ISPR Presence News

Category Archives: Presence in the News

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

Japanese company’s answer to Amazon Echo: Anime holograms with ‘comforting’ personalities for the lonely

[You have to watch the 2:00 minute video in this story from Motherboard to fully understand the nature of Gatebox, a new embodied virtual assistant from Japan’s Vinclu Inc. As coverage in Vocativ notes, “The plot from Spike Jonze’s movie ‘Her,’ about a man who falls in love with an artificially-intelligent operating system companion, just keeps getting closer to reality.” As detailed in Forbes, the company has just been purchased by South Korea’s Naver, which has 700 million registered users for its LINE messaging app and is developing its own “digital assistant powered by machine learning.” For more details about Gatebox including videos and screenshots, see coverage by Business Insider. –Matthew]

[Image: Source: Ars Technica]

This Japanese Company Wants to Sell You a Tiny Holographic Wife

Like an anime version of Amazon’s Alexa.

Madison Margolin
Dec 14 2016

Gatebox is [a] new holographic home assistant that’s similar to the Amazon Echo’s Alexa, only more anthropomorphic—and creepier. Made by the Japanese company Vinclu Inc, the device is a transparent, voice-activated cylinder that displays a tiny holographic character named Azuma Hikari (presumably, other characters can be added later). Pre-orders for a limited production run of 300 units began today on Gatebox’s website.

Hikari was created to be a “comforting character that is great for those living alone.” The purpose of this cutesy anime character, blue hair, mini skirt, knee high socks and all, is to “do all she can just for the owner”—also referred to as “master.” It seems designed specifically to appeal to lonely bachelors. Read more on Japanese company’s answer to Amazon Echo: Anime holograms with ‘comforting’ personalities for the lonely…

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Mondly launches virtual reality for learning languages, powered by chatbots

[This would seem like an ideal application area for presence; the first story below, from ZDNet, describes the new Mondly language learning VR app, and the second, from The Next Web, provides a first-person user’s evaluation. For more information see the company’s press release via PR Newswire. –Matthew]

Mondly launches virtual reality for learning languages, powered by chatbots

Practice talking in 28 different languages with virtual characters, which teach language fundamentals and help build confidence, with the Mondly VR app

By Eileen Brown
February 28, 2017

Romania-based ATi Studios, the creator of the Mondly language learning platform, has released a virtual reality app for language education.

The VR app uses Mondly’s conversational voice chatbot, released by the company in August 2016, which has self-learning technology.

It combines voice chatbot technology with speech recognition in virtual reality to create a new way for users to learn a new language.

The Learn Languages VR by Mondly app allows people to experience lifelike conversations with virtual characters.

The company created the VR application based on what users need to effectively learn a new language: instant feedback and an “immersive, real-world experience to build their confidence.” Read more on Mondly launches virtual reality for learning languages, powered by chatbots…

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VR simulation helps airline KLM engineers escape in an emergency

[This story from Computer Weekly describes the effective use of presence for training for fire safety as well as for enhancing several aspects of an airline’s operation. The original version includes more images and links to related stories. For more news about the use of presence for safety training see “Virtual reality training for ‘safety-critical’ jobs” from the University of Exeter. –Matthew]

Virtual reality simulation helps KLM engineers escape in an emergency

Dutch airline KLM develops virtual reality simulation to show engineers what happens if the maintenance hanger catches fire

Bill Goodwin, Computer Weekly
06 Mar 2017

Airline KLM is using a virtual reality computer game to train 300 engineers how to safely evacuate an aircraft maintenance hangar in the event of a fire or other emergency.

The project is part of an experiment by the airline to find a more effective way than traditional MicroSoft PowerPoint presentations and online courses of training large numbers of employees.

KLM has developed a virtual reality (VR) simulation of one of its large aircraft hangars, which allows its engineers to take part in a simulated fire evacuation, choose how they respond at each stage and experience the impact of their decisions.

Employees take part by wearing Samsung virtual reality headsets, through which they view a three-dimensional video of the hangar they work in and their colleagues.

“The experience is completely immersive,” says Guido Helmerhorst, social, business and technology architect at Air France-KLM, adding that it makes the learning an emotional and memorable experience.

There are no distractions from colleagues wandering around the office or from ringing phones. “Whatever thoughts you have, such as your to-do list or grocery list, your brain does not have space to think about it,” he says.

Virtual reality training programmes are expensive, but the investment pays off when companies need to train large numbers of people. Read more on VR simulation helps airline KLM engineers escape in an emergency…

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The ethics of presence on Saturday Night Live

[The ethics of presence made its way onto the popular U.S. program Saturday Night Live this weekend, as reported in this story from Exclaim! –Matthew]

[Image: Saturday Night Live photo by Will Heath]

Father John Misty Addresses Taylor Swift Lyric from “Total Entertainment Forever”: “That Is the Worst Thing I Can Think Of”

By Stephen Carlick
Published Mar 05, 2017

Last night (March 4), Father John Misty stopped by Saturday Night Live to perform a new song from his forthcoming third album, Pure Comedy, titled “Total Entertainment Forever.” The song’s opening line — “Bedding Taylor Swift every night inside the Oculus Rift, after mister and the missus finish dinner and the dishes” — has caught a lot of people’s attention.

In his song, Father John Misty’s Josh Tillman says, the last thing he’s doing is lusting after Swift; rather, he’s holding a mirror up to society’s “disturbing,” obsessive, all-consuming taste for entertainment of all forms.

“Human civilizations,” he tells Exclaim! over the phone from Los Angeles, “have been entertaining themselves in disgusting ways all through human history — I mean, whether it’s lighting Christians on fire, or whatever. We have to consider that maybe there are ways in which we entertain ourselves now that are equally as disturbing. I think that that’s important — to not assume that everything about the way we live is the direct product of progress.”

He gets at that in the opening line of “Total Entertainment Forever.” While he knew a lot of people might find it disgusting, Tillman sings about it because “That is real,” and the technology, he says, isn’t that far off. Read more on The ethics of presence on Saturday Night Live…

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Entrepreneurs use telepresence robots to skirt U.S. travel uncertainty

[It’s sad that in addition to convenience, cost and carbon emissions we have to add bypassing the U.S. travel ban (and other such restrictions) to the reasons for using telepresence technologies. This story is from Business Vancouver. –Matthew]

[Image: Simon Fraser University Prof. Carman Neustaedter has been using technology to solve some of the concerns business executives and others now have about travel to the U.S. | Photo: Rob Kruyt]

Entrepreneurs tap tech to skirt U.S. travel uncertainty

Concerns over connecting with U.S. clients, opportunities spark travel alternatives search

By Tyler Orton
Feb. 28, 2017

Ahead of a May lecture in Edmonton, Nejeed Kassam is cutting it tight between the time his plane lands and when he’s expected to speak.

“I can’t do that in the U.S. anymore,” said the CEO of Vancouver-based Keela, a startup that builds management tools for the non-profit sector.

Kassam, a practising Muslim, has cancelled two trips to the U.S. since the beginning of the year over concerns he’ll be held up at the border.

Just weeks after U.S. courts dismissed U.S. President Donald Trump’s ban on travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries, one of Kassam’s family friends, an academic at Stanford University, was detained at the border for two hours.

“That’s terrifying,” said Kassam, who was born in Canada and whose family hails from Tanzania, a country not affected by the original ban.

In March, he planned to hit the Nonprofit Technology Conference in Washington, D.C., to promote his startup that launched its flagship product last summer.

After conferring with Keela’s team, they decided to send the growth and product manager instead.

“In this climate, at the border, a passport reading Jeffrey Hemmett sounds a little different from one reading Nejeed Omar Ali Kassam,” Kassam said in a followup email.

“Unfortunately, this is a reality that I never dreamed I’d have to consider.”

His story isn’t unlike the ones Simon Fraser University (SFU) Prof. Carman Neustaedter has been hearing the past few weeks.

Neustaedter, who specializes in human-computer interaction at SFU’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology, has been looking to technology to solve some of the uncertainty surrounding travel to the U.S. ahead of the ACM Computer-Human Interaction Conference in Denver this May.

The conference has been hearing from academics concerned about Trump’s original ban and recruited Neustaedter as its telepresence co-chairman.

He’s been tasked with deploying 10 “telepresence robots” that will act as surrogates for up to 35 attendees.

These aren’t the anthropo­­morphic androids one would see in movies like Blade Runner, Alien or A.I. Artificial Intelligence.

Instead of heads, these Segway-like robots have monitors that stream real-time video feeds of users’ faces while they control the robots remotely from a desktop computer.

An academic from Iran, for example, could beam into a telepresence robot and control its movements, talk to attendees over a video feed and park the device in front of a stage to watch a presentation. No need to speak to U.S. border agents before beaming into the conference.

This is the fourth conference at which Neustaedter has helped deploy the devices, and he expects the number of users to increase. Read more on Entrepreneurs use telepresence robots to skirt U.S. travel uncertainty…

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New era of 360-degree photography enhancing presence, changing the way people share stories

[This story from MIT Technology Review describes the emergence of a new form of presence-evoking photography – it’s early days at this writing but new technologies are lowering the cost and making it easier than ever to create 360° images that can be viewed in VR, and “When you see 360° imagery that truly transports you somewhere else, you want it more and more.” See the original story for 6 videos and 5 more images. –Matthew]

[Image: ALLie Camera. It uses technology originally developed for the surveillance industry and can capture images in low light.]

The 360-Degree Selfie

Inexpensive cameras that make spherical images are opening a new era in photography and changing the way people share stories.

Availability: Now

By Elizabeth Woyke
March/April 2017 issue of MIT Technology Review

Seasonal changes to vegetation fascinate Koen Hufkens. So last fall Hufkens, an ecological researcher at Harvard, devised a system to continuously broadcast images from a Massachusetts forest to a website called And because he used a camera that creates 360° pictures, visitors can do more than just watch the feed; they can use their mouse cursor (on a computer) or finger (on a smartphone or tablet) to pan around the image in a circle or scroll up to view the forest canopy and down to see the ground. If they look at the image through a virtual-reality headset they can rotate the photo by moving their head, intensifying the illusion that they are in the woods.

Hufkens says the project will allow him to document how climate change is affecting leaf development in New England. The total cost? About $550, including $350 for the Ricoh Theta S camera that takes the photos.

We experience the world in 360 degrees, surrounded by sights and sounds. Until recently, there were two main options for shooting photos and video that captured that context: use a rig to position multiple cameras at different angles with overlapping fields of view or pay at least $10,000 for a special camera. The production process was just as cumbersome and generally took multiple days to complete. Once you shot your footage, you had to transfer the images to a computer; wrestle with complex, pricey software to fuse them into a seamless picture; and then convert the file into a format that other people could view easily.

Today, anyone can buy a decent 360° camera for less than $500, record a video within minutes, and upload it to Facebook or YouTube. Much of this amateur 360° content is blurry; some of it captures 360 degrees horizontally but not vertically; and most of it is mundane. (Watching footage of a stranger’s vacation is almost as boring in spherical view as it is in regular mode.) But the best user-generated 360° photos and videos—such as the Virtual Forest—deepen the viewer’s appreciation of a place or an event. Read more on New era of 360-degree photography enhancing presence, changing the way people share stories…

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Market for virtual reality art gets tested at Moving Image fair

[Here’s an interesting story from artnet News about the increasing prominence of presence-evoking VR/AR works in art exhibitions and sales; see the original version for more images and links to related stories. –Matthew]

[Image: Installation view of Tamiko Thiel and Zara Houshmand, Beyond Manzanar (2000). Image courtesy Moving Image.]

Market for Virtual Reality Art Gets Tested at Moving Image Fair

The new medium opens new frontiers for art, as well as a few new obstacles.

Brian Boucher, February 28, 2017

“I can count on two hands the collectors who are buying immersive media works,” said Moving Image fair co-founder Edward Winkleman at a preview on Monday, kicking off Armory Arts Week in New York. “But I’m encouraged for the future by the number of lawyers and doctors who are buying virtual reality headsets for their kids, and might want to use them for something more than gaming!”

Winkleman started the Moving Image fair seven editions ago with his partner, Murat Orozobekov, to give video works a commercial platform and a place where they could have the concentrated viewing an art fair offers. Launched in New York, the fair has since gone global, adding an Instanbul edition. Over the last two years, the founders have turned their focus strongly to virtual reality and augmented reality, which make a strong showing at this small fair, with about a third of the 28 offerings engaging these technologies. Read more on Market for virtual reality art gets tested at Moving Image fair…

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Google tech reveals faces behind VR/MR headsets

[It’s still early days for this innovation from Google but allowing both observers and participants to see the faces of VR and MR users could significantly boost the potential for presence experiences. That potential is only briefly mentioned in the last paragraph in this post from the Google Research Blog, which includes more images and a 1:46 minute video. –Matthew]


Headset “Removal” for Virtual and Mixed Reality

February 21, 2017
Posted by Vivek Kwatra, Research Scientist and Christian Frueh, Avneesh Sud, Software Engineers

Virtual Reality (VR) enables remarkably immersive experiences, offering new ways to view the world and the ability to explore novel environments, both real and imaginary. However, compared to physical reality, sharing these experiences with others can be difficult, as VR headsets make it challenging to create a complete picture of the people participating in the experience.

Some of this disconnect is alleviated by Mixed Reality (MR), a related medium that shares the virtual context of a VR user in a two dimensional video format allowing other viewers to get a feel for the user’s virtual experience. Even though MR facilitates sharing, the headset continues to block facial expressions and eye gaze, presenting a significant hurdle to a fully engaging experience and complete view of the person in VR.

Google Machine Perception researchers, in collaboration with Daydream Labs and YouTube Spaces, have been working on solutions to address this problem wherein we reveal the user’s face by virtually “removing” the headset and create a realistic see-through effect.

Our approach uses a combination of 3D vision, machine learning and graphics techniques, and is best explained in the context of enhancing Mixed Reality video (also discussed in the Google-VR blog). It consists of three main components: Read more on Google tech reveals faces behind VR/MR headsets…

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Telepresence gives students new view of teaching

[Telepresence is being used at Grand Canyon University to let teachers-in-training learn by ‘being’ in a remote elementary school classroom; this story is from Grand Canyon University Today, where it includes several more images. –Matthew]

Telepresence gives students new view of teaching

February 08, 2017
Story and photos by Jeannette.Cruz, GCU News Bureau

Three Grand Canyon University educators in the College of Education are exploring a new way to virtually provide students with an opportunity to get their feet wet in the profession.

The initiative – a live, telepresence practicum pilot – engages students in an elementary school setting through video conferencing technologies. A camera inside a kindergarten classroom at Paradise Valley Unified School District, paired with a computer, allows faculty and students to see and hear without being seen. A unique feature is the mobility of the camera, making it possible for students to zoom in closer to a table or to pick up dialogue.

“This way we can also control the quality of what they’re seeing, too,” professor Kay Hansen said. “I’ve been in education for a long time, and it really is cutting-edge stuff for us to help our students become better future teachers. We want to enhance that reputation, and this application does everything that we need it to do.”

Through the one-hour tele-observation sessions, students also are able to obtain practicum hours with on-the-spot discussions linked to course assignments and objectives as well as talk with certified teachers following the tele-observation. Students enter the classroom and sit before two large screens. A faculty supervisor, who is also in the room along with other faculty during the session, begins the tele-observation and the screens come to life. Read more on Telepresence gives students new view of teaching…

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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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