ISPR Presence News

Category Archives: Presence in the News

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

Netflix introduces interactive programming to engage viewers

[Netflix is experimenting with interactive programming; here’s a key quote from the director of product innovation at Netflix: “The children’s programming space was a natural place for us to start since kids are eager to ‘play’ with their favorite characters and already inclined to tap, touch and swipe at screens. They also talk to their screens, as though the characters can hear them. Now, that conversation can be two-way.” This story is from The New York Times, where it features another image and the Netflix “Kids Interactive Adventure” trailer; for more details see coverage in The Verge. –Matthew]

[Image: An image from “The Adventures of Puss in Boots.” Netflix released an episode of the show that includes interactive elements.]

Netflix Lets Viewers Pick the Plot

Leer en español

By John Koblin
June 20, 2017

Attention, kids: Netflix just put you in charge.

Netflix on Tuesday released a new episode on its streaming service of the animated show “The Adventures of Puss in Boots” with an interactive twist. About a half-dozen times during the episode, viewers — most likely children — will be prompted to choose which plot point the show should follow. Each decision will send the story in a different direction.

At one point, for example, viewers must decide whether Puss will confront nice bears or angry bears. On a touch screen, a press of the finger will do the work; on a television, a remote control will be required.

The first interactive episode, called “Puss in Book,” will last 18 to 39 minutes (depending on which path viewers go down), with viewers being asked to make a decision every two to four minutes.

“They are used to pressing play on the remote, setting it down and then just leaning back on the couch and letting Netflix roll,” Carla Engelbrecht Fisher, the director of product innovation at Netflix, said of viewers. “In this case, we actually need them to hold on to the remote. We don’t want it lost in the couch cushions. We need you to lean forward a little bit to engage with the choices.”

The introduction of such a feature — which Netflix will roll out for another children’s series next month, and a third next year — is, at this point, an experiment. But if it’s a hit with subscribers, and if Netflix executives are impressed with the results, the implications for the TV industry could be significant.

Although the streaming service has not made plans to feature this kind of interactive viewing in, say, a future season of “House of Cards,” the potential is there for it to eventually expand beyond children’s programming. Read more on Netflix introduces interactive programming to engage viewers…

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Actors use VR and app to make first VR-viewable cartoon created in real time

[This is a clever use of presence-evoking technology to create presence experiences; the story from CBC News – Manitoba includes three videos, including a CBC News report. For more information see the Flipside VR website and YouTube channel and the Bucko Comedy website. –Matthew]

[Image: Lauren Cochrane (left) plays Genefur while Aaron Merke (right) plays 2B in the virtual reality created cartoon Super Secret Science Island. (Credit: Ronnie Abelada).]

Virtual reality TV show created in Winnipeg on way to international convention

‘It’s just making an animation using your body, instantly,’ says actor

By Teghan Beaudette, CBC News
Posted: Jun 20, 2017

A first-of-its-kind cartoon is being made in Winnipeg using exclusively virtual reality technology.

Super Secret Science Island has two characters — failed experiments abandoned on an island by their creator — that are brought to life by BUCKO Comedy’s Aaron Merke and Lauren Cochrane.

The entire show is acted, shot and edited in real-time.

“Someone could be in Winnipeg, somebody else could be on the other side of the world. They can meet up in VR, create a show together and output that right away,” said Rachael Hosein, the chief creative at Campfire Union, the virtual reality development house that created the software for the show.

Merke and Cochrane go to different rooms, put on headsets, grab a set of hand controls and improvise an episode.

“It’s like putting a headset on and you’re Homer Simpson,” said Campfire Union’s John Luxford.

While they act, Luxford and Hosein switch camera angles and make sure everything in the virtual world runs smoothly.

“What we’re doing is making a virtual TV studio. It’s using off-the-shelf virtual reality hardware that we hook into an app that we created, and it’s kind of two parts. It allows people to watch content in VR using a VR headset, and it also allows content creators to use a VR setup to live-animate an animated show,” said Hosein.

Merke has a simpler way of describing it: “It’s just making an animation using your body, instantly.” Read more on Actors use VR and app to make first VR-viewable cartoon created in real time…

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Finnish stealth company Varjo creating VR headset with ‘human eye-resolution’

[This story from Wired suggests an important advancement in the ability of technology to evoke presence; the original version includes two different images, and a press release is available from Varjo. –Matthew]

[Image: Left, a virtual scene in a typical modern VR display; right, the same scene in Varjo’s high-resolution display. Source: Varjo via The Verge.]

Has This Stealth Company Solved Vision-Quality VR?

Eter Rubin
June 19, 2017

When Urho Konttori handed me the VR headset, I almost laughed. The founder and CEO of some Finnish company I’d never heard of had just told me he and his team of 19 people had managed to leapfrog virtual reality 20 years into the future—and he gives me an Oculus Rift? “It’s just the housing,” he said. “We added some things inside.” Fine, I thought. You’ve seen plenty of demos where the reality didn’t match the hype. Just do it, then you can go back to the office. So I put the headset on.

The demo itself was quick, maybe 10 minutes, and consisted of a series of static VR environments that I could examine at will. There was a simple room with a TV in the corner streaming video; a shapeless environment with some floating computer monitors; a plane cockpit. Because this was an Oculus Rift, the image quality was exactly what I expected it to be: fine. However, a small clear rectangle was there as well, sitting in the middle of my field of vision. If I looked at something through that small rectangle—the text on the virtual computer monitors, the tiny numbers in the plane’s instrument panels—it stopped looking like VR. It just looked like…well, like real life. And it’s the first step in Varjo’s plan to create ultra-high-end headsets—for corporate use at first, but someday soon, for civilians like you and me. Read more on Finnish stealth company Varjo creating VR headset with ‘human eye-resolution’…

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Waltzing robot teaches beginners how to dance like a pro

[Researchers at Tohoku University have created a robot that teaches people how to dance, which involves not only complex physical interactions but (arguably) medium-as-social-actor presence. The story is from New Scientist, with additional details from coverage by the Daily Mail. For more information see videos from Quartz and the researchers on YouTube, and of course the published paper. –Matthew]

Waltzing robot teaches beginners how to dance like a pro

By Edd Gent
24 May 2017

Got no one to dance with? Not to worry – you might soon be gliding through the moves, thanks to a robotic instructor designed to teach humans how to dance.

The robot’s designers had already created mechanical dance partners that follow a human’s lead, but the new machine gently guides novices through routines while adapting to their skill level.

This is trickier, says Diego Felipe Paez Granados at Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan, who led the research, because the robot must keep students on course without becoming too forceful.

The 1.8-metre-tall robot has wheels, but its upper body moves like that of a human dancer. A force sensor and two laser rangefinders track its student’s movements, which are compared against motion-capture data recorded from professional dancers to judge their performance.

As they progress, the robot gradually reduces the force used to lead them so they become less reliant on its guidance. Its face displays real-time feedback to help pinpoint mistakes, as well as showing them their overall progress to provide encouragement.

In tests with volunteers who had never waltzed before, five out of six improved, according to results to be presented at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Singapore later this month. With another group, the robot was not programmed to adapt to students’ progress and four out of six showed no improvement.

Wider applications Read more on Waltzing robot teaches beginners how to dance like a pro…

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Largest US employer Walmart adopts VR to train employees

[In addition to the scope of the adoption of VR and presence to train employees, note the comments about the non-technology obstacles to adoption identified near the end of this story from Discovery Magazine’s Lovesick Cyborg blog. The original story includes an additional image, and see Walmart’s blog post for more information, more images and 0:52 minute video. –Matthew]

[Image: Walmart plans for all of its training academies to incorporate virtual reality experiences by the end of 2017. Credit: STRIVR]

Largest US Employer Adopts Virtual Reality Training

By Jeremy Hsu
June 14, 2017

Virtual reality technology that has helped train NFL quarterbacks could also soon provide virtual training experiences for hundreds of thousands of Walmart associates. By the end of 2017, Walmart plans to roll out virtual reality training to the 140,000 associates who complete the retail giant’s training academy program each year. The move by the largest private employer of American workers may represent the biggest step yet for virtual reality training. Read more on Largest US employer Walmart adopts VR to train employees…

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The challenges and potential of social virtual reality

[This thoughtful piece by MT Technology Review writer Rachel Metz considers what it’ll take to make VR a successful platform for communication; the specific design choices will revolve around creating compelling spatial, social and self presence, and require a deep understanding of human nature (including its darker side). The original article includes an additional image. –Matthew]

[Image: Credit: David Brandon Geeting]

Virtual Reality’s Missing Element: Other People

VR can be the basis of a new communications industry if the technology becomes less insular and isolating.

by Rachel Metz
June 14, 2017

Unlike most people, I have a virtual-reality headset. I have exactly one friend who also has one. So most of the time I spend in VR, I’m all by myself. I can almost hear the digital tumbleweeds rolling by.

That’s a funny thing about this technology. Although it looks as if it must feel isolating to strap on a headset that shuts out the world around you, it could be great for socializing. When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spent $3 billion to buy the VR headset maker Oculus back in 2014, he pointed to the potential for social interactions as a key reason. And he’s right. Virtual reality can give you a sense of being with others that a FaceTime call on an iPhone will never match. Virtual reality could make it more emotionally fulfilling to connect with far-flung friends and family, or lend a feeling of physical presence to online classes that is impossible to attain otherwise.

But oddly enough, the social network hasn’t made social applications a focal point for the Oculus Rift headset, which launched in 2016. Primarily it’s still meant for playing games and watching short films. In April, Facebook released an app for Oculus Rift called Spaces to let you get together with your Facebook friends in VR. But it’s pretty humdrum. You can take a virtual selfie with your buddies, create a customized avatar based on your Facebook photos, and watch 360° videos or make 3-D doodles with a giant marker. You can interact only with the friends you already have on the social network, so unless your friends happen to have virtual-reality headsets too, you really can’t do much in Spaces but hang out all by yourself. And even if you do meet up with a friend in Spaces, it gets old quickly: you’re forced to stand around a virtual table the whole time. It seems that in order to avoid overwhelming early VR users, Facebook has gone too far in the direction of simplicity.

Recently I found a virtual social place that’s actually fun. It’s a free app for Rift and another high-end headset, HTC’s Vive, called Rec Room. Its virtual world is laid out like a cartoon version of a high school gym where you can play games like paintball and dodgeball, which you control with physical movements in real life. There’s also a big communal lobby called the locker room (for hanging out, not for changing in and out of virtual clothes—you can do that in a private Rec Room dorm room). In the locker room you can meet up with friends or strangers, shoot hoops, or play Ping-Pong.

Rec Room has plenty of flaws, but it nonetheless shows the power of today’s truly immersive virtual-reality technology to promote connections between people in ways that past attempts at virtual socializing—remember Second Life?—could never muster. The interactions with others are largely intuitive; to become friends with people in Rec Room, for instance, you shake their hands, which produces buzzing feedback in the handheld controller. I’ve had a blast spending time in Rec Room with my one other friend who uses VR, who in real life lives across the country. And it’s also the only virtual environment I’ve found that prompts you to connect with people you don’t know in ways that aren’t so awkward you want to rip off your headset.

Although market researcher IDC believes 10 million virtual-reality headsets shipped last year, that number is tiny compared with, say, the smartphone market, where 1.5 billion handsets were shipped in 2016. And I think the technology will struggle to snag more users—and thus to come down in price from at least $800 for a headset and VR-ready PC—unless it becomes more social. It’s not that virtual reality isn’t fun on your own. It’s delightful to get transported somewhere by pulling a headset over your eyes and headphones over your ears. But no matter how entrancing virtual reality is, it’s ultimately a lonely escape if nobody else is around to enjoy it with. If experiences like Rec Room catch on, VR may become the first true post-smartphone social platform. Read more on The challenges and potential of social virtual reality…

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ScreenX extends movie onto theater walls for a 270 degree panoramic experience

[The ScreenX technology described in this story from Los Angeles Magazine (which includes a different image) is another attempt to create a strong sense of presence for media consumers. See also the press release via PRWeb. –Matthew]

[Image: Source: Nerd Reactor]

This is The Only Theater in L.A. Where the Movie Expands Beyond the Screen

The new ScreenX technology has arrived at CGV Cinemas in Koreatown

June 12, 2017
Lisa Beebe

When I sat down at the CGV Cinemas in Koreatown (621 S. Western Ave.), I was sure I was in the wrong place. I was there to see a movie in the new ScreenX format, but the theater had a normal-sized screen. I couldn’t imagine how it would provide the promised 270-degree viewing area. (Yes, 270, as in way more than half of 360.) When the movie started, and nothing seemed special, l left to ask a cashier at the concession stand about the ScreenX technology. She assured me that I was in the right theater and said the picture would extend onto the walls, but it doesn’t do that all the time. So, if you want to go check out the latest theater tech to hit L.A., and you’re like: OK, where is my amazing transcendent futuristic movie experience? It’s there. It’s all around you, even when it’s not.

What Is ScreenX?

ScreenX is a new kind of viewing experience that wraps the picture around much of the audience, making the movie-going experience more immersive. The multi-projection system can be installed in existing theaters, because it works by extending the movie off of the main screen and onto the theater’s side walls. One of the first Hollywood movies to be converted to the new format, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, is showing at CGV Cinemas in Koreatown until June 15. Only three theaters in the United States are currently equipped with ScreenX technology—the AMC Town Square 18 in Las Vegas, and the CGV Cinemas in Buena Park and Los Angeles. To get a sense of how it works, watch the [30 second] ScreenX version of the Dead Men Tell No Tales trailer [in the original article or on YouTube].

Does ScreenX Live Up to Expectations? Read more on ScreenX extends movie onto theater walls for a 270 degree panoramic experience…

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Professor using mobile VR to improve access to pedestrian safety education

[This news release from the University of Alabama at Birmingham describes an impressive effort to take presence outside the lab to educate children in a vital skill. The original version of the story includes a second image and a 1:11 minute video. A related story can be found in a September 2015 post in ISPR Presence News. –Matthew]

[Image: Students in a classroom in Changsha, China, test the Google Cardboard virtual reality training system.]

UAB Professor Uses Latest Virtual Reality Technology to Improve Access to Pedestrian Safety Education

Newswise (UAB News – University of Alabama at Birmingham Newsroom)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Pedestrian injuries are a leading cause of death in children in the United States and around the world.

The Birmingham-Hoover metropolitan area is ranked No. 13 by Smart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition in a 2016 report of cities where people walking are more likely to be killed by vehicles, with 150 pedestrian deaths reported.

A University of Alabama at Birmingham psychology professor has focused his research on developing technologies to help children learn how to cross the street in an accessible, safe environment. His latest project, an immersive virtual reality mobile application that uses Google Cardboard, takes the accessibility to the next level. Read more on Professor using mobile VR to improve access to pedestrian safety education…

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Presence in the reproduction of high culture artifacts and experiences

[This story from The Guardian illustrates different ways presence technologies are being used in ‘high culture’ experiences; I think the use of 3D digital replicas of art works displayed in the reproduction of the historic Gothic home Strawberry Hill House is a compelling example of the blurring of authentic and artificial. The original story includes a second image. –Matthew]

[Image: 3D replicas of 18th century portraits will be hung in Strawberry Hill House, Twickenham, the home of Horace Walpole. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian]

Step inside Butterfly’s house in virtual reality opera night

Arts are embracing cutting-edge tech in Puccini production

Vanessa Thorpe, Arts and Media Correspondent
Saturday 10 June 2017

Cutting-edge visual technology is pushing its way into the hallowed halls of culture this summer. New 3D replicas of missing artworks have been installed at the home of the 18th-century writer Horace Walpole, while Welsh National Opera is going a step further, creating a virtual reality performance.

Authenticity was once key to the value of a work of art, as well [as] being a crucial notion in the world of entertainment. Yet soon it is likely that even experts will be unsure what they are looking at.

Many of the paintings and artefacts collected by the gothic author Walpole, son of the first prime minister Robert Walpole, are being gathered for display in Strawberry Hill House, the villa he designed in Twickenham, south-west London, ahead of the 300th anniversary of his birth in September.

Some pieces, however, are either missing or judged too fragile to transport and have been replaced by 3D replicas. Read more on Presence in the reproduction of high culture artifacts and experiences…

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VR and presence being used to combat high blood pressure, share what MS is like for patients

[The two stories below demonstrate the use of presence experiences in health care beyond the hospital or clinic. The first is from VR Fitness Insider, where the original includes more images; for more information see coverage in the Los Angeles Times. –Matthew]

VR Can Lower Blood Pressure (You Read That Right)

A VR Smart phone app educating patients about the best and worst foods to eat in the context of blood pressure? Yes!

By Patrick Ryan
June 2, 2017

When virtual reality first debuted, few people thought this technology had the potential to transform medical treatment and improve the human condition. Yet this is exactly how VR technology has evolved over the past couple of decades. Sure, VR is primarily used as a form of video game entertainment yet it is also boosting well-being. In fact, virtual reality is now being used to reduce blood pressure.

How Virtual Reality Lowers Blood Pressure

Most people go to church to improve their relationship with God, enjoy a sense of community and deepen their faith. The members of a south Los Angeles church are obtaining much more from their place of worship. Holman United Methodist Church congregants are a part of the Sodium Healthy Living Project. This endeavor involves the use of virtual reality videos accessed through smartphones to learn about nutrition with a particular focus on sodium content. This virtual reality-based health and nutrition education is as engaging as it gets.

Dr. Brennan Spiegel is responsible for the development of the virtual reality app. Members of Holman United Methodist Church and others are taking advantage of the app’s information by connecting a device similar to glasses directly onto their smartphones. Once the app is launched, it appears as though the user is smack dab in the middle of a kitchen. An array of different foods are resting on the kitchen counter, from lasagna to black beans, fruit smoothies, gumbo, salmon and so on. The VR program really displays each food’s unique sodium content.

When the user looks down, he or she is sent to a three-dimensional portrayal of the interior of the human body. It is in this space that the user can observe how a pumping heart loses its ability to function after several years of high blood pressure. This experience makes quite the powerful impression. Viewing the inside of the human body and watching a deteriorating heart attempting to pump blood to the limbs and other areas makes a monumental impact on those who are plagued by high blood pressure. Read more on VR and presence being used to combat high blood pressure, share what MS is like for patients…

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