education, laboratories represent an essential part of the
study curriculum, and studies are incomplete if laboratories are not present.
Laboratories cover the practical side of engineering studies, through which
students can improve their theoretical knowledge as a stable basis to strengthen
their skills required for enabling them to deal with any real problem in the future
after graduation. This research tries to realize the idea of combining internet
laboratories with augmented reality. This is what we can designate as an
Augmented Reality Internet Laboratory (ARI-Lab). Definitively, augmented
reality is to combine the interactive real world with a generated world by an
interactive computer system in such a way that they appear as one environment. It
shows the real world with an overlay of additional information so that the user can
not distinguish between the real world and the virtual augmentation [1], [2]. In our
consideration, a web-based remote experimentation using augmented reality is
achieved through the facts that students can carry out an engineering experiment
represented by real and virtual elements, components and equipments, through
overlaying real kits with virtual (graphical) objects. AR technologies make
possible the interaction between students and the graphically represented remote
experiment to be no longer restricted in a face-to-screen fashion; rather it will be
strived to dissolve students in a remotely located real environment laboratory. A
number of modern laboratory instruments and equipments can only not be
controlled and accessed interactively, but rather more through special kind of
interfaces as well, enabling us to control and to implement the experiment via the
internet. In this contribution, it will be shown how we can design, develop and
implement an interactive web-based ARI-Lab.

Keywords: Augmented Reality (AR), human-computer interaction, experimenting


kit, remote laboratories, distributed systems, usability testing, C# and .NET.

1 INTRODUCTION interaction between students and instructors.


Simulator programs serves as a supportive
The main goal of an engineering or a science complementary for traditional laboratories and could
laboratory is to provide students with the practical not be replaced by face-to-face laboratory rooms.
skills through experimenting with real devices and Nowadays, the creation of remote laboratories
instruments [3], offering them a complete learning, that students can access at any time and from any
which consists of a mixture of theoretical and place is possible through the facts that internet
practical sessions for enabling them to deal with and technologies offer a new education and training
to solve any real world problem after graduation. In system and contemporary laboratory instruments
recent time, the usage of laboratory simulator already support remote control via the internet.
programs has been increased rapidly. Although Conventional experimentation has several constraints
students can build their circuits and test it by these left unsolved. For example, time restriction
programs, simulator programs are mostly based on constraints organizing for evening part-time students,
mathematical models characterized by giving resource intensiveness increases teaching costs to
inaccurate real calculations, dealing with graphically operate conventional labs requiring equipments,
or virtually represented equipments, and lacking of space, manpower, safety etc., time limitation

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complicates course organization around an 2 AUGMENTED REALITY: DEFINITION,
experiment, and last, but not least, using shared COMPARISON AND APPLICATIONS
equipments leads to the so-called “Driver-passenger”
syndrome. By contrast, there are several advantages Definitively, augmented reality is the
of the internet remote experimentation such as combination of the interactive real world with an
solving most of above problems, accessing the interactive computer-generated world in such a way
remote experimentation through a standard web that they appear as one environment, such that the
browser anytime and anywhere, and manual user can’t distinguish between the real world and the
procedures etc. are also available and accessible at virtual augmentation [1], [2]. While AR augments
the same time. the user's view of the real world by composing
virtual objects with their real world counterparts,
Apart from these benefits, there are several necessitating that the user maintains a sense of
complicating factors in the architecture of remote presence in that world, Virtual Reality immerses a
environments such as time-, transmission- and user inside a virtual world that completely replaces
operation delays as well as incomplete feedback. the real world outside [1], [2]. It breaks the physical
Additionally, there are many devices originally limitations of space and allows users to act as though
designed for direct control, and thus do not have they were somewhere else [9]. It is to note that
adequate sensors or status information so that its mixtures of the two approaches are possible,
integration in remote experiment requires an depending on the application field to be manipulated.
additional efforts and costs. Fig 1 classifies AR on the reality virtually (RV)
Unfortunately, most of remote laboratories continuum dimension.
represent its instruments and equipments graphically, In recent years, AR has been successfully
leading to decrease the reality environment of remote applied in various fields. One of the applications of
labs [3], [4]. This research tries to compensate this AR is to provide visualization of hidden
lack of information visualization by augmented objects [1], [2], [8], [10]. In the following, we are
reality (AR). Rather than showing either the actual going to mention some examples, where AR has
world or a virtual world, augmented reality shows been successfully applied.
the real world with an overlay of additional
information so that the user can’t distinguish
between the real world and the virtual
augmentation [1], [2]. Nowadays, augmented reality
technology offers new applications in the human life
in many forms. It may range from medical and
military systems [5] to applications for
entertainments [6], manufacturing, maintenance, and Figure 1: Reality Virtually (RV) Continuum [6]
repair [7]. Analyzing and understanding how AR has
been implemented and applied, can, therefore, be of • Process control [11]: Video information is used
great significance regarding contributing of newer as sensor data to control process variables that
ideas to applying AR in internet laboratories. are difficult to measure. Operators use real-life
This paper shows the techniques and methods process pictures along with an overlay of signal
necessary to apply AR to internet laboratories for values visualized by virtual objects to control
achieving web-based remote experimentation based the technical process. The interfering between
on augmented reality or augmented reality internet video pictures and signal values is what makes
laboratories. That is, students can carry out an the system AR.
engineering experiment represented by real and • Medical systems [12]: AR systems create 3D
virtual elements, components and equipments, volume visualizations from CT (computerized
through overlaying real kits with virtual (graphical) tomography) or MRI (magnetic resonance
objects. The combined objects consisting of both imager) data for surgery. AR systems can view a
computer graphics of electronic elements and real volumetric rendered image of the fetus overlaid
electronic elements are familiar to students. An ARI- on the abdomen of the pregnant woman or
Lab is a system composed of hardware and software present an overlay of an acoustic neuroma after
components that enable students to perform their resection, showing how it had entered the
experiments via conventional web browser so that internal auditory meatus.
students can independently learn from time and place. • Military systems [5]: AR systems display
information to the pilot on the windshield of the
cockpit or the visor of their flight helmet.
Solders receive information about their
environment (e.g. locations of friends and foes)

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and information that helps them to coordinate equipments overlaid on real-time video of the
their locations. experimental kit is what makes our distance learning
• Entertainment [6]: AR can be applied to enhance environment augmented-realistic, aiming at
games that people play. The image that the providing engineering students a quasi real
players see is not only of the game area and their environment lab.
real opponents but virtual players are also The application server (Fig. 2) is responsible for
playing along with them. the application processing and data management,
• Manufacturing, Maintenance and Repair [7]: For where as a client runs the representation software,
manufacturing, maintenance and repair, AR the web-based AR user-interface. The best
systems insert additional information into the architectural model for describing the order of these
field of view such as outputting labels displayed distributed subsystems is the thin-client model [13].
at parts of a system and along with operating By contrast, in the fat-client model, the server
instructions while repairing a system by a undertakes only the data management and the client
mechanic. software implements the application logic and the
interaction with the users. The events for controlling
3 DISTRIBUTED SYSTEM ARCHITECTURE the system could be either interactive commands
entered by the students or control signals given by
Distance laboratories enable remotely located the experimental kit on its interface. That is, our
students to complete lab experiments unconstrained system is categorized as an event-processing system.
by time or geographical considerations. They have The architecture proposes that our distributed
the opportunity to practice their experimental application should be made of these components (Fig.
laboratory by obtaining live data in real time similar 2):
to face-to-face classroom lab. In addition to the
ability that an ARI lab offers students the possibility 3.1 Web server
to experiment real-time labs remotely from any place The web server is the communication
and at any time [10], it presents the experimental kit middleware over the internet between the clients (the
through real videos combined with an overlay of students) and the remote experiment, whose
virtual objects. However, in our approach, setting up visualization on the client side bases on the
computer graphics of electronic elements and augmented reality technology. A web browser serves
as mediator between the implementing student and

Figure 2: System architecture of the augmented reality environment for web-based remote experimentation

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the lab server, representing the central unit of the e- describes how the web-based AR user-interface
learning environment and functioning along with the allows students to control the experiment kit and
web server as a coordinator between the various instruments remotely through operating the virtual
components. elements presented on the live-video frame, causing
real responses of the remote physical experiment to
3.2 Lab Server and remote experiment be transferred back to client; thus, students feel as
At the server end, laboratory instrumentations being in the real class room lab.
and the experimenting kit are connected to the server Another functionality of the lab server is to
designated here as lab server. The lab server mange and to schedule students' accesses into the
communicates with the web server to exchange data system. On the lab server, every registered student
with the remote distributed clients via the internet. has an account, in which his/her login name and
As previously discussed, internet remote password, results and marks of the experiment
experimentation are aimed at using of real quizzes and tests, schedule data of accessible time
instruments and equipments in laboratories instead of are stored. When a student tries to access to the
simulations. Fortunately, most of the current experiment, the management and the schedule
instrumentations such as oscilloscopes and component examines whether he/she is allowed to do
multimeters are provided with control through PCI this according to a schedule time-table. Moreover,
GPIB (General Purpose Interface Bus) card and this component manages the registration procedures
GPIB cable [14], allowing PCs to communicate with of the students for enabling them to execute the
over 2000 instruments made by over 200 experiment. The entered data will be temporarily
manufacturers. This technological progress is what stored and after its verification by the experiment
makes internet remote experimentation possible administrator, it will be stored in the database
because of the facts that these instruments make permanently. The system informs the students about
measured values available for other systems sharing the failure or the success of their registration
the same GPIB. The main purpose of the general attempts by email confirmations. Once the login
purpose-interface bus (GPIB) is to send information name and password entered by a student are correct,
between two or more devices. An internet remote the lab server establishes a connection between the
experiment can be any one of engineering or science user-client and the remote experiment. Students and
labs covering topic related to electric circuits or instructors have different web-based user interfaces
electronics consisting of resistors, capacitors, tailored to their special needs.
inductors, electromechanical modules and so on. One
drawback the expansion of conventional experiments 3.3 User Client: a web-based AR user-interface
is time and cost intensive is because remote One important goal of this research project is to
experiment designers have to reform and expand access the web-based AR lab through the internet via
conventional experiments for allowing them to be a conventional web browser such as Microsoft
easily integrated in contemporary remote e- Internet Explorer and Netscape, providing a suitable
laboratories. mean for data exchange between the user-interface
Before sending any data, GPIB devices must be and the lab server. When a student activates the URL
configured to send the data in the proper order and address of the web-based AR lab, the web browser
according to the proper protocol. The electrical loads the start web-page of the experiment lab, which
specifications as well as the cables, connectors, encompasses an authentication page for entering the
control protocol, and messages required to allow system through a correct user name and password.
information transfer between devices are defined by When designing the web-based AR interface,
the IEEE-488 standard [15]. For instance, by various human-computer interaction rules for user-
chaining IEEE-488 cables from one device to the interface design have to be taken into account. These
next, it is possible to connect up to 14 devices are consistency of data display (labeling and graphic
together. IEEE-488 supports data transfer at up to 1 conventions), efficient information assimilation by
Mbytes/sec. In addition to simple data transfers, the the user, minimal memory load on user,
IEEE-488 standard defines a number of specialized compatibility of data display with data entry,
commands for interface programming in the form of flexibility for user control of data display,
subroutines available as programming libraries for presentation of information graphically where
different programming languages such as C, Pascal, appropriate, standardized abbreviations, presentation
C# etc. of digital values only where knowledge of numerical
Augmented reality interfaces for web-based value is necessary and useful [16].
remote experimentation demand real-time videos In the section "User-Interface and Experimental
combined with virtual user-interface objects. Kit Development" it will be shown, how students
Therefore, a high quality web-cam is necessary to interactively implement the electronic circuit via the
send real-time video of the experiment to give AR lab interface managed by a conventional web
realistic feedback for the students. Next section browser. The interaction between the students and

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the user-interface takes place visually and through an 5 USER-INTERFACE AND EXPERIMENTAL
interaction device such as keyboard and mouse. KIT DEVELOPMENT
As previously discussed, on the augmented
3.4 E-Instructor reality web-based user-interface, video-captured
Students might connect sensitive circuit images are used along with graphical objects, so that
elements such as ICs with power supply elements users can not differ between the real world and the
falsely, causing these components to get damaged. virtual augmentation [1], [2]. Since we deal with
As such, there is a need to provide the system with a remote e-laboratories for teaching the practical side
further software component, which protects the of engineering or science studies to strengthen the
system from damage in that it prevents dangerous students' skills required after graduation, the
circuit configurations like short circuits or unwanted techniques and the methods for developing and for
high power connections. Since this software designing augmented reality web-based user-
component undertakes some activities of a human interfaces discussed here can be used to present any
instructor, it could be designated as e-instructor. In one of engineering or science labs covering topic
the future, the e-instructor can be expanded to a related to electric circuits, electronics, mechanics etc.,
simplified rule-based system, embracing conditional in the form of mixed virtual and real (video-
rules in the form "if-then" about the correct captured) laboratories' elements. These can not only
experiment configuration. Johannsen [17] expanded be simple elements such as resistors, capacitors,
the rule-based system architecture presented by inductors, electromechanical modules, but also more
Raulefs [18] with additional components that are complicated units such as oscilloscopes, DDMs,
what makes a rule-based system to be embeddable in function generators as well. Fig. 3 illustrates a
a real-time system. The e-instructor evaluates the prototype of the augmented reality web-based user-
rules cyclically to react in according to students' interface, presenting an experiment about the series
implementations on the experimental kit. resonant circuit presented in Fig. 4. Additionally, the
circuit shows how several instrumentations are
4 SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS AND DESIGN implemented to measure the desired voltage and
current signals.
Sommerville [13] notes that, in most cases, the One reason the circuit example selected is very
requirements and design issues of research projects simple is that our concern is to mediate the features
are uncertain; therefore, while developing and and functionalities of the user-interface and its
implementing the system, we have followed the experimental kit:
prototyping approach. The system software and
hardware crystallize incrementally within an iterative • The circuit-board image is captured by a video
process, in which each increment includes new camera and processed by a video server in real
system functionality. In the iterative process, the time. On the circuit board, some of the RCL
stages: specification, design, development, and circuit elements (resistor R and capacitor C) are
testing are not chained, but rather interleaved and already installed.
concurrent. • The other circuit element (inductor L), which
From Fig. 2, the augmented reality environment does not exist on the circuit board, can be
for web-based remote experimentation is not only graphically selected by means of a graphical
composed of pure technical software and hardware component bar and then can be placed on the
components, but it encompasses ergonomic circuit board. In the bar, more than one resistor,
aspects [19] for allowing effective human-computer capacitor, inductor, etc., are possible to be
interaction [16]. The user-interface plays a central selected by the experimenting student,
role for obtaining a harmonic interaction with the depending on his decisions or calculations
whole lab, necessitating to create it with an required in the experiment. Visually, the
interactive development system like Microsoft students must be able to distinguish between the
Visual Web Developer 2005 Express Edition along real and virtual experimental elements. The
with these tools: Microsoft Visual C# 2005 Express computer graphics or virtual objects are
Edition [20], Microsoft SQL Server 2005, Web overlapped on the circuit-board image and are
Server: IIS (Internet Information Service), as well as displayed to the user.
Web Development. All these tools are integrated in a • The instrumentations such as oscilloscopes and
convenient developmental .Net environment with multimeters visualized on the augmented reality
powerful user-interface tools and rich libraries for user-interface can be both real and virtual
creating user-interface components to enable data to (graphical). Real-time video-captured images
be displayed in many forms. are used to visualize the remote real
instrumentations, whereas the virtual
equipments are shown by computer graphics. In
case of remote real instrumentations, the

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Figure 3: Prototype of the augmented reality web-based user-interface
measured values are visually mediated to the • Layered mask: On the graphical user-interface,
students through translated video-captured an additional layer consisting of the virtual
images. By contrast, the virtual instrumentations highlighted circles positioned exactly on the
on the user-interface receive their values from
the lab server measured by the equivalent
instrumentations made their measured values
available for other systems sharing the same
GPIB.
• For wiring the electronic elements together and
connecting the circuit board with the
instrumentations, a wiring and connecting tool
realized as a pop-up menu can be used. The pop-
up menu offers various types of wires and
cables. The color and width properties are
changeable.

The connection locations on the circuit board as


well as the inputs and outputs of the instrumentations
are marked with highlighted circles. There are two
approaches to recognize these locations: Figure 4: A series resonant circuit.
• HSL filter: In this image processing approach, connection points will be placed. The layered
an image processing filter, the HSL filter [21] is mask is transparent unless the highlighted color-
used. A unique color such as pink marks these edged circles.
locations physically. The HSL filter removes all
pixels in the image except the pink-marked The latter technique is superior to the first one
color-filled circles, whose x y positions can be because, on the one hand, the HSL filter is noise
easily determined by the software. sensitive, and, on the other hand, every connection

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location in the experimental kit must be physically processing and data management is carried out on
marked with a color-filled circle. These difficulties our application server and the representation
will not occur when using the second approach since software interacts with the users, enabling them to
the mask layer is a pure software-technical perform on real (physical) experiments remotely
implementation. One drawback of the layered mask whenever they want and anywhere they are. The
approach is the circuit board and the user-interface represents the remote experimental kit
instrumentations visualized as video-captured images using a mixture of virtual and real (video-captured)
have to be fixed and are not allowed to be shifted objects and the students can connect these objects by
because this impairs the adjusted positions of the means of various virtual wire and cables interactively
virtual edged circles on the connection points. (see Fig. 3). For example in Fig. 3, the experimenting
student is placing a virtual inductor L on the circuit
If the mouse cursor moves on such circles, the board, where two circuit elements, the capacitor C
software recognizes the corresponding connection and the resistor R, are already configured. A
through its x y positions. If the wiring and graphical component bar will graphically offer the
connecting mode is selected and the student moves virtual components.
the cursor while pressing the left button of the mouse, Virtual components on the user-interface can be
a connection between the desired locations is placed on the circuit board to connect them with
graphically created. After proving the correctness of other elements to achieve a certain circuit
the created connection by the e-instructor, the server configuration. Once such an element is placed on the
connects the equivalent switches in the remote circuit board, the connectors of the corresponding
experimental kit (see Fig. 5). physical element in the kit configuration will be
As mentioned, the system architecture of the connected. For instance, after placing the graphically
web-based augmented reality laboratory follows the represented inductor L on the experimenting field of
thin-client model because all of the application the user-interface, the switches S41 and S42 will be

Figure 5: The circuit configuration of the experimental kit located on the application side

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closed, making this element connectable to other • Sub-session 2: web-based virtual reality
circuit elements through the grid. interface
It is noted that the software program can control • Sub-session 3: actual reality experiment (face-to
the IEEE-488 instrumentations sharing the same face)
GPIB. The input of the oscilloscope is connected
with the resistor R to show the signal curve of the The different realities represent the independent
voltage. The elements R, C and L are connected with variables, whereas the evaluation criteria such as
each other in such away to achieve the series transparency, navigation etc., serve as dependent
resonant circuit. variables. It is of enormous importance to find out
Given these facts illuminated, the experimental the features shared between the different
kit must be in a position to receive these commands environments to use as evaluation criteria. Some
and to response accordingly. That is, if the student aspects to measure are to what extent the following
intends to connect two objects or to place a virtual characteristics are realized: abstract versus concrete,
object on the user-interface, in the experimental kit, user-centered versus techniques-oriented, transparent
the equivalent physical objects must be activated versus unintelligible, incomplete versus complete
through connecting them or making them available feedback etc.
for further connecting. Fig. 5 shows the circuit of the The Student's test (t-test) or one-way ANOVA
experimental kit represented to the students by the are suitable means for comparing mean values of two
web-based augmented reality user-interface sets of numbers to obtain an overview of the
illustrated in Fig. 3. The lab server translates the statistical significance of means' differences. While
virtual connections implemented on the user- carrying out a usability testing experiment, the
interface to real connections through closing the usability engineer clarifies a subject all operations
equivalent switches in the kit. From Fig. 5, a related to the experiment and the interfaces. The
programmable grid, consisting of horizontal and usability engineer can handle the raw data of the
vertical lines, can connect all components of the experiments statistically using the Student's test (t-
experimental kit with each other. Each crossing test) [24] and then analyze the outcome by SPSS [25].
vertical and horizontal lines can be connected The statistical result should be analyzed and
together via controllable switch. For example, to reviewed by the usability engineers and the system
connect resistor R with the capacitor C (connectors designers, so that the final results helped in revising
c1 and c3, the highlighted two switches (Fig. 5) must and optimizing the design of the interactive software
be closed. system on the one hand; and the system designers
could have defined new or corrected existing design
6 USABILITY TESTING guidelines for future systems on the other hand.

After implementing the web-based ARI lab, an 7 CONCLUSION


extensive evaluation to expose the strengths and
weaknesses of augmented reality user-interfaces for It has been shown how augmented reality can be
web-based remote experimentation will be carried applied to internet laboratories through combing the
out. In this research, the methods and techniques for interactive real world with an overlay of virtually
evaluating of e-learning software for school students represented information such so that they appear as
in primary stages can be adopted [22]. For one environment. Video pictures of real kits will be
comparing our system adapting the augmented overlaid with virtual (graphical) objects of electronic
reality with other systems implemented within the elements and instrumentations. Through
actual or virtual reality, the students must interact conventional web browsers, students can perform
with these systems. A session represents one of the their experimental laboratories and obtain the live
three different environments: (actual, virtual and data in real time, resembling face-to-face classroom
augmented), in which the same scenarios will be laboratories. For developing the software for the
offered to the students to cope with [23]. In order to web-based remote experimentation using augmented
avoid possible learning effects caused by holding the reality, contemporary development environments
same sequence of the scenarios, every student gets a such as .NET are used; thus, the software can be
different order of the scenarios. This phenomenon easily adapted to other platforms. Placing of
appears also while holding the same order of the graphical objects such as electronic elements and
environments for all subjects. As such, the usability modules on the experimenting field of the user-
engineer must permutate their order. interface causes connectors of the corresponding
Every subject (student) carries out the physical elements to become closed.
experiment in three different sub sessions: After completing building and implementing the
whole system, we expect various results to be
• Sub-session 1: web-based augmented reality achieved such as: putting up students in real
interface environment laboratories, preserving equipments

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