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Category Archives: Presence in the News

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

Virtual support groups help grieving spouses with depression

[As this story from UA News notes, we’ll want future comparisons including with in-person sessions, but these results highlight the value of presence in a deeply emotional context. This sentence stands out: “In follow-up assessments, participants in the virtual reality group said they felt as if they were in a real room during the sessions, with real people who were going through similar experiences.” The original story includes three more images. –Matthew]

Virtual Support Groups Help Grieving Spouses With Depression

For older adults who can’t travel to attend a traditional grief support group, a virtual version may be the next best thing.

Alexis Blue, University Communications
May 10, 2017

As the U.S. population ages, it’s estimated that half of women older than 65 are widows, while one-sixth of men of the same age have lost their spouses.

Support groups have proved to be a helpful resource for those dealing with grief, but for older individuals, obstacles such as geographic location and physical immobility can sometimes make it difficult to attend support groups in person.

An effective option for older adults, according to new University of Arizona research, might be an online virtual reality support group that allows widows and widowers to interact in real time with mental health professionals and other bereaved people, via a computer-generated avatar. The findings will be published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

Lindsey Knowles, a graduate student in clinical psychology at the UA, set out with her colleagues to test the effectiveness and acceptability of two web-based support resources for older adults who have lost a spouse.

In a study of 30 widows and widowers older than 50, some were assigned to be part of a virtual reality support group twice a week, while others instead were instructed to do once-weekly readings from a grief education website. The same topics — including physical health, mental well-being, sleep, dating and parenting, among others — were addressed in both the interactive virtual group and the static online readings.

In follow-up assessments at the end of the eight-week study period and two months later, researchers found that participants in both groups showed improvements in stress, loneliness and sleep quality, but only participants in the virtual reality group showed self-reported improvement in symptoms of depression.

Researchers think the social support provided by the group, along with its interactive nature, helped with depression. Read more on Virtual support groups help grieving spouses with depression…

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This pulsating ‘haptic skin’ is somewhat creepy, mostly awesome

[Omnipulse is another effort to not only add the sense of touch but increase the ‘haptic resolution’ of presence experiences; this story is from Road to VR, where it includes two short videos. –Matthew]

This Pulsating ‘Haptic Skin’ is Somewhat Creepy, Mostly Awesome

By Ben Lang
May 9, 2017

Omnipulse is a new haptic technology out of Cornell’s Organic Robotics Lab which uses an array of embedded pneumatic actuators to create haptic feedback which feels quite ‘organic’ compared to the more ‘mechanical’ of many other haptic technologies out there. With the ability to form the flexible Omnipulse skin into arbitrary shapes, the technology could be integrated into VR controllers, gloves, or potentially even haptic VR suits. Read more on This pulsating ‘haptic skin’ is somewhat creepy, mostly awesome…

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Seymourpowell VR allows collaborative car design “as if in the same room”

[The new real-time collaborative VR design system described in this story from Dezeen (which includes other images and a 1:27 minute video) allows people from anywhere to participate in VR or observe via AR; in coverage by Dexigner and elsewhere the collaboration is said to be “as if in the same room.” –Matthew]

[Image: Source: YouTube]

Seymourpowell demos VR software for collaboratively designing cars

Rima Sabina Aouf
May 8, 2017

London studio Seymourpowell‘s virtual-reality tool for automotive design allows people in various locations around the world to work together in real time.

Debuted at last week’s London Motor Show, the tool enables collaborators in different locations – whether international or elsewhere in the same building – to observe and participate in the design process as it happens.

Seymourpowell believes that by increasing efficiency and collaboration, the software “will help to shorten the time it takes to bring a new car from napkin sketch to showroom floor”.

“What we needed was something that was specifically a design tool for 3D drawing and modelling,” Seymourpowell’s lead automative designer Richard Seale says in video made by the company.

“Because we’re sketching at full-scale it means that we can evaluate the stance and proportion of the car live.”

Using the software, collaborators are able to “dial in” to a project using either a virtual-reality (VR) headset or a tablet. If using a tablet, they can view an augmented-reality version of the work-in-progress on their screen, with the sketch overlaid onto an image of the room in front of them.

The studio envisages the software, which was developed entirely in-house, being used across design, engineering and marketing teams. It is compatible with all major PC-based VR headsets, like the HTC Vive. Read more on Seymourpowell VR allows collaborative car design “as if in the same room”…

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AR and VR bring Beatie Wolfe’s new songs to life

[There are several interesting presence elements in this collaboration among a singer-songwriter, a graphic design lab and Nokia Bell Labs. The story is from New Scientist, where it includes two different images; for more information see the Raw Space Experience website and a press release at Rock Paper Scissors. –Matthew]

[Image: Source: Axios]

Augmented reality brings Beatie Wolfe’s new songs to life

By Chelsea Whyte
5 May 2017

Can augmented reality bring ceremony back to the act of listening to an album? Singer-songwriter Beatie Wolfe certainly hopes so.

At her latest album launch – from within an echoless room – the folk singer said she wanted to create an experience like a record-sleeve come to life with art and lyrics dancing around in virtual space to her songs.

She has worked with Design I/O, a graphic design firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to produce a visual layer to accompany her new album, Raw Space. She launched it from Nokia Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey. Her project is part of Experiments in Art and Technology, a 50-year-old programme bringing together engineers and technologists with artists to create new work.

Standing inside an anechoic chamber, built in the 1940s and used for sensory research that feeds telecommunication and performance hall designs, Wolfe performed two tracks from the new album.

In a forest

As Wolfe launched into Little Moth, a near-anagram of the song’s subject, singer Elliott Smith, a screen in an antechamber displayed a camera feed emanating from the anechoic chamber. Then light seemed to stream from Wolfe’s mouth and the guitar strings.

Small moths floated around her, coming together to form the words she was singing, and filling up the room – which then transformed into a forest scene with firefly-like baubles scattering across the floor.

The enchanting effect was achieved using KINECT motion-sensing devices, designed for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 games console, to track her movements, said Nick Hardeman of Design I/O, with graphics following her round the room in real time.

It was even more immersive once we donned virtual-reality headsets and were transported into the anechoic chamber where a record player began spinning out Wolfe’s husky, earnest voice and the moths took flight again. Bell Labs engineers were on hand to stop us bumping into others as we explored the virtual space. My minder had to yank on my elbow a few times as I wandered off to see what it looked like to be rained on by light in the corner of the room.

It was like walking around in a dream someone had made for me. Read more on AR and VR bring Beatie Wolfe’s new songs to life…

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I ‘died’ in virtual reality at the assisted suicide clinic Dignitas

[This story from Wired raises a host of important issues regarding the design and use of intense presence experiences. The original version includes an additional image and a 1:40 minute trailer for The Last Moments. –Matthew]

[Image: A still from The Last Moments. The Dignitas nurse holds out the cup containing the lethal drug. Avril Furness]

I ‘died’ in virtual reality at the assisted suicide clinic Dignitas

The Last Moments experience simulates death in the Swiss clinic

By Rowland Manthorpe
24 March 2017

Last week, I died in virtual reality. To be precise, I killed myself by consenting to an assisted suicide at the Swiss clinic Dignitas. As I lay on the hospital-style bed, a nurse carried in a small plastic glass: water laced with a lethal dose of pentobarbital. “Any last words?” she asked the blonde woman rubbing my leg at the end of the bed.

“Have a safe journey my love,” my virtual partner told me, through tears. “I’ll see you on the other side.”

The room was bare but homely. Behind me, sunlight drifted over green Swiss countryside. In front of me, I could see the glass, a pink straw bent with incongruous cheerfulness over its lip. The nurse held it up. “Are you sure you wish to drink this?” she asked. “You will sleep and you will die?”

Suddenly, on the screen, text flashed up: “Death, is it your right to choose?” It was an ethical question, but it felt like a real choice. I focused my gaze on “Yes.” In that moment, it seemed as if I was opting to die.

The nurse handed me the glass: “Take this and drink it all.” In my ears, I heard the sound of swallowing. My partner leaned forward. “I love you very very much,” she said. Then she began to cry.

Inside the headset, I felt a tear roll down my cheek.

Avril Furness came to recreate an assisted suicide film thanks to Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror. A former advertising creative, Furness was interested in becoming a filmmaker. She had written a Black Mirror-esque script about a dystopian future with a “one-in-one-out policy,” where, to have children, couples must convince one of their relatives to kill themselves. To research the subject, she went to an exhibition at Bristol Museum. Here, she found a full-scale model inspired by the room in Dignitas, where, since 1998, 310 Britons had travelled to end their lives.

Sitting on the “Ikea-looking couch”, listening to recorded testimonials from people who had died, Furness was spellbound. “Everything was just so bleak and ordinary,” she says. “I imagined how I’d feel if this was the last space I’d ever see.” Her fictional dystopia seemed thin and false in comparison to this real-life drama. And then a thought came to her: using virtual reality, she could show people what it was like by putting them in the shoes of a person undergoing an assisted suicide. Read more on I ‘died’ in virtual reality at the assisted suicide clinic Dignitas…

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How Sports Illustrated made the first live-action VR film on Everest

[The new VR film of a Mount Everest climb described in this story is impressive because of the technical feat involved and the fact that it offers everyone an experience that’s extremely rare in nonmediated reality. Beyond that I think the fact that the creators didn’t want high production values because “If it had [felt] polished and produced, it would have felt inauthentic” is particularly noteworthy – higher resolution and seamless camera work and editing may not always produce greater presence. The story is from Fast Company, where it includes an additional image. –Matthew]

How Sports Illustrated Made The First Live-Action VR Film On Everest

There are other projects that explore Everest in virtual reality, but none have documented the travails of ascending the world’s tallest mountain before.

By Daniel Terdiman

It’s famously “there,” so a whole lot of people want to climb Mt. Everest. But the vast majority of them will never get anywhere near the peak in the Himalayas. Now virtual reality can take anyone to the top of the world’s tallest mountain.

For some time, it’s been possible to “climb” a computer-generated Everest, thanks to “Everest VR,” which lets users of high-end VR systems like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive ascend to 29,035 feet in an entertaining, albeit facile, facsimile of the experience of summiting. Save for a scene or two in which you disappear in a fog of wind and snow, though, you don’t get much of a sense of how incredibly dangerous climbing Everest is.

Today, Sports Illustrated adds a new, more visceral entrant to the Everest VR canon. With Capturing Everest, which it is promoting as the first-ever live-action virtual reality film of an Everest summit attempt, viewers are invited along on the successful 2016 climb by Brent Bishop, Lisa Thompson, and Jeff Glasbrenner. Adding to the intrigue of the effort is the fact that Glasbrenner is an amputee, making his climb enough of a heroic venture that “SI” is putting him on the cover of its next issue.

For her part, Thompson is a cancer survivor who seems to be looking for a new life after a divorce and leaving behind a lucrative career. The climb itself was hampered by poor weather and afforded the team just a single shot at the summit. Along the way, viewers are treated to an inside look at the travails of trying to reach the top on a NASA-designed prosthetic leg, being far from friends and family in frigid, dangerous conditions, and crossing Everest’s famed (and sometimes fatal) ice falls. Read more on How Sports Illustrated made the first live-action VR film on Everest…

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Virtual reality reveals the human heart in three dimensions

[Here’s an extremely positive application of presence-evoking technology in medicine and science education. The story from The Stanford Daily describes the evolution of a tool that helps medical professionals and others understand the complexities and dynamics of the heart, and as indicated at the end, potentially other parts of the human body. Follow the pilot link for a 1:01 minute video. –Matthew]

Virtual reality reveals the human heart in three dimensions

May 2, 2017
Katie Gu

Stanford Virtual Heart, a new initiative at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, employs immersive virtual reality (VR) technology to tackle previously unaddressed questions in science education. Spearheaded by the hospital’s pediatric cardiologist David Axelrod, the pilot educates physician assistant students and pediatric cardiology fellows at the Stanford Medical School on congenital heart defects. Read more on Virtual reality reveals the human heart in three dimensions…

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Nomadic wants to bring VR you can feel to your local movie theater

[This story from TechCrunch describes a novel form of mixed reality that apparently evokes very effective presence illusions. –Matthew]

Nomadic wants to bring VR you can feel to your local movie theater

Posted Mar 23, 2017 by Lucas Matney

On the outskirts of the Bay Area, my Lyft driver jokingly asked me if I wanted to leave him my number in case I didn’t return from where I was headed. I would soon be descending a set of stairs into the basement of a newly built, largely empty office complex where I was going to try an “experimental virtual reality experience.” I’ve seen enough Black Mirror to be skeptical of what could be coming next.

After being introduced to the team at Nomadic VR, a small virtual reality startup founded by ex-Lucasfilm special effects wizards, I was outfitted with a headset and backpack gaming computer and left walking down the creepishly quiet hallway of a virtual noir-styled office building. What was magic about this office was that it was a VR space designed to be touched. As I was urged to take a seat at a desk, I sat down on a physical stool that was being tracked virtually and looked at a computer monitor I could actually touch with my hands.

In an industry filled with a surplus of acronyms and terminology, Nomadic VR falls through the cracks of catch-alls like “virtual reality” or “mixed reality.” Nomadic is a bit of an outlier, with consumers strapped into virtual reality gear while being placed and tracked by infrared cameras in physical spaces specifically designed for the experiences. Reach out for a door handle in the game and you grab a real one, walk toward a railing and you bump into it, walk into a new room and feel the temperature change as the Nomadic-designed experiences play with your mind and emotions.

It’s difficult to convey what a cool feeling it is to reach for a virtual object and get the perfect tactile feedback you expect. I ran through the Nomadic experience a couple of times and whenever I was prompted to lean over to open the filing cabinet and wrap my fingers around a virtual/real pistol, a big smile came across my face. I don’t believe this is because I’m a closeted crazed killer, though parents and conservative family action groups are certainly going to have a heyday discussing the impact of violent VR games. What is ultimately most rewarding about Nomadic’s VR system is the scale you are able to feel.

Existing virtual reality setups may give you access to full control of visual and auditory controls, but touch feedback still has a long way to go. While it may eventually come to VR gloves and bodysuits, for now, experiences where real-world objects are tracked in real spaces may offer the most real-life immersion. Read more on Nomadic wants to bring VR you can feel to your local movie theater…

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QUT’s ‘amusement academic’ helps create world-first VR waterslide

[Aside from being an interesting example of the pursuit of presence, this story from Queensland University of Technology News describes the potential of industry-academic partnerships. See Malcolm Burt’s YouTube channel for more information. –Matthew]

QUT’s ‘amusement academic’ helps create world-first VR waterslide

27 April 2017

The ever-popular theme park waterslide is about to enter a new dimension thanks in part to a QUT academic who has become a world-leading expert in fun.

Malcolm Burt, currently doing his PhD which seeks to define the elements required to deliver the ultimate virtual reality theme park ride, was asked by German waterslide company Wiegand-Maelzer to consult on its world-first virtual reality waterslide concept.

“Certain design elements are still being ironed out but the VR waterslide concept is in testing and there is nothing else like it in the world,” said Mr Burt who completed his Research Masters on why rollercoasters exist and created the documentary, Signature Attraction.

It was after watching this film that Wiegand-Maelzer’s Head Engineer Frank Heimes made contact with Mr Burt.

“Malcolm has an unusual combination of disciplines, including theme park research and media production, which make him ideal to contribute to this ride experience.” said Mr Heimes.

Mr Burt said of the slide: “It doesn’t have a name yet but we are working on ideas that tie in with the story the ride tells. It’s expected to open to the public at the Galaxy Water Park in Erding, Bavaria later this year.

“Essentially, it’s a waterslide, but when you ride, you’re wearing virtual reality goggles which totally intensifies many elements of the experience. Using research into VR immersion, and how to trick the brain into believing it is [in] danger, every twist, turn and launch is magnified, and it definitely makes for more of an adrenalin kick.

“By adding practical effects to the mix, the ride can also make you feel as though you are doing things like riding a lava flow and dodging volcanic eruptions. Volcanos are very hot right now in the world of theme park rides.”

Mr Burt’s work as consultant on the new waterslide aligns with his research into virtual reality which is gaining him international acclaim. Read more on QUT’s ‘amusement academic’ helps create world-first VR waterslide…

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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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