ISPR Presence News

Category Archives: Presence in the News

News stories explicitly or implicitly related to presence from a wide variety of sources

MindMaze’s neural VR interface reads your mind to reflect your facial expression

[The VR add-on described in this story from Seeker should enhance presence – note the last short paragraph, in which the MindMaze creator and CEO says “We’re moving away from VR as a technological experience to being a real human experience…” The original story includes other images and a video. See coverage of Google’s related tech in an ISPR Presence News post from a few months ago. –Matthew]

MindMaze’s Neural VR Interface Reads Your Mind to Reflect Your Facial Expression

MASK, a new brain-computer product for desktop and mobile virtual reality headsets, can predict a smile or a wink milliseconds before you even move.

By Dave Roos
April 13, 2017

If Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is reading his crystal ball correctly, then the next big thing will be social virtual reality. In the very near future, you’ll put on a virtual reality headset and meet up with friends for virtual hangouts, live concerts, and interactive games.

But as anyone who survived the early Second Life scene can attest, virtual avatars can be pretty socially inept. After all, there’s only so much you can say with a permasmile frozen on your face.

This week, a neurotechnology company based in Switzerland called MindMaze unveiled a product that can synchronize a variety of human facial expressions on virtual avatars. Called MASK, the technology reads your brain signals to predict a smile or a wink milliseconds before you even move. The result is a faster-than-real-time reflection of your changing facial expressions that has the potential to add new emotional depth to social and gaming interactions in VR and bring the technology’s use further into the mainstream. Read more on MindMaze’s neural VR interface reads your mind to reflect your facial expression…

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Lyrebird is a voice mimic for the fake news era

[The evolution of presence-evoking technology will increasingly make it harder to distinguish the ‘real’ from the artificial, with both positive and negative consequences. This story is from TechCrunch, where it includes a video of the (real) Lyre bird in action. –Matthew]

[Image: Source: TechSpot]

Lyrebird is a voice mimic for the fake news era

Posted April 26, 2017 by Natasha Lomas

A Montreal-based AI startup called Lyrebird has taken the wraps off a voice imitation algorithm that the team says can not only mimic the speech of a real person but shift its emotional cadence — and do all this with just a tiny snippet of real world audio.

The public demo, released online yesterday, consists of a series audio samples of (fake) speech generated using their algorithm and one minute voice samples of the speakers. They’ve used voice samples from Presidents Trump, Obama and Hillary Clinton to demo the tech in action — and for maximum FAKE NEWS impact, obviously.

Here’s a sample of the fake Obama.

And here’s a fake Trump.

And here’s a totally fabricated discussion between fake Trump, fake Obama and fake Clinton. Truly we live in the strangest times…

Lyrebird says its intention is to offer an API in the future so that third parties can make use of the audio mimicry technology for their own ends. So if you think fake news online is bad now, wait until there’s a tech that lets anyone generate a ‘recording’ of a person apparently incriminating themselves, trivially easily. Read more on Lyrebird is a voice mimic for the fake news era…

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VR and presence at the gym

[Can presence provide the motivation and distraction for long-term physical fitness? This story from Bloomberg examines some of the issues (and includes two more images). –Matthew]

Virtual Reality Hits the Gym

  • Icaros lets exercisers feel like they’re flying or diving
  • Skeptics say gimmicks won’t trick brain into making body work

by Yuji Nakamura
April 26, 2017

Johannes Scholl is betting virtual reality can keep people excited about working out.

Scholl’s startup, Munich-based Icaros GmbH, has developed a VR exercise machine that delivers a core workout by making it seem like users are flying and deep-ocean diving. About 200 gyms and entertainment centers from London to Tokyo have installed the machines, which cost about $10,000 after including shipping and other costs.  A cheaper home version for about $2,000 is under development and could be unveiled around the start of next year.

“There’s no comparable thing you can do at a gym,” says Scholl, who co-founded Icaros in 2015 with fellow industrial designer Michael Schmidt.

The fitness industry has been trying for decades to make exercise less boring — from TVs embedded in treadmills to apps nudging users to stay on schedule — but technology has yet to find a cure for the monotony of working out. Scholl is part of a nascent community that believes the addictive pull of video games combined with the immersive power of VR will do the trick. Read more on VR and presence at the gym…

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Using VR to help prevent falls in the elderly and others

[Telepresence via VR is being used to better understand and prevent balance impairments that become more likely as we age; this story is from the UNC Healthcare and UNC Newsroom; the study is available from Nature Scientific Reports.  –Matthew]

[Image: Applied Biomechanics Laboratory at UNC (Courtesy of the UNC/NC State Department of Biomedical Engineering)]

Can virtual reality help us prevent falls in the elderly and others?

For the elderly and people with neurodegenerative conditions, balance is not taken for granted. UNC and NC State biomedical engineers are using a new virtual reality system that might one day be used to reveal balance impairments currently undetectable during conventional testing or normal walking.

April 20, 2017

Media Contact: Mark Derewicz, 919-974-1915,

CHAPEL HILL, NC – Every year, falls lead to hospitalization or death for hundreds of thousands of elderly Americans. Standard clinical techniques generally cannot diagnose balance impairments before they lead to falls. But researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University have found evidence that virtual reality (VR) could be a big help – not only for detecting balance impairments early, but perhaps also for reversing those impairments and preventing falls.

In a study published in Nature Scientific Reports, a research team led by Jason R. Franz, PhD, assistant professor in the Joint UNC/NC State department of biomedical engineering, used a novel VR system to create the visual illusion of a loss of balance as study participants walked on a treadmill. By perturbing their sense of balance in this way and recording their movements, Franz’s team was able to determine how the participants’ muscles responded. In principle, a similar setup could be used in clinical settings to diagnose balance impairments, or even to train people to improve their balance while walking. Read more on Using VR to help prevent falls in the elderly and others…

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How VR and presence are reinventing Holocaust remembrance

[This story from Haaretz discusses design decisions and the power and ethics of presence experiences across media in the most serious of contexts. The original version includes more images and a 0:51 minute video. –Matthew]

How Virtual Reality Is Reinventing Holocaust Remembrance

In ‘The Last Goodbye’ at the Tribeca Virtual Arcade this month, the viewer wears a virtual-reality headset as a survivor recounts his ordeal at Majdanek. It’s an experience more authentic than ‘Shoah,’ its producer says

Neta Alexander (New York) Apr 24, 2017

NEW YORK − When asked a question, Pinchas Gutter doesn’t simply provide an answer − the 85-year-old Holocaust survivor tells a story.

In an interview Saturday during a lunch in his honor at the Tribeca Film Festival, Gutter recalled how he barely survived five concentration camps and a death march from Germany to Czechoslovakia. In the early ‘50s, the Jewish orphan who lost his family at Majdanek decided to volunteer for the Israeli army. He later moved to Jerusalem and found himself working in construction. The project he was helping build was the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum.

While Yad Vashem − with its vast archive, outdoor sculptures and memorial sites such as the Children’s Memorial and Hall of Remembrance − set the standard for remembrance centers around the world, two new initiatives featuring Gutter can teach us something about the future of Holocaust education and preservation.

The first is “New Dimensions in Testimony,” which premiered last year at the international documentary festival in Sheffield, England. It featured a 3-D responsive hologram of Gutter − letting audiences ask questions and receive answers based on his prerecorded memories. The second initiative, which can be seen at the Tribeca Virtual Arcade until April 29, is “The Last Goodbye” − the first-ever immersive recreation of a concentration camp, shot at Majdanek last summer.

Gutter, who carefully leads the viewer of “The Last Goodbye” through Majdanek while recounting his tale of survival and loss, is a remarkable storyteller. In a moment of self-reflection he states with a smile, “I guess that’s why they chose me as their guinea pig.” “They” refers to the team behind this virtual-reality work, which was directed by Gabo Arora and Ari Palitz and produced by Stephen Smith in association with the University of Southern California and the USC Shoah Foundation.

While Gutter and 11 other survivors in “New Dimensions” were transformed into responsive holograms, his participation in “The Last Goodbye” takes memorialization and technology one step further. Upon entering a white exhibition space at Tribeca’s Spring Studios on Varick Street, you’re asked to take off your shoes and put on a VR headset covering your eyes and ears. You then meet Gutter in an unlikely place: a hotel bathroom in which the octogenarian shaves in front of a small mirror. You’re barefoot while Gutter is wearing a white bathrobe. Using a voice-over, Gutter confesses that he’s extremely anxious about going back to Majdanek for what he describes as “my very last visit to the camp.” Read more on How VR and presence are reinventing Holocaust remembrance…

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How Facebook is taking mind reading from sci-fi to reality

[There’s plenty of press coverage of events and announcements at this week’s F8 Facebook Developer Conference (see Wired on Facebook Spaces VR, The New York Times on AR, and The Guardian for 8 takeaways from the conference), but less attention has been given to the company’s work on brain-computer interfaces. This story is from The Verge, where it includes more images and a 0:15 minute video. –Matthew]

How Facebook is taking mind reading from sci-fi to reality

Regina Dugan: ‘This isn’t cocktail party talk.’

by Nick Statt
Apr 20, 2017

The rumblings started months ago. Through a series of peculiar job listings and key hires, it became clear Facebook was up to something unlike anything it had ever pursued. Building 8, as the company would name it, was to be a new division under famed technologist Regina Dugan, former director of the government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Dugan had transitioned to the tech industry in 2012, serving as the head of Google’s experimental ATAP group. Among other things, it was responsible for the promising but now defunct Ara modular smartphone project.

On Wednesday, Facebook took the wraps off Building 8 and had Dugan tell the world know what exactly her fast-growing team has been working on. At the day-2 keynote at the company’s F8 developer conference in San Jose, Dugan announced Facebook’s plans for two ambitious projects: one to develop a system for letting you type with just your thoughts, and another to let you “hear” using vibrations on your skin. This would be done through brain-computer interfaces — devices that can read neural activity and translate it into digital signals, and vice versa.

The objective: to help Facebook take the lead in the burgeoning field of augmented reality, which integrates our online and offline lives using a variety of still yet-to-be-built devices. “The goal of an [augmented reality] system is to have a much more blended physical and digital world,” Dugan told The Verge in an interview. “I break that if I have an input mechanism that is not also blended between my physical and digital world.” In Facebook’s view, the road to AR will be paved with the smartphone camera. But eventually, it leads to the brain — which is where Dugan and her team come in. Read more on How Facebook is taking mind reading from sci-fi to reality…

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Battle mutant spiders as you drop 41 stories in Drop of Doom VR ride

[You will never, ever find me on this intense presence-evoking ride. The story below is from, where it features a photo gallery and a 0:45 minute video; for more information see the Six Flags press release mentioned in the story as well as another one with information about other Six Flags VR rides. –Matthew]

Six Flags announces new ‘extreme’ option for world-record ride

By Rob Spahr | NJ Advance Media for
April 20, 2017

JACKSON – Thrill seekers will soon have the opportunity to test their nerves even more on the world’s tallest and fastest drop ride at Six Flags Great Adventure.

The theme park announced on Thursday morning that for a limited time, beginning on May 5, guests will have the opportunity to ride Zumanjaro wearing fully integrated virtual reality headsets.

While they are being buckled into the ride’s floorless seats, riders over the age of 13 will have the option to strap on Samsung Gear VR headsets to wear as they plunge 41 stories at speeds of up to 90 mph.

The new ride experience, called Drop of Doom VR, will transport guests into a 360-degree virtual world where they become pilots of a futuristic gunship under attack by mutant spiders. Read more on Battle mutant spiders as you drop 41 stories in Drop of Doom VR ride…

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VR and presence shaping the future of insurance

[This story from Insurance & Risk presents some intriguing scenarios for the use of presence (though they also raise security, privacy and other concerns). For more, see the Bain & Company website for the new report “Digitalization in Insurance: The Multibillion Dollar Opportunity.” –Matthew]

[Image: Source: Newmark Insurance]

Virtual Reality Shaping the Future of General Insurance

Virtual Reality (VR) could shape the future of general insurance says third party claims expert Peter Tomkins.

19 April ’17

“Traditionally, the biggest challenge insurers face is understanding risk. Modern technology has come a long way to address this need – insurers are now using car monitors to understand driving behaviour, and Fitbits to understand a client’s health. VR is another powerful tool that an insurer can use to fill in their understanding of a risk profile,” says Tomkins, General Manager, Specialty Markets at Gallagher Bassett.

“Imagine a scenario where a risk assessor is making a judgement over insuring a building. They can base their decision on a few poorly shot pictures, or expend time and resources to view it in person. A better option may be viewing a 360° video of the site, allowing them to identify hazards that a limited view might miss.”

Tomkins also states that for brokers, the benefits of VR are clear. “As a Third Party Claims Administrator, Gallagher Bassett recognises that virtual reality has the potential to reduce costs, offer coverage anywhere, and provide more accurate results. There’s no doubt over whether this technology will be an intrinsic part of insurance; the only question is how soon.” Read more on VR and presence shaping the future of insurance…

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‘Teleconcussion’ robot could help solve sports-concussion dilemma in rural America

[This report from the UT Southwestern Medical Center Newsroom is about a study of yet another valuable application of telepresence. –Matthew]

[Image: A remote-controlled robot equipped with tools to diagnose concussion sits on the sideline of a Northern Arizona football game. Research shows doctors can use these robots to assess potential head injuries with the same accuracy as on-site physicians.]

‘Doctor’ robot could help solve sports-concussion dilemma in rural America

DALLAS – April 3, 2017 – From bustling cities to tiny farming communities, the bright lights of the local stadium are common beacons to the Friday night ritual of high school football.

But across the sprawling stretches of rural America, these stadiums are commonly far from doctors who could quickly diagnose and treat head injuries that have brought so much scrutiny to the sport.

A first-of-its-kind study from the Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute and Mayo Clinic shows the technology exists to ease this dilemma: By using a remote-controlled robot, a neurologist sitting hundreds of miles from the field can evaluate athletes for concussion with the same accuracy as on-site physicians.

The study provides preliminary data to support a nascent movement to utilize teleconcussion equipment at all school sporting events where neurologists or other concussion experts aren’t immediately accessible. Read more on ‘Teleconcussion’ robot could help solve sports-concussion dilemma in rural America…

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AMD: VR requires creators to ‘rethink the Z’ on way to ‘full presence’

[Aside from the main point about rethinking the Z-axis in designing presence experiences in VR, this report from DeveloperTech contains the noteworthy point made by an AMD VP that the ultimate goal is making the virtual indistinguishable from real life; a contrasting view is presented in an excerpt from a Medium contributor that follows below. –Matthew]

[Image: Source:]

AMD: VR requires creators to ‘rethink the Z’

By Ryan Daws
13 April 2017

VR is coming of age, but it will suffer unless creators ‘rethink the Z’ and don’t let content of the past define content of the future.

That was the message of AMD Corporate Vice President Roy Taylor in the opening keynote of VR World Congress. “Our understanding of virtual reality is seen through the prism of our current understanding, and our understanding is going to develop,” observes Taylor. Pioneering studies into how time distorts while in VR, and how pain can be decreased using virtual reality, could have a major impact on how content is developed for a wide range of use cases. “We are at the beginning, and we’re going to see some wonderful changes start to happen.”

BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) produced a sizzle reel highlighting the best of VR across various categories; each displaying how far the industry has advanced and the incredible content we’re beginning to see with deeper levels of immersion and engagement than ever before.

“As great as that content is, one of the challenges we have is we need to ‘rethink the Z’,” says Taylor. “We’ve been looking for 120 years through a window and we’re starting to experiment [;] for the first time we’ve stepped through that window into the other side – but we’re looking at it through the prism of our current knowledge and experience.”

It’s observed that early movies appeared like plays because we understood theatre, and the first VR now appears like movies because we understand film. Likening it to the ‘X, Y, Z’ axis on a graph, we’re able to go forward in ‘Z depth’ Taylor says, “in ways we’re yet to fully understand.” Read more on AMD: VR requires creators to ‘rethink the Z’ on way to ‘full presence’…

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    Use the links below to find researchers listed alphabetically by the first letter of their last name.

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