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Category Archives: Presence in the News

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

U.S. Army deletes bureaucracy to develop advanced training simulations

[This story from Breaking Defense outlines the U.S. Army’s current efforts to create effective presence illusions to train soldiers. Note especially the “Four Parts” section. –Matthew]

[Image: Army aviators train in a CH-47 Chinook simulator.]

War Games: Army Deletes Bureaucracy To Get Sims Fast

There is real uncertainty whether such things as robotic tanks and high-speed scout helicopters are possible on the Army’s timeline. But if there’s one area where a high-speed approach can work, it’s training simulations, where the Army can piggyback on the rapid development in commercial gaming.

By Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.
April 20, 2018

FORT BELVOIR: To train its troops for future wars, the US Army wants to build the ultimate video game. To get that game ASAP, the Army is blowing up the usual bureaucracy and borrowing high-speed development techniques from private sector software companies.

The service has already held two industry days on different aspects of the technology, with a third coming up in May, and combat soldiers have already tried out some industry offerings, said Maj. Gen. Maria Gervais. She’s the head of the Army’s Synthetic Training Environment effort, which was launched just last fall.

Some software will be ready to go on the Army’s new multi-function helmet-mounted display, the ENVG-B, when it enters service in December, Gervais said. A full augmented reality training system will be ready by 2021, complete with interior maps of buildings around the world and simulated civilians going about their day.

It’s not the typical Army process, Gervais told me in an impromptu interview on the sidelines of an Army tech demonstration here. Instead, she said, her Cross Functional Team — so-called because it pulls together experts from across the Army — is working intimately with industry in a tight cycle: “let me see the products you have, let’s give you feedback, let’s continue to develop this thing, over and over.”

Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley [has] set some ambitious goals for his Big Six modernization program. There is real uncertainty whether such things as robotic tanks and high-speed scout helicopters are possible on his timeline. But if there’s one area where a high-speed approach can work, it’s training simulations, where the Army can piggyback on the rapid development in commercial gaming.

Four Parts

Just to make it more complex, there are four interdependent pieces that Gervais is developing in parallel. Read more on U.S. Army deletes bureaucracy to develop advanced training simulations…

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The Uncanny Valley of haptics

[This first-person report on research conducted by Microsoft and the California Institute of Technology on haptic illusions and how to use them to create presence illusions is from Scientific American’s Observations blog, where it includes more images, a 1:14 minute video, and author bios. –Matthew]

If (Virtual) Reality Feels Almost Right, It’s Exactly Wrong

How adding touch to VR can lead to an “uncanny valley” of sensations—and what we can do about it

By Mar Gonzalez-Franco, Christopher C Berger and Ken Hinckley
April 19, 2018

We can all remember the crisply beveled edges of our cheery-yellow No. 2 pencil, the cool, smooth feel of a chalk-powdered blackboard, the gritty red bricks of the schoolhouse walls. Surely that all wasn’t just an illusion?

No, of course not.

But—as it turns out—it kind of is.

The sense of touch (and indeed, all of our senses) is more or less illusory because no sensation stands alone. Stretch out your hands and snap your fingers. This, of course, feels very real. But you’re seeing your fingers, hearing your fingers, and feeling your fingers—and all of these sensations fully correspond.

Now, what if they didn’t?

Virtual Reality (VR) is a great tool for revealing this strange and otherworldly foundation of our everyday sensory perceptions. Sneaky (but, of course, highly ethical) experimentalists such as ourselves can render a completely computer-generated world. If we hand you a pair of controllers that can vibrate on command, we can play tricks.

We can even use this simple apparatus to produce a sensation of touch that “feels like” it originates in the completely empty space between your outstretched hands—an experiment we discuss in our paper in the current issue of Science Robotics. Read more on The Uncanny Valley of haptics…

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Japanese company makes virtual shadow boyfriends to help protect women who live alone

[This story from SoraNews24 describes an unusual example of presence; see the original version for more images and seven videos. For more information see the Leo Palace 21 website. –Matthew]

Japanese company makes virtual shadow boyfriends to help protect women who live alone

Silhouettes of karate fighters, bodybuilders, and domestically dedicated dudes make would-be criminals think you’ve got a live-in boyfriend.

Casey Baseel
March 31, 2018

Not only is Tokyo Japan’s largest city in terms of population, it’s also where you’ll find, by far, the most educational, economic, and artistic opportunities. Because of that, many young people head to Tokyo when they move out of their parents’ home, in order to be closer to their workplace or college.

Because most Japanese people don’t really like the idea of having a roommate, a lot of these young people end up living alone, including young women. But while Tokyo is much safer than large cities in many other countries, crimes do happen, and criminals often consider young women who live alone to be easy targets.

To help address this problem, and also to put the minds of female tenants at ease, apartment management company Leo Palace 21 has developed what it calls the Man on the Curtain system, which is shown starting at the 1:15 mark in the [3:29 minute] video [in the original story].

Using a projector controlled by/attached to a smartphone, Man on the Curtain throws a silhouette of a man onto your curtains, so that when people outside look at your windows, there will appear to be a guy inside, thus masking that you live alone. Read more on Japanese company makes virtual shadow boyfriends to help protect women who live alone…

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Tangible and social: Virtual reality at Tribeca Immersive

[All kinds of interesting presence experiences are available in Tribeca Immersive programming at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival. This overview is from The Villager, where the story includes more images. –Matthew]

[Image: The Tribeca Film Festival will have an early look at the recently announced “Shadow of the Tomb Raider” game. Image courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival]

Tangible and social: Virtual reality at Tribeca Immersive

April 18, 2018
By Charles Battersby

The stereotype of Virtual Reality (VR) is an isolated person sitting alone in a room, their head sealed within a helmet, master of a lonesome utopia. Early efforts at VR often met this cliché — but the “Tribeca Immersive” programming at the Tribeca Film Festival (TFF) aims to make virtual reality a more tangible and social experience. Tribeca Immersive includes a Virtual Arcade of VR experiences (Apr. 20-28), along with a festival of films shot in 360 degrees. Both are running at the same time at TFF this month (Apr. 18-29), and will give even hardcore VR users an excuse to leave home and experience these site-specific installations at the festival’s headquarters.

Almost any smartphone can be converted to a VR rig, but the top-end hardware continues to grow more elaborate. In the last two years, Tribeca Immersive had experiences that used motion-sensing controllers, and digital cameras that recorded the user’s movements around a room. This year, the event goes even further, with VRs that stimulate the senses using scent, heat, and elaborate physical set pieces. Read more on Tangible and social: Virtual reality at Tribeca Immersive…

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Medium-as-social-actor presence: Should robots be granted ‘personhood’?

[This interesting story reinforces the importance of medium-as-social-actor presence today and into the future. It’s from Politico and unlike a lot of the coverage of the issue isn’t sensationalized or simplistic; see the original version for more images. –Matthew]

Europe divided over robot ‘personhood’

In letter to Commission, 156 experts from 14 countries warn against adopting EU Parliament proposal.

By Janosch Delcker
April 11, 2018; Updated April 13, 2018

BERLIN — Think lawsuits involving humans are tricky? Try taking an intelligent robot to court.

While autonomous robots with humanlike, all-encompassing capabilities are still decades away, European lawmakers, legal experts and manufacturers are already locked in a high-stakes debate about their legal status: whether it’s these machines or human beings who should bear ultimate responsibility for their actions.

The battle goes back to a paragraph of text, buried deep in a European Parliament report from early 2017, which suggests that self-learning robots could be granted “electronic personalities.” Such a status could allow robots to be insured individually and be held liable for damages if they go rogue and start hurting people or damaging property.

Those pushing for such a legal change, including some manufacturers and their affiliates, say the proposal is common sense. Legal personhood would not make robots virtual people who can get married and benefit from human rights, they say; it would merely put them on par with corporations, which already have status as “legal persons,” and are treated as such by courts around the world.

But as robots and artificial intelligence become hot-button political issues on both sides of the Atlantic, MEP and vice chair of the European Parliament’s legal affairs committee, Mady Delvaux, and other proponents of legal changes face stiffening opposition. In a letter to the European Commission seen by POLITICO and expected to be unveiled Thursday, 156 artificial intelligence experts hailing from 14 European countries, including computer scientists, law professors and CEOs, warn that granting robots legal personhood would be “inappropriate” from a “legal and ethical perspective.” Read more on Medium-as-social-actor presence: Should robots be granted ‘personhood’?…

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Google will help preserve endangered historical sites in virtual reality

[The ambitious project described in this story from The Verge uses technology to preserve historical sites so that we’ll be able to experience them via presence in the future. The original story includes more pictures . –Matthew]

Google will help preserve endangered historical sites in virtual reality

Google is partnering with 3D laser-scanning nonprofit CyArk to build VR representations of world wonders

By Nick Statt
Apr 16, 2018

Google has partnered with 3D laser scanning nonprofit CyArk to help preserve historical sites around the world that are at risk of irreversible damage or total erasure due to human conflict and natural disasters. The joint effort, called the Open Heritage project, will use CyArk’s laser-scanning technology to capture all the relevant data at a historical site needed to re-create it virtually, so it can be preserved and explored online either on a computer, through a mobile device, or while wearing a virtual reality headset.

“With modern technology, we can capture these monuments in fuller detail than ever before, including the color and texture of surfaces alongside the geometry captured by the laser scanners with millimeter precision in 3D,” Chance Coughenour, a digital archaeologist and program manager with the Google Arts and Culture division, said in a press release. “These detailed scans can also be used to identify areas of damage and assist restoration efforts.” Google Arts & Culture, which first went live back in 2011, is the company’s platform for helping preserve and make accessible art from around the world. The division started with a focus on partnering with museums to bring art works online alongside Street View-style walk-throughs of famous museums. It has since expanded its focus to many different types of art and culture, as well as interactive media like VR tours and other educational tools. Read more on Google will help preserve endangered historical sites in virtual reality…

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Augmented reality without glasses or goggles? It’s called ‘parallel reality’

[The combination of biometric technologies, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and multi-view screen technology could lead to seamless, personalized signs, essentially augmented reality without glasses or goggles. This story from Computerworld is by consistently interesting author Mike Elgan. –Matthew]

When every public screen is your personal screen

Augmented reality without glasses or goggles? It’s called ‘parallel reality,’ and it’s coming soon.

By Mike Elgan, Contributing Columnist, Computerworld
April 14, 2018

One screen, one user.

But what happens when any screen can serve hundreds of users?

In Steven Spielberg’s 2002 sci-fi movie, Minority Report, billboards could display customized ads that addressed each passerby by name (or at least by the name of the person who provided one’s eyeballs). Every public holographic billboard became private, targeted and personalized for a couple of seconds as each person walked by.

In reality, the public will likely reject the Minority Report model of their personal data being used to trigger public ad personalization.

As this week’s congressional hearing featuring Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg demonstrated, the public and politicians are reaching their limits with privacy violations by companies that use personal information to display targeted advertising.

But truly personal data isn’t required for this kind of advertising to work.

As far back as year and a half ago, a billboard in Moscow changed the ad on its display based on the brand of car passing by.

The billboard was created by Synaps Labs, which used high-speed cameras placed 180 meters in front of the billboard to take pictures of cars. Machine-learning software determined each car’s make and model. The purpose was to show ads for Jaguar’s expensive new SUV to drivers who already owned expensive cars.

The company has since developed its technology further and installed billboards all over Russia and the United States.

Instead of harvesting and applying actual personal data, Synaps’ billboard system used information publicly visible — car makes and models.

That process — to instantly extract actionable data from photographs — is something A.I. is very good at.

A.I. can detect all kinds of things, especially about pedestrians. Existing A.I. can detect whether a person in a photo is young or old, male or female and glean many other facts useful for ad targeting.

So, yes, we’ll get Minority Report-style advertising that swaps out billboards as people drive or walk by. But the targeting will be done on the fly by A.I., not by personal information in a database.

The people who view these ads won’t necessarily know that the billboards are personalized for them. In other words, real-world ads are going to start working a lot like online ads do today.

Synaps Labs’ technology can show one billboard ad at a time, so everyone driving by when a high-end car triggers the Jaguar ad will see it. Personalization will become even more powerful when a single billboard can show hundreds of ads at the same time to different people (and no one else can see what’s being displayed for you).

Welcome to the future world of multi-view displays. Read more on Augmented reality without glasses or goggles? It’s called ‘parallel reality’…

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Isobar’s Cat VR powers game-changing content for Australian zoos

[A presence-evoking technology for an overlooked population is the focus of a satirical new prosocial campaign in Australia. This story is from B&T; follow the link at the end for more information including images and a video. –Matthew]

Isobar’s Cat VR Powers Game-Changing Content For Australian Zoos

By Hannah Cheale
April 3, 2018

Isobar has proven its credentials as one of Fast Company’s Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in AR/VR, launching the world’s first Cat VR on 1st April 2018, in partnership with Zoos Victoria and the RSPCA in Australia.

Faced with alarming statistics around the environmental impact of domestic Cats in Australia, Zoos Victoria briefed Isobar on a campaign to encourage pet owners to keep their furry friends indoors.

With pet cats killing 377 million birds in Australia each year, and one in five cats that go missing never returning home, Isobar needed to create a compelling way to keep Aussie cats safe.

Enter ‘Cat VR’, the world’s first – and tiniest – Virtual Reality experience, providing cats with unique experiences that excite their senses.

Via a miniature headset, Cat VR gives cats the chance to run around fish markets, play with giant yarn balls, hang out in a world made of cardboard boxes and chase laser pointers – all in the comfort of their own home.

Supporting the immersive experience for cats is a website designed to create a community of cat lovers sharing tips and advice on how to offer a safe and enriching life for cats inside, and a safer environment for native wildlife outside. Read more on Isobar’s Cat VR powers game-changing content for Australian zoos…

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UN and Irish firm use 360 VR to simulate IED detection in combat zones

[The importance of realism and the potential of presence-evoking technology for learning and empathy are highlighted in this story from The Irish Times (where the original includes two additional images). –Matthew]

[Image: The UN virtual-reality experience from the player’s perspective.]

Irish firm in vanguard as 360° virtual reality is deployed in combat zones

Content studio VRAI working with UN on project to help identify concealed bombs

Ciara O’Brien
April 12, 2018

The convoy of military vehicles makes its way slowly down a dusty road in Mogadishu. Scanning the road ahead, I am trying to figure out if that little disturbance in the road’s surface is just from a previous vehicle or if it means something more sinister like a hidden explosive device. It’s not worth taking the chance, so I point at the offending patch of road and wait while the experts figure it out. It’s all clear, so we continue on.

I have never felt as stressed in my life.

This isn’t real life though – at least not for me. My experience was purely in virtual reality, an experience created by Dublin-based content studio VRAI to simulate the challenges faced by troops in the Mogadishu region every day. It’s a project that was destined for an event in Somalia on International Mine Awareness Day, a United Nations initiative that took place on April 4th. Read more on UN and Irish firm use 360 VR to simulate IED detection in combat zones…

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VR gives Oregon (and other) patients and doctors an alternative to opioids

[This story from Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) provides an overview of the promise and challenges of using VR and presence to treat pain and reduce addiction to opioids. The original version includes more images and a 5:16 minute video. See also a related story from Research News @Vanderbilt and a press release via Eurekalert! about an Ohio competition to find innovative ways of using technology to fight opioid addiction (both include videos). –Matthew]

VR Gives Oregon Patients And Doctors An Alternative To Opioids

Oregon’s largest health care providers see both promise and challenges in virtual reality as a non-opioid treatment for pain.

by Arya Surowidjojo, OPB
April 5, 2018

For Moira Reeves, what helps keep the pain at bay is “Bear Blast.”

In her virtual reality (VR) world, the 6-year-old from Baker City, Oregon, is roaming a cartoonish Wild West town, blasting dodgeballs at teddy bears that pop up from the ground.

In the physical world, however, Moira is getting her wound dressing changed. The VR experience is effectively blocking the presence of the surgical scissors that has become her constant source of anxiety.

Moira has been a patient at the Legacy Oregon Burn Center in Portland for more than two months. On Jan. 20, 2018, she was helping her brother put wood in the fireplace when her dress caught fire.

“Her daddy was able to yank it off before it burned all of her, thank goodness,” said Moira’s grandmother, Beth Fusilier, who flew from Houston, Texas, to be by her granddaughter’s side.

The damage, however, was done. Within moments the ignited dress inflicted second-degree burns on more than 30 percent of Moira’s body.

In early March, once Moira was able to keep herself upright, staff at the Oregon Burn Center turned to VR to help her with the excruciating ritual of burn wound treatment.

“It just made everything a little bit easier,” said Moira’s nurse, Matt Lindsey.

“Generally, before the VR, we would have to give some extra pain medicine partway through the dressing change. And once we started with the VR we didn’t have to do that. We’d just give her pain medicine at the beginning and she was good through the whole thing.”

Hijacking The Brain — In A Good Way

The Oregon Burn Center at Legacy Health was an early adopter of virtual reality pain treatment. In 2011, it tested and purchased VR units to assist patients with the agonizing process of burn wound care, as well as reducing opioid dosage in general.

The steady toll exacted by the opioid abuse epidemic since then has only made decreasing the use of pain pills a more critical imperative.

Data from 2015 show that health providers in the Portland tri-county region wrote nearly as many opioid prescriptions as there were residents: more than 1.4 million for a population of approximately 1.7 million.

Oregon’s health care system has since leveled off that volume of opioid supply, but the demand remains high. This leaves doctors scrambling to find other, non-addictive alternatives to treat patients’ pain.

Virtual reality looks to be that non-pharmacological painkiller in fashion. Read more on VR gives Oregon (and other) patients and doctors an alternative to opioids…

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