ISPR Presence News

Category Archives: Presence in the News

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

Snapchat’s Originals incorporate AR and presence for “whatever comes after TV”

[Presence-evoking technologies are changing traditional audio-visual media in interesting ways. Snapchat is experimenting with using augmented reality for both watching and responding to original interactive programming via mobile devices, as described in this story in Fast Company; see the original story for a 1:04 minute video and animated gifs. –Matthew]

Snap is making whatever comes after TV

Today the company is announcing new original programming that puts users inside the story. Is it prestige TV, social storytelling, or a whole new medium?

October 10, 2018
By Mark Wilson

I’m standing on a beach, and a group of beautiful twentysomethings gather round a bonfire. There’s Dylan, a passionate dreamer, who strums at an acoustic guitar in his millennial pink hoodie. And Summer, she’s an ambitious life-lover, who dons red Chuck Taylors that match her jacket.

I know their names, and their personalities, because their backgrounds float right over their heads. And in case I hadn’t made it clear, I’m not actually on the beach in Orange County. I’m standing in my basement, viewing the scene through a Snapchat AR “portal,” which immerses me in a 360-degree moment that feels like a cross between a chill beach party and a trailer for some new MTV reality show.

This effect is by design. The experience I’m previewing is part of a new Snapchat show called Endless Summer, produced by Bunim-Murray, the same production company that brought us The Real World. It’s all part of Snap’s continued obsession with leveraging its own interactive, social platform to push the nature of programming forward.

This week, Snap is unveiling its biggest initiative in original programming yet. Dubbed Snap Originals, it includes a dozen new shows produced specifically for Snap, ranging from a horror anthology, to a mysterious campus mystery created by a writer on Riverdale, to a docuseries about drag queens who are coming of age.

Snap’s own content hasn’t all been a hit–following a controversial redesign, especially, its publishers reported losing views. But over the last two years, it’s become a successful platform for the company that Sean Mills, head of Original Content for Snap, is quick to point out mirrors the habitual viewing style of TV audiences, rather than the viral one-offs of YouTube. SportsCenter’s show on Snapchat reaches 2.5 million viewers, and NBC News’s audience has doubled on Snap over the last year, from 2.5 to 5 million viewers a day. That’s a small cry from Snapchat’s 188 million daily active users worldwide, but puts NBC’s Snapchat viewership on par with a hit cable show.

With its new content push, Snap doesn’t want to just duplicate TV shows or Netflix binges, though. For whatever position its stock might be in, Snap wants to do something more ambitious: Push the medium of storytelling forward, leveraging its AR breakthroughs and social platform to do so. Read more on Snapchat’s Originals incorporate AR and presence for “whatever comes after TV”…

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Audible’s “A Harry Potter Pensieve Experience” takes readers into the narrative

[An interactive exhibit at the recent New York Comic Con “plung[ed] readers right in the narrative”; this story from Ad Age introduces a 3:43 minute video recorded at NYCC. Bleeding Cool has 14 images and a short video and The Verge provides more context regarding the innovations in and the popularity of audio books. –Matthew]

Read more on Audible’s “A Harry Potter Pensieve Experience” takes readers into the narrative…

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Mural Arts Philadelphia debuts its first augmented reality mural, ‘Dreams, Diaspora, and Destiny’

[Thanks to the Mural Arts Philadelphia program, since 1984 the city has been home to over 3600 murals, the “World’s Largest Outdoor Art Gallery”; the new mural described in this story from Philly.com incorporates augmented reality and a soundtrack to tell an engaging story. See the original story for another picture and a 0:31 minute video. For more on public arts projects incorporating AR see the Mural Arts Philadelphia blog, and for more on the mission and history of the organization and the city’s murals see the Mural Arts Philadelphia website and coverage in the Huffington Post. –Matthew]

[Image: Credit: David Swanson / Staff Photographer]

Mural Arts Philadelphia debuts its first augmented reality mural, ‘Dreams, Diaspora, and Destiny’

By Grace Dickinson
October 10, 2018

Mural Arts Philadelphia is bringing art to life with the city’s first augmented-reality mural, Dreams, Diaspora, and Destiny. The project invites viewers to experience a large-scale painting completed on a warehouse at 53rd and Media Streets through the lens of a smartphone app that casts holograms and generates a changing soundtrack as you move from left to right.

Picture a metaphysical version of Pokémon Go in which the power of a screen momentarily alters reality around you.

To see the augmented-reality mural, you’ll need to download the free app, created by the local production firm Blue Design. It’s available in the Apple App store under the name “MuralArtsAR.” (Unfortunately, it’s not available for Android users.)

To see the augmented reality, point your phone screen at the mural. Immediately, elements such as light beams, colorful orbs, floating crystals, and sculpturelike figures will begin to pop out from the painting, covering a wall the length of a city block. You can start your AR experience at any point along the mural, but it’s best to begin at the left side, where the story of the mural begins. Read more on Mural Arts Philadelphia debuts its first augmented reality mural, ‘Dreams, Diaspora, and Destiny’…

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Virtual reality reimagines the haunted mansion – with eerily realistic effects

[The technologies used to create Halloween attractions are increasingly capable of producing rich and intense presence experiences, as detailed in this story from Fast Company; see the original version for other pictures and videos. –Matthew]

Virtual reality reimagines the haunted mansion–with eerily realistic effects

The Void’s hyper-reality experiences allow you to do more than just enter a new world–you get to touch, feel, interact, and even smell truly terrifying environments.

By Rina Raphael
October 1, 2018

I am screaming so loudly–repeatedly–that it’s more of a piercing shrill echo.

I fear it’s so disturbingly distracting that I can’t stop apologizing. “I am so very sorry,” I tell my fellow time-travelers, noting that once again, the demon got the best of me. He came out of nowhere and as much as I tell myself this isn’t real, it feels real. This, despite the fact that whenever I bring my hands to muffle my mouth’s sounds, they do not appear as my hands; they are the thin, leather-gloved fingers of a Victorian lady.

I am at Nicodemus: Demon of Evanishment, a new hyper-reality ghost tour presented by The Void, which produces immersive location-based VR experiences. In this new vision of the traditional haunted mansion, a group of four is hooked up to virtual reality headsets and jetpacks to set off into a maze of a dozen connected rooms that to the naked eye, resemble a laser tag playground. But for those equipped, we have traveled back to a detailed recreation of what was left of the forsaken Chicago World Fair in 1894.

There, amidst tarnished wrought-iron gates and decaying spiderweb-strewn exhibits, one explores the ruins of what was once a grand expo center. Gilded Roman statues crumble before you as rats scuttle across the dirtied stone floors. Sometimes a rotting corpse makes an impromptu appearance, its curdling blood slowly dripping by its wayside.

There’s also a more ominous element at play: A supernatural presence by the name of Nicodemus has somehow transported itself to the vacant grounds by way of an electro-spiritualism experiment gone wrong.

The monstrous demon, whom I assume hates fairs, kidnaps fine folks such as my newfound pals. We board a rickety train that abruptly halts and shakes whenever the sinister spirit attacks, but in reality, we simply walk from room to room, grasping at blank black walls whenever we need to steady ourselves.

Every so often, our expertise is commanded, such as when electricity valves need a surge or a chilling exhibit requires a lever pulled. It’s truly an interactive haunted experience, albeit more sophisticated than your average Halloween hayride.

Halfway through our 20-minute tour, one of my fellow explorers excuses herself. Not because of anything I’ve done or how long I’ve screamed, but because this hyper-reality ghost experience proves too much for her.

“I just freaked out,” she explains later. “It was too realistic.”

HORROR: THE NEXT GENERATION Read more on Virtual reality reimagines the haunted mansion – with eerily realistic effects…

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Facebook wants to fix video calls with Portal smart devices

[In addition to their features, most of the press coverage of Facebook’s new Portal devices emphasizes questions about the actual and perceived privacy the products will provide. This story is from Business Insider, where it includes other images. A 5:43 minute interview with Portal VP Rafa Camargo at Bloomberg includes the quote here about presence and several others including a specific reference to social and “video” presence. Wired has more details about the Portals including this:

“Get up and walk around, and the camera follows you, staying zoomed in. If there’s more than one human in the room, Portal will zoom out and recrop to fit everyone in the frame. If you want to zoom in on just one person, tap the screen and select ‘Spotlight mode,’ which locks Portal’s camera onto one face and body, keeping that person centered in the frame no matter who else comes and goes. The features are clever, and make the Portal feel miles more advanced than other dedicated videochat devices.”

At this writing the Portal website, portal.facebook.com, features a vivid image illustrating ‘connection’ between two users.  –Matthew]

[Image: Source: Bloomberg]

 Facebook wants to fix video calls with Portal, a $200 gadget that lets you talk to your Messenger friends

Rob Price
October 9, 2018

Facebook thinks video calls are broken — and it’s betting that people are willing to pay for a better experience.

On Monday, the Silicon Valley tech giant unveiled the Facebook Portal, a video-chat and smart-speaker device that it said would start shipping in November.

It’s a significant announcement for the company, one that puts it directly into competition with the likes of Google and Amazon and represents its first foray into building consumer hardware under the Facebook brand.

The Portal, which comes in two sizes, integrates with Facebook’s Messenger chat app and is designed to be used for video calls with a user’s friends.

The Portal will cost $199 and the larger Portal Plus $349, and it will be available only in the US. You can preorder it starting Monday.

The device also doubles as a voice-controlled home assistant and smart speaker in the vein of the Amazon Echo or Google Home. Facebook’s Portal comes with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant built in, allowing it to respond to voice commands to carry out various tasks. Read more on Facebook wants to fix video calls with Portal smart devices…

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NSF funds three-year Penn State study of VR simulations for teaching industrial engineering

[Researchers affiliated with Penn State University are designing not just individual VR simulations to teach industrial engineering but an integrated, thematic curriculum that incorporates VR and presence to serve both in person and remotely located students with “the potential to transform our concept of higher education and how we learn.” This story is from Penn State News, where it includes more pictures (see also related earlier coverage from Penn State News). –Matthew]

[Image: Researchers at the Data-Driven Decisions lab at Penn State Behrend and the Design Analysis Technology Advancement lab at University Park are developing a virtual-reality simulation that will place industrial engineering students in an interactive and immersive manufacturing environment. Credit: CANSTOCK]

NSF funds three-year study of virtual-reality engineering simulations

Robb Frederick
October 05, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Industrial engineering students often use simulation kits – boxes full of Lego blocks – to learn Toyota’s production system. They build Lego cars, sometimes using robots and programmable logic controllers to speed the process.

Researchers at the Data-Driven Decisions (3D) lab at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, and the Design Analysis Technology Advancement (D.A.T.A.) lab at University Park will soon test a different technique. They are developing a virtual-reality simulation that will place students in an interactive and immersive manufacturing environment where they can model and manipulate production systems. The VR environment, which will include concepts that are taught in a variety of courses, will move Penn State’s industrial engineering program toward a truly integrated curriculum, with a continuing theme, or story, that will reinforce key concepts as students progress through the program.

The National Science Foundation is supporting the project with a three-year grant of nearly $300,000. Read more on NSF funds three-year Penn State study of VR simulations for teaching industrial engineering…

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It’s time to talk about robot gender stereotypes

[This story from Wired highlights the power of (in this case, medium-as-social-actor) presence, and the tension between profits and ethics: “The danger is that robot makers, consciously or not, may exploit gender stereotypes to try to make their machines more effective [with consumers] … It doesn’t have to be this way.” –Matthew]

[Image: Donat Sorokin/TASS/Getty Images]

It’s Time To Talk About Robot Gender Stereotypes

Matt Simon
October 3, 2018

Robots are the most powerful blank slate humans have ever created. Want a helpful robot? No problem. Want a mean one? Sure, if that’s what you’re into. A robot is a mirror held up not just to its creator, but to our whole species: What we make of the machine reflects what we are.

That also means we have the very real opportunity to screw up robots by infusing them with exaggerated, overly simplified gender stereotypes. So maybe robots aren’t simply a mirror. “I think of it more as a funhouse mirror,” says Julie Carpenter, who studies human-robot interaction. “It’s very distorted, especially right now when we’re still being introduced to the idea of robots, especially real humanoid robots that exist in the world outside of science fiction.”

Perhaps the biggest issue—yet most subtle—is gender. How gender biases manifest in the design of voice assistants is well-worn territory. Research shows that users tend to like a male voice when an authoritative presence is needed and a female voice when receiving helpful guidance. Scientists are just beginning to consider how these gender biases materialize in physical robots.

Robots don’t have genders—they’re metal and plastic and silicon, and filled with ones and zeroes. Gender is a complicated mix of biology, which robots don’t have, and how we feel about that biology, feelings that robots also lack. Yet we are already finding ways to mirror our social problems in our robots. One study, for instance, found that participants judged a robot programmed to perform security work as more masculine, while they judged the same robot instead programmed for guidance to be more feminine (echoing the gender preferences toward voice assistants). The danger is that robot makers, consciously or not, may exploit gender stereotypes to try to make their machines more effective—designing a receptionist robot to be more feminine and therefore more “welcoming,” or a security robot to be more broad-shouldered and therefore more “authoritative.”

It doesn’t have to be this way. Robots could just as easily be used to confront, and begin changing, those stereotypes. “It’d be great if somehow we could use robots as a tool to better understand ourselves, and maybe even influence some positive change,” says Carpenter. “Globally, the social movement we’re moving towards is equality. So why go backwards? Why refer to gender norms from the 1960s?” Read more on It’s time to talk about robot gender stereotypes…

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VR and presence boost workouts by reducing pain during exercise

[This story from Inverse describes a new study that demonstrates the power of VR and presence to alter perceptions and, in this case, enable more effective physical exercise (although as with many presence phenomena, I can envision negative consequences if it’s not used in moderation). See the original for two more images, and coverage from The University of Kent for more details. –Matthew]

VR Boosts Workouts by Unexpectedly Reducing Pain During Exercise

Meet your next performance-enhancing drug.

By Emma Betuel
October 4, 2018

If you walk in on someone exercising with a VR headset on, they might look pretty ridiculous. Perhaps you’d silently judge them for what might seem like random, awkward movements. If this describes you, a study published in Psychology of Sport and Exercise may make you regret that snap judgment: Researchers’ findings suggest that VR can actually play a powerful role in exercise performance, helping people push through physical discomfort.

In the wider-world of VR-related exercise, companies like Virzoom have constructed elaborate scenarios, from games that allow you to lasso bandits on horseback to scenarios in which your exercise bike becomes a pegasus in flight. But the VR game used in this study, conducted by a team of researchers from the University of Kent in England, wasn’t even fun — it was an exact recreation of the actual lab, right down to the bland, gray walls.

Despite this extremely underwhelming backdrop, the study’s authors still found that participants who exercised while wearing a Samsung Galaxy Gear VR headset lasted roughly one minute longer on average than control groups during a “continuous pain task” — essentially a test in which the team asked participants to hold a dumbbell stationary until they couldn’t anymore. The VR subjects lasted 5.34 minutes on average while the control group averaged 4.14 min. But strangely, the VR group also reported 10 percent lower pain intensity scores during the task. Read more on VR and presence boost workouts by reducing pain during exercise…

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Yale study: Robots help children with autism improve social skills

[A new study demonstrates the potential of medium-as-social-actor presence to help develop the social skills of children with autism (and possibly others). The story is from Yale News, where it includes a 2:14 minute video. –Matthew]

Robots help children with autism improve social skills

By William Weir
August 22, 2018

A study led by Yale researchers found significant improvements in the social skills of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) after a month of working with robots.

Modeling eye contact and other social behaviors, the robots guided the children of 12 participating families through storytelling and interactive games designed to promote social skills such as emotional understanding, taking turns, and seeing things from others’ perspectives. The results are published Aug. 22 in Science Robotics.

The study, led by Brian Scassellati, professor of computer science, began with a baseline assessment of the children’s skills and emotional development. One month later, a robot was placed in each of the homes, and the children worked with the robots for 30 minutes every day for 30 days. For the last part of the study, researchers assessed the children again one month later to measure their progress.

The improvements in social behaviors were seen in the clinical data, including the scores of the six interactive games, said the researchers. The children’s caregivers (in this study, either a parent or a grandparent) also reported that the children were noticeably better at making eye contact and initiating communication by the end of the study. Read more on Yale study: Robots help children with autism improve social skills…

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Love in the time of AI: Meet the people falling for scripted robots

[This story from The Guardian describes a bit of the history of dating simulations, the (nuanced) presence experiences of people who use them, the roles of the technology and the user’s imagination that contribute to those experiences, and a future when the simulations further blur the line between real and virtual. See the original story for more pictures. –Matthew]

[Image: A picture of Jumin Han, one of the characters in Mystic Messenger, and his cat, Elizabeth III. Credit: Oscar Schwartz,]

Love in the time of AI: Meet the people falling for scripted robots

A crop of dating simulations where the goal is to reach a virtual happily ever after have recently become hits. Are they a substitute for human companionship or a new type of digital intimacy?

By Oscar Schwartz
26 Sep 2018

I recently met a young woman named Wild Rose on an online chat forum. We struck up a conversation and within the first five minutes, Wild Rose – who is married, has a daughter, and lives in Texas with her in-laws – started telling me about her lover, a man called Saeran.

Saeran, she told me, is the illegitimate son of a politician who had grown up with an abusive mother. He is handsome, has white blond hair, golden eyes, a large tattoo on his shoulder. Wild Rose said that when she first met him, her “heart literally ached” and her cheeks “flooded with blood”.

She then paused and added: “But I don’t think Saeran loves me the way I love him. I love him genuinely. I’ll never know his true feelings.”

The reason: Saeran isn’t human. He is a character in a mobile phone game called Mystic Messenger, which was released two years ago by Cheritz, a South Korean game developer. It has since been downloaded by millions of people worldwide. The game is a mix between a romance novel and Spike Jonze’s 2013 movie Her, in which a man develops a relationship with a Siri-like character.

The primary aim of Mystic Messenger is to pursue a romantic relationship with one of a number of characters in the game, one of whom is Saeran. To cultivate intimacy with these virtual beings, you talk to them via a text message. The responses are pre-scripted, but feel dynamic and sincere. Winning the game is not about scoring points or beating a final boss; it is about reaching a “good ending” where you and your virtual lover live happily ever after. Read more on Love in the time of AI: Meet the people falling for scripted robots…

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