ISPR Presence News

Category Archives: Presence in the News

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

Can virtual reality and presence help to beat back pain?

[Presence can provide vivid and impactful experiences that change people’s knowledge, attitudes and behavior but that power must be used responsibly, as highlighted in the second part of this story from the Daily Mail; for more information see a 1:53 minute video from Getty Images and a 2:26 minute video on YouTube. –Matthew]

[Image from Framework Creative: We created spine medical diagnostic tool for a chain of chiropractors, Back To Health, determined to be at the cutting edge of their industry. Based on a multi-player platform, the patient moves around the virtual representation of their spine in VR whilst the practitioner manipulates and highlights the vertebrae to discuss and better demonstrate each patient’s specific situation.]

Why wearing a virtual reality headset may help to beat back pain: Software can create 3D images to help patients understand their problems

By Rosie Taylor for The Daily Mail
Published: 28 August 2017 | Updated: 29 August 2017

Looking at the skeleton suspended in front of me, I was shocked to see how crooked it was.

The hips tilted over to the right side, the spine to the left and the shoulders hunched over like someone very elderly.

It looked painful. And I knew it was, because this was my back — and it had been causing me problems for about 15 years. I was using virtual reality (VR) technology to see for the first time what could be triggering my back pain and stiffness.

Although I was sceptical at first, something clicked as I examined the 3D image. It suddenly seemed glaringly obvious that my poor posture was putting painful stress on my back and joints.

Seeing my problems ‘in the flesh’ — albeit virtually — finally helped me understand why I might be in pain.

‘Understanding is the first step towards getting better,’ says Matt Flanagan, a chiropractor at Back To Health, the West London clinic behind the technology.

‘If we can’t engage patients with what’s wrong, we’re not going to change their behaviour and get them to stick with their exercises,’ he adds. ‘Virtual reality is a way of communicating we’ve never had before. Patients struggle to fully understand X-rays, but when they see the 3D image, they’re able to join the dots.’ Read more on Can virtual reality and presence help to beat back pain?…

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There’s now a virtual reality cocktail (and yes, you do get a real drink)

[Vogue’s story below is about the use of presence to enhance the experience of drinking fine liquor. Forbes has additional details and Paste’s coverage includes this: “Currently, Rare Journey is only available at Baptiste & Bottle; however, [national brand ambassador] Raies says similar experiences will likely appear elsewhere once it has been fine tuned. For those looking to create an approximation of the experience at home, Raies recommends The MacallanVR app, which features the Rare Journey VR video. All you need is the cardboard VR viewer for your phone, a bottle of Rare Cask, and the sherry. If you don’t want to download the app, you can still check out the video on YouTube.” For details on the One Aldwych hotel experience see coverage in Conde Nast Traveler. –Matthew]

There’s Now a Virtual Reality Cocktail (and Yes, You Do Get a Real Drink)

August 23, 2017
by Jenny Berg

Today’s cocktailer has seen (and sipped) it all, from drinks made of actual trash to cannabis infusions and libations chilled with striped ice cubes. Is the next step in this augmented drinking experience, well, augmented or virtual reality?

For years, liquor brands have been using virtual reality as a high-tech marketing technique to better acquaint customers with their brands. Patrón tequila, for example, has a VR viewer that connects to an app: The app takes viewers on a virtual tour of the brand’s distillery. Beer brand Dos Equis has placed Oculus Rift headsets in bars to plunk customers into the virtual world of its mascot, The Most Interesting Man in the World.

Now, virtual reality drinks are starting to pop up at restaurants across the world. In London, for example, One Aldwych hotel serves a Dalmore whisky cocktail mixed with cherry puree, grapefruit juice, and VR goggles that transport drinkers to the Scottish Highlands. Stateside, Baptiste & Bottle restaurant at the Conrad Chicago Hotel rolled out the $95 “Macallan Rare Journey” in July. First thing’s first: While billed as a “virtual reality cocktail,” the drink itself is not virtual. It’s real liquor, enhanced with a short video that details the process by which the scotch brand gets its custom casks.

And, don’t worry: You’re not expected to sip while the goggles are blinding your vision. Read more on There’s now a virtual reality cocktail (and yes, you do get a real drink)…

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Siri’s voice to be more human in iOS 11

[This short story from iLounge summarizes and links to a detailed post by Apple about how the company is improving the “naturalness, personality, and expressivity of Siri’s voice” for iOS 11; click through to the bottom of that post to listen to several audio clips of Siri in iOS 9, 10 and 11 to hear the impressive differences. For other recent presence-related Siri news, see “AI Programs Are Learning to Exclude Some African-American Voices“ from MIT Technology Review and “To Win The AI Assistant Wars, Apple Is Melding Siri With Its Other Services” from Fast Company. –Matthew]

Read more on Siri’s voice to be more human in iOS 11…

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Why Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality will soon mean the same thing

[Precise and explicit definitions are essential for scholars (a quest close to my heart when it comes to presence). Especially in the last decade the evolution of the technologies that evoke presence has raised challenges for defining the nature and categories of the technologies and even for defining and measuring presence (e.g., many questionnaire items don’t apply well to augmented reality). This column from Computerworld outlines the situation and argues that despite the important distinctions, soon the technologies will all be commonly known as “virtual reality.” The original version of the column includes a second image and a 4:28 minute video. –Matthew]

Why Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality are the same thing

People are already confused about virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), 360-degree video and heads-up displays. It will get worse before it gets better.

By Mike Elgan, Contributing Columnist, Computerworld
August 5, 2017

Words matter. And as a stickler for accuracy in language that describes technology, it pains me to write this column.

I hesitate to expose the truth, because the public is already confused about virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), 360-degree video and heads-up displays. But facts are facts. And the fact is that the technology itself undermines clarity in language to describe it.

Before we get to my grand thesis, let’s kill a few myths. Read more on Why Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality will soon mean the same thing…

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More presence coming to the dining experience

[This story from the Irish Independent describes several ways presence experiences are becoming more common at restaurants; the original version includes two more pictures and for more information check out the websites of Shanghai’s Ultraviolet and Ibiza’s Sublimotion. –Matthew]

[Image: Sea food: Diners at Shanghai’s Ultraviolet restaurant take in an underwater experience. Photo: Scott Wright of Limelight Studio]

Out for a byte: dining is now a feast for all senses

Technology à la carte will whisk you away to a Tuscan garden while kitchen robots flip your burgers. Sue Quinn savours the thought

June 7 2017

Have a taste of this: you fancy going out for dinner, so you ask your voice-activated reservations device to recommend a restaurant based on your culinary tastes and budget. When you walk through the restaurant door, staff instantly recognise your face, recall your name and remember it’s your birthday, along with your favourite drink and the most appropriate food for your genetic profile.

You sit down at your interactive smart table and an iBeacon triggers a menu to appear – a virtual buffet that you tap to order. While a kitchen robot chops your salad and flips your burgers, you strap on a headset that whisks you to a virtual world: should you eat your meal underwater or in a sun-drenched Tuscan garden?

Forget about catching the eye of a server – Kinect sensors pick up hand gestures that send a request for more wine. And when you’ve finished eating, there’s no waiting for the bill: you get up and leave, automatically paying for your meal with your phone.

Futuristic fantasy? Not at all, say the experts designing tomorrow’s restaurants. Almost all the technology in this scenario is now being developed and could soon be headed to a restaurant near you. Read more on More presence coming to the dining experience…

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Finally: An augmented reality app that injects the internet into real life

[As this story from Wired notes, in the possibly-near future a virtual layer of experience will become overlaid on and intertwined with our nonmediated world, with lots of potential uses and impacts. The new Mirage app is an early step toward that future. –Matthew]

Finally: An Augmented Reality App that Injects the Internet into Real Life

Peter Rubin
August 8, 2017

When Ryan Staake and Patrick Piemonte first worked together, they helped you get around: Both were interface designers at Apple, with Piemonte working specifically on the iPhone’s map technology. Now, nearly a decade later, the two are working together again—but this time, instead of helping you get around, they want to use the power of augmented reality to appreciate the hidden things around you.

That’s the idea behind Mirage, an iOS app the duo and a small team just released. It’s not the first AR app available in the App Store, and it certainly won’t be the last, but it may well be the only one to marry augmented reality’s hidden-world appeal with social media’s shareable, re-mixable content. And in doing so, it’s making AR not simply a technology of curiosity, but one of connection.

In case you’ve been at a three-month silent retreat, you’ve likely heard something about how certain tech titans are charging toward AR—and using your phone’s camera to get there. Both Facebook and Apple have introduced developer platforms that allow people to integrate AR effects into apps. However, while early experiments have been encouraging, especially those using Apple’s ARKit, they’re essentially built around simulations that bridge some sort of experience gap: What does that bulgogi bowl look like in real life? Could my yard handle a SpaceX Falcon 9 landing? How many cats fit in my office? Whether they’re useful or fantastic, they feel very much like sealed products. You fire it up, see the thing you need to see, and … well, that’s it.

Mirage, for its part, is even less useful than a floating tic-tac-toe game. But that’s the idea. It’s not a service or a simulation or a product—it’s a palette. The whole point, as Staake says, is for people “to communicate through the real world.” Read more on Finally: An augmented reality app that injects the internet into real life…

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Beyond virtual reality: Synthetic reality and our co-created futures

[This big picture perspective on the future of mediated experience from Forbes makes a compelling case that today’s technologies are leading us toward what has only been considered in science fiction, raising some of the same intriguing philosophical questions about the nature of humans and how we would use or misuse such technologies. –Matthew]

[Image: A picture taken on June 8, 2016 in the gardens of the Chateau de Versailles shows ‘Waterfall’ installation by Danish artist Olafur Eliasson. The spectacular installation cascades into the Grand Canal of the famous royal gardens outside Paris. Eliasson created eight works for the palace built by ‘Sun King’ Louis XIV, the most absolute of France’s absolute monarchs.  (Photo credit: Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/AFP/Getty Images)]

Beyond Virtual Reality: Synthetic Reality And Our Co-Created Futures

Robert C. Wolcott, Contributor – I explore business, leadership and humanity in our technological age.
August 18, 2017

Louis XIV of France, the quintessential absolute monarch, demanded that the extensive water features of his beloved Versailles palace grounds remain constantly in operation.  His minister of finance, Jean Baptiste Colbert, recognized this would be financially ruinous. To satisfy the king’s demand, the Versailles staff constantly tracked his whereabouts, ensuring that all of the fountains he could see would be in operation, leaving the rest dormant but ready.

Louis’s agents were creating a ‘virtual’ reality responsive to his desires. As far as the Sun King knew, his fountains were always on. Technology later this century will enable each of us to command our realities in a similar fashion— or for others to create our realities on our behalf.

Many people perceive virtual reality (VR) as a sort of video game: an environment constructed by programmers in which the user is simply a participant. As VR matures, users will become increasingly engaged in co-creation. Platforms like Minecraft already offer this, where users create their own virtual worlds and interact with others within them. The experience will become far more comprehensive and customized.

Beyond ‘Virtual’ Realities

Later this century, virtual environments may become experienced comprehensively as new versions of reality, as we have explored in past articles in Forbes and HuffPost. The only way you will know they are virtual (i.e. not the “default world”) is that you will know they are so, similar to how dreams feel real while dreamt.

As computational systems become more capable of deciphering and anticipating human preferences, such systems could generate customized environments in real-time with less conscious input from users. Eventually such systems may not require conscious input to capture and respond to shifting user preferences, though user intervention might still remain an option.

The notion of ‘virtual’ fails to accurately describe such a world. Even the terms ‘augmented reality’ and ‘mixed reality’ reflect neither the permutations that may evolve, nor the manners of their construction. We propose a new moniker to describe where we’re heading: synthetic reality. Such systems will synthesize our will and preferences, whether or not consciously provided, into new, ever-evolving realities.

VR experiences are always co-created to some extent, between the pre-defined capabilities and rules of the environment and the cognitive boundaries of users. As this process becomes more organic, arising from interactions between human and AI systems, and dynamic, potentially based on the preferences of multiple systems and actors in a given environment, new realities will synthesize, evolve and proliferate. Ones not bounded by our imagination or perception of our current default world’s limitations. Again, dreams offer a good analogy– where our default world’s rules can be bent and our mind accepts such conditions as reality. Read more on Beyond virtual reality: Synthetic reality and our co-created futures…

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Ethical, practical challenges of VR-AR-AI-IoT blurring the lines between physical and virtual reality

[Presence scholars should lead the way in making sure everyone involved considers and addresses the challenges created by evolving technologies, as highlighted in this column from Futurism. –Matthew]

[Image: “Reality is An Illusion” by Louis Dyer via Deviant Art]

Will AI Blur the Lines Between Physical and Virtual Reality?

By Jay Iorio, Innovation Director for the IEEE Standards Association
August 15, 2017

The Notion of Reality

As technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), big data, 5G, and the internet of things (IoT) advance over the next generation, they will reinforce and spur one another. One plausible scenario is a physical world so enhanced by personalized, AI-curated digital content (experienced with what we today call augmented reality) that the very notion of reality is called into question.

Immersion can change how we interact with content in fundamental ways. For example, a fully immersive AR environment of the future, achieved with a wide-field-of-view headset and full of live content integrated with the built environment, would be intended by design to create in the user an illusion that everything being sensed was “real.” The evolution toward this kind of environment raises a host of ethical questions, specifically with attention to the AI that would underlie such an intelligent and compelling illusion.

When watching a movie, the viewer is physically separated from the illusion. The screen is framed, explicitly distinct from the viewer. The frame is a part of traditional art forms; from the book to the painting to the skyscraper, each is explicitly separated from the audience. It is bounded and physically defined.

But with digital eyewear, things change. Digital eyewear moves the distance of digital mediation from the screen (approximately 20 feet) to the human face, which is at zero distance, and almost eliminates the frame. It starts raising inevitable questions about what constitutes “reality” when much of one’s sensory input is superimposed on the physical world by AI. At that stage of the technology’s evolution, one could still simply opt out by removing the eyewear. Although almost indistinguishable from the physical world, that near-future world would still be clinging precariously to the human face.

The next step would be moving the source of the digital illusion into the human body – a distance of less than zero – through contact lenses, implants, and ultimately direct communication. At that point, the frame is long gone. The digital source commandeers the senses, and it becomes very hard to argue that the digital content isn’t as “real” as a building on the corner – which, frankly, could be an illusion itself in such an environment. Enthusiasts will probably argue that our perception is already an electrochemical illusion, and implants merely enhance our natural selves. In any case, opting out would become impractical at best. This is the stage of the technology that will raise practical questions we have never had to address before. Read more on Ethical, practical challenges of VR-AR-AI-IoT blurring the lines between physical and virtual reality…

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Understanding children’s relationships with social robots

[This post from the MIT Media Lab website (it also appears in Medium and IEEE Spectrum) is a first-person report on a program of research that examines children’s social (medium-as-social-actor presence) responses to robots; I think it’s a model for how to introduce a wider audience to these ideas (e.g., I plan to assign and discuss it in undergraduate courses). The original version includes several more pictures and a video. –Matthew]

[Image: A child listens to DragonBot tell a story during one of our research studies. Credit: Personal Robots Group]

Making new (robot) friends

Understanding children’s relationships with social robots

by Jacqueline M. Kory Westlund

Hi, my name is Mox!

This story begins in 2013, in a preschool in Boston, where I hide, with laptop, headphones, and microphone, in a little kitchenette. Ethernet cables trail across the hall to the classroom, where 17 children eagerly await their turn to talk to a small fluffy robot.

“Hi, my name is Mox! I’m very happy to meet you.”

The pitch of my voice is shifted up and sent over the somewhat laggy network. My words, played by the speakers of Mox the robot and picked up by its microphone, echo back with a two-second delay into my headphones. It’s tricky to speak at the right pace, ignoring my own voice bouncing back, but I get into the swing of it pretty quickly.

We’re running show-and-tell at the preschool on this day. It’s one of our pilot tests before we embark on an upcoming experimental study. The children take turns telling the robot about their favorite animals. The robot (with my voice) replies with an interesting fact about each animal, Did you know that capybaras are the largest rodents on the planet?” (Yes, one five-year-old’s favorite animal is a capybara.) Later, we share how the robot is made and talk about motors, batteries, and 3D printers. We show them the teleoperation interface for remote-controlling the robot. All the kids try their hand at triggering the robot’s facial expressions.

Then one kid asks if he can teach the robot how to make a paper airplane.

We’d just told them all how the robot was controlled by a human. I ask: Does he want to teach me how to make a paper airplane?

No, the robot, he says.

Somehow, there was a disconnect between what he had just learned about the robot and the robot’s human operator, and the character that he perceived the robot to be.

Relationships with robots?

In the years since that playtest, I’ve watched several hundred children interact with both teleoperated and autonomous robots. The children talk with the robots. They laugh. They give hugs, drawings, and paper airplanes. One child even invited the robot to his preschool’s end-of-year picnic.

Mostly, though, I’ve seen kids treat the robots as social beings. But not quite like how they treat people. And not quite like how they treat pets, plants, or computers.

These interactions were clues: There’s something interesting going on here. Children ascribed physical attributes to robots—they can move, they can see, they can feel tickles—but also mental attributes: thinking, feeling sad, wanting companionship. A robot could break, yes, and it is made by a person, yes, but it can be interested in things. It can like stories; it can be nice. Maybe, as one child suggested, if it were sad, it would feel better if we gave it ice cream.

Although our research robots aren’t commercially available, investigating how children understand robots isn’t merely an academic exercise. Many smart technologies are joining us in our homes: Roomba, Jibo, Alexa, Google Home, Kuri, Zenbo…the list goes on. Robots and AI are here, in our everyday lives.

We ought to ask ourselves, what kinds of relationships do we want to have with them? Because, as we saw with the children in our studies, we will form relationships with them. Read more on Understanding children’s relationships with social robots…

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Google’s presence experiment: VR vs. video to train people to make espresso

[This post from Google’s blog reports on interesting results and lessons learned from an experiment in presence. The original includes more images; for more information see coverage in Daily Coffee News. –Matthew]

Daydream Labs: Teaching Skills in VR

Ian MacGillivray, Software Engineer
July 20, 2017

You can read every recipe, but to really learn how to cook, you need time in the kitchen. Wouldn’t it be great if you could slip on a VR headset and have a famous chef walk you through the basics step by step? In the future, you might be able to learn how to cook a delicious five-course meal—all in VR. In fact, virtual reality could help people learn all kinds of skills.

At Daydream Labs, we tried to better understand how interactive learning might work in VR. So we set up an experiment, which aimed at teaching coffee making. We built a training prototype featuring a 3D model of an espresso machine which reacts like a real one would when you press the buttons, turn the knobs or drop the milk. We also added a detailed tutorial. Then, we tasked one group of people to learn how to pull espresso shots by doing it in VR. (At the end, we gave people a detailed report on how they’d done, including an analysis of the quality of their coffee.) For the purpose of comparison, another group learned by watching YouTube videos. Both groups were able to train for as long as they liked before trying to make a coffee in the real world; people assigned to watch the YouTube tutorial normally did so three times, and people who took the VR training normally went through it twice.

We were excited to find out that people learned faster and better in VR. Both the number of mistakes made and the time to complete an espresso were significantly lower for those trained in VR (although, in fairness, our tasting panel wasn’t terribly impressed with the espressos made by either group!) It’s impossible to tell from one experiment, of course, but these early results are promising. We also learned a lot of about how to design future experiments. Here’s a glimpse at some of those insights. Read more on Google’s presence experiment: VR vs. video to train people to make espresso…

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