Ada's Engines 
An interactive VR experience designed for immersive science learning 

Overview

Featuring a female scientist, the “Ada’s Engines” VR experience is one of the immersive and interactive programs in the ScienceVR series.  The experience sends a player in a time machine to 19th century London, visit the world’s first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace, and learn how computer pioneers invented the first computer. The second part of the experience empowers a player to learn basic concepts of coding in virtual reality.

Problem Statement 

There are many young students that are not interested in the beauty of science. The way of reading textbooks to learn about STEM is not fun for many students. The VR experience should provide a good environment for a player to do the experiment in a virtual lab, stimulate interest, and enhance memories. Learning science can be fun in VR and make students learn while playing in an interactive environment. 

Target Users/ Clients

Visitors of science museums 

Job Role 

Director - Jackie Lee
Producer - Sha Yao, Angel Chen, Jacqui Rossi
UX designer - Sha Yao
Graphic designer - Sha Yao

Developer - Jackie Lee, Mindy Chang
Technical director - Yen-ling Kuo
3D artists - Zhi Zheng, Fernando Chimino, Natasha Khurs, Abdel Ahman Walid Voice Artists - Toby Ricketts, Lisa Woodcock
Music - Niko Anderson Korolog

Main Challenge #1

While museums want a high-end VR experience to engage their visitors, most of the visitors have no experience using VR. There will be volunteers to help people put headsets on but the usage of the controller is limited. 

Main Challenge #2

The experience is designed to be completable within 4 minutes to avoid long lines in a museum but to include enough great content to impress the player.

 

The museums do not want a player to be able to walk long distances with the VR headset on to avoid falling or potential danger.

Main Challenge #3

Museums want VR programs that can be used to engage their visitors as much as possible. While they prefer to have educational science content, they hope the program itself is interactive, and give players enough freedom to explore the experience.

Research

We studied the life stories of Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace, and how Engines work. Where they could meet and what they might talk about in the 19th century influenced the VR environment, art style, and what we can teach players.

I suggested avoiding locomotion to avoid confusion. Also, I learned a lot by observing people play. We designed the experience with only the trigger button being functional since it’s much easier for most people to hold and grab it. It’s easier for volunteers to guide a player.

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If we use narratives and assistive text on a virtual board in VR, we can save on budget, but players lose focus easily. Players are able to focus more if they see characters talking to them. 

 

We use animations with enough gestures to guide players through the program and conduct the interaction we wanted them to work on.

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We wrotete a script along with a storyboard, and to film a reference video for animators to make our characters effective guides for a player. 

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We made a workable prototype of the Difference Engine but it’s too hard for a player to learn and operate it in a museum environment. We simplified the concept and guided a player to crank a machine instead. A chart of different numbers will be shown when a player crank the machine, which explains how the machine calculates the number as a "Thinking Machine." 

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User testing 1

 

To evaluate how the program can engage a player and make them memorize the content, I relied on usage metrics in conjunction with 9 usability tests.

 

This allowed me to gain a deeper understanding by combining both qualitative and quantitative information. One of the responses reflects that players wanted to do more interactions in their museum experience. 

The feedback that we received from the first playable version was that most of the people were satisfied with the art direction but wanted to have more interactions. This feedback helped me rethink what we could do to improve the experience.

 

This heavily influenced the design of the second part of the program. 

 

In order to add more interaction, and also explain why Ada is considered the first computer programmer of the world, we designed a VR piano based on Ada’s quote that “the machine one day can also compose music.”

Players will be able to learn the basic concept of coding and code their own tunes in the quick experience. 

Inputs can be programmed by applying functions.

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Feedback from users on the second part showed improvements in the overall experience.

Outcomes 

User testing 2

1. Ada’s Engines program is being exhibited in the National Science Center in Taipei, Taiwan from Nov. 2018 to Nov. 2019.   

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2. We showcased Ada’s Engines at the Clippers SoCal SciFest and had 300~400 K-12 students try our VR science labs. The feedback was extremely positive: the students LOVED our VR apps. We made good connections with ImmersED, USA Science & Engineering Festival, Discovery Education.

3. We also showcased the Science VR Series including Ada’s Engines at the Nueva School STEM fair and started to work with their parents and teachers. This will evolve with our educator distribution channel.

4. We started testing B2C social media campaigns. Our Pi-Day post had ~1k Facebook likes, 100 shares.