ISPR Presence News

Category Archives: Presence in the News

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

‘Holograms From Syria’ refuses to let you ignore the haunting images of war

[This story from Study Breaks is about the use of augmented reality to create presence illusions for a serious and extremely valuable purpose. The original story includes several more images. –Matthew]


Bennington College student Asad J. Malik, also known by his alias 1RIC, seeks to bring the gruesome reality of war to the forefront with his latest project “Holograms from Syria.”

By Marissa Cortes, Stony Brook University
November 1, 2017

Early in the morning on September 2, 2015, before the sun had risen and the pops of gunfire had begun for the day, three-year-old Alan Kurdi and his family boarded a tiny dinghy to flee Kobani, Syria, their hometown and a war-torn battleground in the Syrian Civil War; when their boat capsized hours later in the middle of the Mediterranean Ocean, the young boy, his mom and his brother all drowned. A Turkish journalist photographed Kurdi’s lifeless body lying facedown in the sand, and the image sparked an international outpouring of sympathy. In that instant, through that photo, the horror of the Syrian Refugee Crisis captured the attention of the world, the emotional weight of the dead child’s image proving a more effective catalyst for action than the hundreds of activists who had tried to convey the desperation of their situation for years. It’s easier to ignore something you can’t see.

Asad J. Malik, a twenty-one-year-old junior at Bennington College, a private, nonsectarian school in the southwest corner of Vermont, understands better than most how divorced Americans are from the tragedies that they read about every day. Malik, who, since Bennington doesn’t offer traditional majors, is on a specialized study track focusing on augmented and mixed reality, was born in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in a hospital not five minutes from where Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. special forces. In Pakistan, unlike in America, being “at war” viscerally affected his daily life. “I was raised in a country where the impacts of the post-9/11 War on Terror were felt in everyday life,” Malik told me over the phone. “The images of violence that frequented our television screens were from the same cities and towns that we populated.”

In America, through television, the internet and social media, the collective conscience has been so inundated with images of faraway tragedy that many people have become desensitized to it. For over a decade, the United States has been involved in a war that has hardly come within a thousand miles of American soil, which means that the impact of that conflict on daily life has been virtually nonexistent. Tragedies abroad occur and reoccur, each time spiking sympathy throughout the country for a few days, until the fervor passes and life returns to normal.

When Malik moved to Vermont to attend college, this disparity astounded him. “Since I’ve moved to the U.S., images of war have followed cat videos, Trump memes, mutilated dead bodies in Syria, beautifully designed mattress ads—one after the other on a scrolling newsfeed. The country is at war but something’s fundamentally different; there is no war, at least not here. No drones in the sky, no fear of public spaces, no reason to hide. The war might be real in some foreign land. But not here. Here, it’s merely rising defense stocks and a series of images on a four-inch screen.”

With his augmented reality project, “Holograms from Syria,” Malik aims to undermine the ignorance that Westerners use to shield themselves from having to acknowledge their complicity in foreign instability. The project debuted first as an installation in the Visual and Performing Arts Centre at Bennington College in Vermont. To experience the exhibition, viewers were invited to put on a Microsoft Hololens headset, which transformed the building into a structure littered with holographic images of war. In the foyer, young Alan Kurdi’s body rests on a bright red couch. In a stairwell, Aleppo elite forces, guns in hand and garbed in body armor, bound up the steps students use every day. The effect of such a union is both jarring and powerful. “Viewers agreed that they couldn’t see that space or that couch in the same way again, whether or not they were wearing the Hololens,” says Malik. “The project served the simple purpose of reminding the viewer that in our state of perpetual warfare, the couch that they sit on is socially, politically and economically connected to someone else’s dead body.” Read more on ‘Holograms From Syria’ refuses to let you ignore the haunting images of war…

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Huge new VR theme park, studio, and R&D center to open in Guizhou China

[The original version of this widely-cited story from the Daily Mail includes many more pictures of the new East Valley of Science and Fantasy; for more information see the project’s (English) website. –Matthew]

Spectacular pictures show China’s £1 billion virtual reality sci-fi theme park which lets tourists visit aliens, ride UFOs and fight dragons

  • Virtual reality attraction is developed by the stock market listed Oriental Times Media Corp’s animation unit
  • The massive park is situated in Guizhou province, China, and the first phase is set to complete in December
  • A main feature is an impressive 174ft tall transformer structure constructed out of 750 tonnes of steel

By Claire Heffron
27 October 2017

Astonishing images of a ground-breaking virtual reality theme park due to complete in south-west China have been revealed.

Curious gamers will be able to travel to the future, battle with dragons, fly to space, or live alongside aliens through virtual experience.

One of the most impressive features is that the attraction will have a gigantic Transformer statue which measures 53 metres (174 feet) in height.

The Transformer statue is built by 750 tonnes of steel – the weight of two Boeing 747 planes – and cost a mega 100 million yuan (£11 million) to construct.

The theme park is called the ‘East Valley of Science and Fantasy’. Its first phase, called ‘Alien Base’, is scheduled to be complete in December. Read more on Huge new VR theme park, studio, and R&D center to open in Guizhou China…

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New HMD attachment lets you feel wind in virtual reality

[This new product adds the “4D” element of wind to VR to enhance the sense of presence, and the ZephVR website says “Beyond wind, our technology will enable all sorts of peripherals and physical effects—temperature, vibration, rain, or anything else people can think up—so that they work with all VR content, automatically.” The story is from BGR, where it includes an additional image. For more information see the ZephVR website and press kit. –Matthew]

Meet the new accessory that lets you actually feel virtual reality

Andy Meek
October 30th, 2017

The team behind a new accessory for virtual reality headsets that will create wind and synchronize it to VR events, immersing users even deeper into the VR content, came up with the idea for their gadget by happenstance.

Paige Pruitt, the cofounder and CTO of Weasel Labs, hit on the idea for what would become the company’s ZephVR product while playing the Playstation VR game “London Heist.” In it, there’s a car chase scene where you’re supposed to lean out the window of a virtual car and shoot down some bad guys.

While she was playing the game, she executed that move — while at the same moment she didn’t realize she was putting her face in front of her window fan. She was shocked at the presence of that air — and how real it made the moment feel.

“She called me right after that,” recalls company cofounder and CEO Sean Spielberg, “and was like whoa, it was so real. And from that, we started to think about how we could recreate immersive moments like this intentionally using wind.”

What they came up with are two 40-millimeter fans the users would buy and then attach to whatever VR headset they own. The fans would sit below the head-mounted display, listen for wind in audio games and trigger themselves accordingly. Read more on New HMD attachment lets you feel wind in virtual reality…

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Halloween Presence!

[As those who know me know, Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, I’m sure in part because the whole thing is about presence illusions (and very delicious pumpkin flavored foods). Here are a few Halloween Presence links – for more, see the (public) ISPR Presence Community Facebook group. Happy Halloween to all! –Matthew]

Read more on Halloween Presence!…

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A new all-virtual art museum presents exclusive, high-def experience

[This new all-virtual art museum, an apparent milestone, has the potential to provide a high presence experience that eventually will be available to more people than a brick-and-mortar museum. The story is from Bloomberg, where it includes a second image and a 1:19 minute video. –Matthew]

Virtual Reality Museum Puts Rembrandt in High-Def

Visitors can don a headset, enter an architect-designed VR gallery and view the Kremer Collection’s 70 Old Masters.

By Molly Schuetz
October 26, 2017

The Kremer Collection has spent the past two decades loaning out its collection of 17th-century Dutch and Flemish art to museums and galleries around the world. As of Thursday, the collection will have a new permanent home in a virtual museum. Read more on A new all-virtual art museum presents exclusive, high-def experience…

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Professor Kathleen Richardson on ethical problems with sex robots

[This interview with Kathleen Richardson, Professor of Ethics and Culture of Robots and AI and co-founder of The Campaign Against Sex Robots, raises important and disturbing ethical implications of medium-as-social-actor presence. It’s from Conatus News, where the original includes five additional images. I’ve included two of the four comments from readers (as of this writing) that make thoughtful contributions to the discussion. –Matthew]

Kathleen Richardson, professor of ethics at De Montfort University, speaks in depth about the ethical problems with sex robots.

Terri Murray
October 25, 2017

Kathleen Richardson is Professor of Ethics and Culture of Robots and AI at the Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility (CCSR) at De Montfort University. She was awarded her Ph.D. from the department of social anthropology, University of Cambridge, where she studied the making of robots in labs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Kathleen is author of An Anthropology of Robots and AI: Annihilation Anxiety and Machines (Routledge 2015) and is preparing two further books for publication, one exploring the development of robots for children with autism (contracted with Palgrave-McMillan), and the other a critical study of Sex Robots (contracted with Polity).

Kathleen’s research is focused on formally developing an ethics of humanity that is informed by the politics of anti-slavery. She is an activist who is inspired by the political movement of abolitionism, and the rejection of human beings as forms of property.

In 2015, she and a colleague formed The Campaign Against Sex Robots, a non-profit group against the development of robotic technologies shaped by inequalities & objectification of women & children. Here Terri Murray interviews her on the rise of the sex robots. The interview has been edited for clarity. Read more on Professor Kathleen Richardson on ethical problems with sex robots…

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3 keys to improving user retention (and presence) in virtual reality

[The technology is closer than ever to being ready, but creators and designers need to employ it carefully to evoke presence and retain users; this story from Venture Beat explains (see the original for more images and a video). –Matthew]

3 keys to improving user retention in virtual reality

Michael Park
October 23, 2017 5

Virtual reality’s failure to live up to its hype is well documented. Poor user retention plays a significant role in this matter, as it does with any other technology product. However, disappointing retention is often mainly a function of a poorly designed product and user experience. How can VR companies create better user experiences that compel users to keep using their applications?

There are three key factors that, if solved, will greatly aid the virtual reality (VR) industry with user retention:

  1. Make the user experience (UX) simpler and more intuitive
  2. Make great content within the constraints of the medium
  3. Build experiences that are only possible in VR

In search of an answer to this question, we’ve interviewed several virtual reality and augmented reality (AR) thought leaders about how companies can use better UX design as a means of improving user retention. Read more on 3 keys to improving user retention (and presence) in virtual reality…

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Digital nature: Are field trips a thing of the past?

[Can, and should, presence-evoking technologies replace nonmediated field trips for learning about and appreciating nature? How can the technologies supplement direct exposure to the natural world? These questions are addressed in the story below from Science. –Matthew]

[Image: Digital simulations are the latest stage in the evolution of human attempts to interpret biodiversity. Credits: (Illustration) V. Altounian/Science; (Photo) Jeff Pachoud/Staff/Getty Images]

Digital nature: Are field trips a thing of the past?

Douglas J. McCauley, Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology and Marine Science Institute, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA.

Science  20 Oct 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6361, pp. 298-300
DOI: 10.1126/science.aao1919

I awoke in my cabin by the pond. Weighing my options for the day, I decided to do some bird watching, winding between white pines and blackberries along the east shore of the pond. By their songs, I was able to identify a Mourning Dove, Blue Jays, an American Crow, and perhaps a Northern Cardinal. A mink, alarmed by my approach, dove into the pond and swam off. Unable to resist on such a sunny day, I waded into the pond and watched the sunlight play around me in the shallows. My mood that morning was appropriately reflected by my status indicators: moderately inspired, tired, and hungry. My hike took place in Walden, a Game, a video game recently launched on the 200th birthday of Henry David Thoreau (1). With a widening niche of such nature-themed video games and simulations and a rapidly growing audience of online/digital learners, the capacity to reach new audiences and carry environmental education beyond the confines of schools and universities may be a game changer, but one that perhaps comes with perils. Read more on Digital nature: Are field trips a thing of the past?…

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Take a walk on Mars — in your own living room

[NASA and Google have launched a new presence experience; here’s a key quote from the NASA news release below: “More than anything, Access Mars offers a visceral impression of what it would be like to walk alongside [the rover] Curiosity, wandering through the lonely, red desert.” The original release includes more images and a 1:11 minute video; see related coverage at GeekWire. –Matthew]

Take a Walk on Mars — in Your Own Living Room

Oct. 19, 2017

When NASA scientists want to follow the path of the Curiosity rover on Mars, they can don a mixed-reality headset and virtually explore the Martian landscape.

Starting today, everyone can get a taste of what that feels like. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, collaborated with Google to produce Access Mars, a free immersive experience. It’s available for use on all desktop and mobile devices and virtual reality/augmented reality (VR/AR) headsets. That includes mobile-based virtual reality devices on Apple and Android.

The experience was adapted from JPL’s OnSight software, which assists scientists in planning rover drives and even holding meetings on Mars. Imagery from NASA’s Curiosity rover provided the terrain, allowing users to wander the actual dunes and valleys explored by the spacecraft. Since being rolled out to JPL’s scientists in 2015, OnSight has made studying Martian geology as intuitive as turning your head and walking around. Read more on Take a walk on Mars — in your own living room…

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Is virtual reality the future of dance?

[This story from KQED highlights some of the challenges of establishing and telling stories with presence (even though it never uses the term). See the original version for 5 images and 3 videos. –Matthew]

[Image: Lily Baldwin directing Amari Cheatom, Marni Wood on set of Through You, photo by Cameron Bertron. Source: San Francisco Dance Film Festival.]

Is Virtual Reality the Future of Dance?

By Carla Escoda
October 16, 2017

Those who think virtual reality (VR) is solely the province of gamers, adventure-seekers, and simulation builders may be startled to see how dance-makers are employing the technology on screen. For the first time, the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, which opens on Thursday, Oct. 19 at San Francisco’s Brava Theater, will be screening a handful of 360° and VR dance films that play around with a variety of effects designed to yank the viewer into another world.

I previewed these films with skepticism — not just because of the ungainly contraption you have to strap onto your forehead to view them, but also because no film can replicate the thrill of live dance or the dancer’s sense of precariousness. “Unless you find something to replace that, it will always feel like a shadow of the real thing,” film director Saschka Unseld says.

Unseld teamed up with director and choreographer Lily Baldwin to make Through You, one of the films to be screened at the festival. The pair sought to create an authentic sense of place and a palpable connection to the dancers by shooting on location. They also pushed the camera a lot closer to the performers than is typical and moved it in response to the dancers’ movements. This runs counter to the prevailing wisdom that these kinds of camera movements tend to make viewers motion sick. In addition, the filmmakers pushed the post-production process. They ended up with close to 200 cuts – versus the 10 to 20 cuts typical of the VR filmmaking process. This gives the film a dreamlike quality.

Through You is a cascade of impressions of a romantic relationship that unfolds from the 1970s into the future, telescoping time and capturing a couple as they age. Scenes are painted in vivid, painstaking detail, and bleed into each other in such a way that it is hard to tell what is memory and what is dream or hallucination. As a viewer teleported into these scenes, I felt somehow complicit in what was happening to the couple, and frustrated that I couldn’t comfort them in the aftermath of loss. Read more on Is virtual reality the future of dance?…

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