ISPR Presence News

Category Archives: Presence in the News

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

Sotheby’s reimagines Surrealism through Virtual Reality

[In an apparent first, an auction house is using VR to provide an immersive experience with virtual versions of art works before a sale. This interview from Sotheby’s, where it includes a 3:16 minute demonstration video and more images, never mentions presence explicitly but the phenomenon is obviously central to the discussion (note that the “watch video here” links may require sign in). –Matthew]

[Image: A visitor to the exhibition tries out the virtual reality headset (photo: Ian Gavan)]

Reimagining Surrealism Through Virtual Reality

By Sotheby’s | 22 Feb 2017

Visitors to the Surrealist Art Evening sale exhibition at New Bond Street, which is on view until 1 March, will be able to ‘step inside’ some of the auction highlights thanks to an innovative Virtual Reality experience. Sotheby’s teamed up with FGreat Studio to create the immersive film which features works by the likes of Dalí and Magritte. Visitors can immerse themselves in the full experience using our Occulus Rift VR headsets at the gallery and the film can also be watched in full VR via YouTube 360° using a personal headset or Google Cardboard – Watch video here. We caught up with Conrado Galves, Executive Creative Director of FGreat Studio, to find out how the video was made and to hear how this is a first for an auction house. Read more on Sotheby’s reimagines Surrealism through Virtual Reality…

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Explore NASA’s TRAPPIST-1d exoplanet discovery in glorious 360-degree VR

[NASA’s release yesterday of a 360 degree VR panorama so that we can all experience what it would be like to be on a newly discovered planet demonstrates the recognition of the value of presence. The story below is from Wired UK, where it includes the 1:23 minute interactive video and two different images. More media recreations related to the discovery are available from NASA. –Matthew]

Explore Nasa’s TRAPPIST-1d exoplanet discovery in glorious 360-degree VR

The 360-degree Nasa VR panorama animates the surface of a newly detected planet, TRAPPIST-1d

By Victoria Woollaston
Thursday 23 February 2017

Last night, Nasa revealed it had spotted seven Earth-like exoplanets orbiting around the nearby TRAPPIST-1 star, 40 light years away.

The planets in the extrasolar system are all comparable to our planet in their size, mass, and densities, and at least three are in the so-called habitable zone meaning there could be water on their respective surfaces. And where there is water, there is the potential for alien life.

Individually called TRAPPIST-1b, c, d, e, f, g and h, the seven planets are named in order of their distance from the star, which has an eight per cent mass of our Sun, is just 12 per cent of its size and is 39 light years away from Earth. Google has even designed a Doodle to mark the occassion.

As part of the exoplanet discovery, the space agency released a series of gorgeous artist’s illustrations of the individual planets, as well as the system, a retro travel poster advertising TRAPPIST-1e and a 360-degree panorama which lets you virtually journey to the surface of TRAPPIST-1d – the third planet from the TRAPPIST-1 star.

The animation, which can be viewed on YouTube but is best experienced through a VR headset, is based on the latest scientific data about this planetary system. Standing on the surface, TRAPPIST-1d’s sister planets can be seen as bright points of light in the distance. Read more on Explore NASA’s TRAPPIST-1d exoplanet discovery in glorious 360-degree VR…

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Soar or swim by using VR underwater

[Here’s a first-person report on an interesting approach to increasing presence with VR; the story is from MIT Technology Review, where it includes an additional image. –Matthew]

Using Virtual Reality Underwater Is Weird (but Fun)

Sure, you can soar or swim in VR. Just put on a headset and jump in a pool.

by Rachel Metz
February 20, 2017

No matter how well virtual reality mimics the sights and sounds of flying, floating, or swimming, it’s impossible to feel that you’re really doing those things when your feet are planted firmly on solid ground. So Stephen Greenwood and Allan Evans are making a VR headset that you can wear underwater.

Greenwood, director of creative development at Discovery Digital Networks, and Evans, cofounder of headset maker Avegant, started working on it in December after talking about what it would be like to combine an isolation tank—where you float in a dark, silent room, alone—with virtual reality.

So far it’s just a side project (and a silly-sounding one at that), but Greenwood and Evans can envision it being developed for entertainment, scuba-diving simulations, or physical therapy. Virtual reality is still in its infancy as a consumer product, and beyond a smattering of games, films, and applications it’s still not clear how we’ll use it; they see this as one option for making VR feel much more captivating than it typically does.

“I think there’s a little more of a suspension of disbelief when you’re in a radically different environment,” Greenwood said. “When you don’t have a sense of the ground or gravity or what’s up or what’s down, it makes it that much more believable.” Read more on Soar or swim by using VR underwater…

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Google’s VR filmmaker on the future of the medium

[Jessica Billhart has some very interesting insights on VR and presence; this interview with her is from MIT Technology Review, where it includes several more images. –Matthew]

Imagining the Future of VR at Google

The search giant’s filmmaker on what the new medium does that film cannot.

by Jason Pontin
February 14, 2017

Jessica Brillhart is the principal filmmaker for virtual reality at Google, where she enjoys one of the most creative jobs in Silicon Valley. She makes VR experiences (including World Tour, the first film made with Google’s Jump system, a circular 16-camera rig designed to capture VR films) and conventional movies (or “flatties,” as she calls them), and she evaluates new VR technologies, such as Google’s own Cardboard, a cheap headset that works with smartphones. She spoke to MIT Technology Review’s editor in chief, Jason Pontin. Read more on Google’s VR filmmaker on the future of the medium…

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Virtual reality weather add-ons let you feel the sun and wind

[Here’s a short story about a new effort to add senses to presence experiences; it’s from New Scientist, where it includes a 0:41 second video; another video (“[CHI 2017] Ambiotherm: Enhancing Presence in VR by Simulating Real-World Environmental Conditions”) is available on YouTube. –Matthew]

Virtual reality weather add-ons let you feel the sun and wind

13 February 2017
By Timothy Revell

Virtual reality devices can already fool your eyes and ears. Soon your other senses will be fooled too, with the creation of a device that can bring the weather in your virtual world to life.

Nimesha Ranasinghe at the National University of Singapore is working towards the ultimate VR experience. Last year, his team showed how electrodes can be used to add sweet tastes into virtual reality. His new accessory, called Ambiotherm, adds atmosphere into the mix as well.

Ambiotherm has two components that combine with a normal VR headset. The first is a wind module that contains two fans that clip on to the bottom of a headset.

“This means that we can simulate the wind blowing in your face, for example, as you ski down a mountain,” says Ranasinghe.

The second is a temperature module that attaches to the back of the neck. “So when walking through a virtual desert, we can simulate the harsh sun beating down on you,” he says. Read more on Virtual reality weather add-ons let you feel the sun and wind…

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IMAX opens first VR Experience Center to ‘jump start’ consumer VR

[IMAX has begun to implement its plans to speed the mainstreaming of VR; the two articles below detail the company’s plans and report on the new IMAX VR Experience Center in Los Angeles. –Matthew]

[From the Los Angeles Times]

[Image: A guest plays a virtual reality game based on Lionsgate’s “John Wick” at the Imax VR Experience Centre in Los Angeles (Imax Corp.)]

Virtual reality industry ‘in need of a jump-start,’ Imax CEO says at new VR center

Ryan Faughnder
February 15, 2017

Richard Gelfond, chief executive of big-screen company Imax Corp., unveiled his new virtual reality center Tuesday with a bullish plan to turn the nascent VR industry into a mainstream art form just like movies and video games.

It won’t be easy. The VR business, Gelfond said, remains stuck in its early stages for now and badly needs a “jump-start.”

Though Hollywood and Silicon Valley have been touting virtual reality as the next big thing for several years, there are huge hurdles to its adoption in the entertainment industry. A major one is that the headsets and computing equipment the games require can cost thousands of dollars. Another problem: There aren’t enough compelling games to make VR worth the price.

“Whether it’s the lack of content or consumer access to headsets, the industry has been in a holding pattern, slow to go mainstream,” Gelfond told reporters at Imax’s VR Experience Centre in Los Angeles. “It’s a complex ecosystem that’s in need of a jump-start, and we’re here to start to provide the spark.”

Gelfond and Imax are hoping to help fix those problems by making big bets on VR. The company plans to open six pilot centers this year, including the Los Angeles location, which opened to the public last month. Read more on IMAX opens first VR Experience Center to ‘jump start’ consumer VR…

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Telepresence robots for chronically ill school children: Benefits and barriers

[The use of telepresence robots in businesses may have the potential to affect more people, but nobody is likely to benefit from their use more than the group discussed in this story from The Conversation (where it includes another image and a 9:35 minute video). The last two sections are particularly interesting and important – we need to help change the policies and perceptions that prevent school districts from more widely adapting telepresence robots, and as scholars provide objective evaluations of their impacts. –Matthew]

[Image: Too sick to attend school in person, but perfectly able to participate with a robot’s help. AP Photo/David Duprey]

How robots could help chronically ill kids attend school

February 15, 2017
Veronica Newhart, Ph.D. Candidate in Education, University of California, Irvine
Mark Warschauer, Professor of Education and Informatics, University of California, Irvine

Over the past century, American schools have integrated an ever-more-diverse group of students. Racial integration is most prominent, but it’s not just Native Americans, blacks and Latinos who have been brought into public education. Schools today serve children with conditions on the autism spectrum, Down syndrome and many other medical issues. But there is one group of children who still cannot attend school: those with serious chronic illnesses.

These homebound students, who may have cancer, heart disease, immune system disorders or other illnesses, appear to be the last excluded population in the U.S. education system. Until recently, there has not been a way to include them in school without great risk to their health. Technology has given us a new, powerful option to finally include these students – the telepresence robot.

Telepresence robots allow their users to see, hear, move around and interact in real time with people in faraway places. They offer a way to finally include chronically ill children in traditional school learning environments. The homebound child operates the robot from home, setting a rolling camera-speaker-screen in motion to engage in small group discussions, travel from classroom to classroom, join friends at recess or lunch break and even attend after-school and extracurricular activities, such as choir or Boy Scouts.

Our initial research shows that the robots help students overcome isolation and are accepted by most classmates. And crucially, they help students keep up with their peers in schoolwork. One teacher in our study said the robot helps a remote student academically because “he needs to know his fractions [for] when he comes back to school.” Read more on Telepresence robots for chronically ill school children: Benefits and barriers…

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How to get married in virtual reality

[As this story from Ozy notes, weddings in virtual reality aren’t new but they’re getting easier and more affordable; for more information, including a 0:51 minute video of Martin and Elisa using their robot avatars and exploring wedding settings in VR, see coverage in Wales Online. –Matthew]

[Image: Source: Wales Online]

How to Get Married In Virtual Reality

By Leslie Nguyen-Okwu
February 14, 2017

Martin Shervington and his fiancée, Elisa Evans, are one of those couples that make you want to gag. The kind that finish each other’s sentences, that secrete adorable when they hold hands, that decide between a beachside or a cliff-top setting for their gorgeous wedding in May. And as Shervington and Evans recite their perfect marriage vows, whether by a pebbled shore or atop a grassy bluff, their pink and blue avatars probably will gaze lovingly at each other with oversized robot eyes. Bow chicka wow wow.

You’ve likely heard of skydiving weddings, underwater weddings and themed weddings, but here’s one ceremony that’s completely out of this realm — virtual-reality weddings. Picture something out of Star Trek: holodecks in place of altars and clunky Oculus Rift headsets instead of dainty veils. That’s the context for Shervington and Evans’ unorthodox plans to tie the knot on a virtual-reality social network called AltspaceVR. And while other couples have been hitched with the help of futuristic technology — live streams and postscript 360-degree films that allow friends and family to attend remotely — Shervington and Evans plan to join a tiny but growing group of duos who are choosing to utter “I do” in sci-fi-like virtual-reality venues. “It will change people’s view of what’s possible,” says Shervington, as he snuggles next to his future wife in wintry Cardiff, Wales. He’s winnowed down the guest list to 150 attendees in the virtual-reality venue and 30 people in the real world who will don headsets with him and his wife-to-be.

It may not be long before Vegas starts offering all-inclusive virtual-reality elopement packages in the Amazon rainforest or atop the Swiss Alps. Much better than those dodgy chapels with gaudy Han and Leia costumes. The awesome power of virtual reality is poised to shake up the intimate spaces of dating, romance and sex, says Julie Spira, a cyber-dating expert in Los Angeles. According to “The Future of Dating,” a 2015 report from eHarmony and the Imperial College Business School in London, dating via “full-sensory” virtual reality is expected to become the norm by as early as 2040. With digital simulations that incorporate all five human senses, the dating pool will become global. Already, people have “wed” in online communities like Second Life and even “married” a video game character. But virtual reality, Spira says, “is the next outpost for the industry.” Read more on How to get married in virtual reality…

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Telepresence projects at Simon Fraser University include adding ‘touch’ to long-distance relationships

[This story from Simon Fraser University News highlights several interesting telepresence projects; the original story includes a 1:23 minute video. –Matthew]

[Image: SIAT graduate student Azadeh Foirghani demonstrates the Flex N Feel glove. Credit: Simon Fraser University via]

SFU technology puts ‘touch’ into long-distance relationships

February 10, 2017
By Marianne Meadahl

Long-distance couples can share a walk, watch movies together, and even give each other a massage, using new technologies being developed in Carman Neustaedter’s Simon Fraser University lab.

It’s all about feeling connected, says Neustaedter, an associate professor in SFU’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT). Student researchers in his Surrey campus-based Connections Lab are working on myriad solutions.

Among them, researchers have designed a pair of interconnected gloves called Flex-N-Feel. When fingers ‘flex’ in one glove, the actions are transmitted to a remote partner wearing the other. The glove’s tactile sensors allow the wearer to ‘feel’ the movements. Read more on Telepresence projects at Simon Fraser University include adding ‘touch’ to long-distance relationships…

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Virtual-reality tumour gives researchers a whole new way to study cancer

[This project is an example of the most positive uses of VR and presence; the story is from Alphr, where it includes other images and a 1:46 minute video. For more information follow the link at the end of the story, see coverage from the CBC (including another video) and read the press release via EurekaAlert! –Matthew]

[Image: Creating A Virtual Reality Tumour graphic. Source: University of Cambridge.]

Virtual-reality tumour gives researchers a whole new way to study cancer

VR project among first four winners of £100 million Cancer Research UK challenge

Thomas McMullan
10 Feb 2017

“I’d call a tumour an ecosystem,” says Professor Greg Hannon, of Cancer Research UK’s Cambridge Research Institute. It’s a description that emphasises the fact that cancer is not a monolithic growth to be squashed, but a complex community of cell types that interact with each other in ways we don’t yet fully understand.

At Cancer Research UK’s headquarters, Hannon explains a project that wants to use virtual reality to help researchers understand how tumour cells work alongside each other – a project that has just been awarded funding of up to £20 million, as part of Cancer Research’s £100 million Grand Challenge initiative.

“What we’re trying to do is look at that ecosystem as a whole,” explains Hannon. “Not only look at the host cell types, and not only thinking about the cancer cells, but thinking about the cancer cells as an evolving community.”

Two problems facing cancer researchers are how to capture the vast amounts of information that are held by a tumour’s ecosystem, and how to make sense of it. Hannon and an intercontinental team of researchers, doctors, patients, astronomers and game developers are setting out to address both these issues.

The aim is to make a 3D model of a patient’s tumour, as a spatial, intuitive means for researchers to study a wide variety of information about the sample – both in terms of individual cells, and how they interact with neighbours and host cells. To gather the data, specialised microscopes will be built from scratch, and the team will collect genetic information for each of the millions of cells that exist within a tumour.

The idea of a virtual-reality tumour may sound like an unnecessary gimmick in the fight against cancer, but Hannon explains that new ways of thinking about how to comprehend information are needed when you’re dealing with such large sets of data.

“The amount of information we want to create is immense,” he says. “This is a level of information, given current technologies, that’s difficult for humans to understand and analyse. So we’re having to invent new ways to interact with this data. Our first pass at that is to try and take those large datasets, from a computer screen, and to present them in virtual reality.” Read more on Virtual-reality tumour gives researchers a whole new way to study cancer…

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