ISPR Presence News

Category Archives: Presence in the News

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

Predicting and promoting shared presence at CES Asia

[This story from TechRadar demonstrates the increasingly common recognition of the central role of presence in the evolution of technology, includes observations about the use of fictional portrayals to promote presence technologies and experiences, and argues that shared presence experiences are and should remain superior to private ones. The original story includes an additional image; see the CES Asia 2018 website for more details about that recent event. –Matthew]

Forget Ready Player One – the future of VR is a physical experience

Time for a reality check

By Cat Ellis
June 14, 2018

CES Asia is a full-on experience. The show floor is spread between five fiercely air-conditioned halls the size of aircraft hangars, while expert keynote speeches and roundtables take up the entire upper level of the adjacent Kerry Hotel.

The atmosphere is electric in both senses, but some guests don’t seem to care. They’ve trekked to Shanghai – sometimes thousands of miles – to see how the latest virtual reality (VR) tech can transport them somewhere else again.

It seems a shame, but according to Steve Koenig, VP of research at the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), immersing ourselves in VR will soon be a valid lifestyle choice. “It really comes down to one single word: presence,” he says in a round-table talk on future tech trends. “When you talk about virtual reality, that sense of presence can be game-changing, not just for actual gaming, but also for education and medicine.”

Koenig believes we’re at a tipping point regarding mainstream acceptance of VR and augmented reality (AR), and draws parallels between emerging technology and the virtual world presented in sci-fi film Ready Player One. Read more on Predicting and promoting shared presence at CES Asia…

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VR and presence capture cultures and landscapes before they’re lost to rising sea

[This story is about the use of virtual reality to preserve the experiences of people and places, “cultures and landscapes,” being lost to the rising sea. As with our use of photos and recordings, and perhaps soon more immersive technological artifacts, to preserve our personal and family memories, this is an extremely meaningful, valuable and important application of presence technologies. The story is from Hakai Magazine, where it includes a second image; follow the My visit with Billiot link to watch a video of the VR experience described in the story. –Matthew]

[Image: Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana, home of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw band, is disappearing as it loses land to the Gulf of Mexico. Photo by Coco Robicheaux/Alamy Stock Photo.]

Virtual Reality Preserves Disappearing Land

Coastal communities are capturing their cultures and landscapes in virtual reality before sea level rise steals them for good.

by Brian Owens
June 18th, 2018

It’s a sunny day in southern Louisiana, and I’m sitting on a porch listening to 91-year-old Wenceslaus Billiot, the oldest member of the Isle de Jean Charles band of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw, describe how the island has changed throughout his long life.

“When I was a kid, my daddy and I would go to Montagut in a pirogue to get groceries,” he says, as a breeze stirs the wooden wind chime by my side. “We used to trap [muskrat]. Then when we sold the furs, we’d go make a grocery bill for the summertime.”

There is no trapping on Isle de Jean Charles anymore, and looking out from Billiot’s porch it’s easy to see why. Not even 100 meters away—beyond the protective ring levee that girds what remains of the island—is open water. The wetlands where Billiot and his father once hunted are gone. Since 1955, the island has lost 98 percent of its land to erosion, subsidence, and a rising sea. Soon it will lose most of its inhabitants, too.

Two years ago, the Isle de Jean Charles band received US $48-million from the federal and state governments to relocate the community to a new site about 50 kilometers inland, likely within the next few years. The move made the band the first government-recognized climate refugees in the country.

When it’s time for my visit with Billiot to end, I take off the virtual reality headset. Suddenly, I’m back in a classroom at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium in Cocordrie, an hour’s drive from Isle de Jean Charles.

In reality, Wenceslaus Billiot died in March. But in virtual reality, his memories and his stories, as well as the experience of visiting his home—to drink in the sights and sounds of the disappearing island—will live on. Read more on VR and presence capture cultures and landscapes before they’re lost to rising sea…

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Telepresence robots attempt to move back into the spotlight

[This story from Robotics Business Review provides a status report on the challenges and potential of the telepresence robot market. See the original for several more pictures, links to 10 leading telepresence robot companies, and to sign up for the RBR Newsletter. –Matthew]

[Image: Credit: Ava Robotics]

Telepresence Robots Attempt to Move Back Into the Spotlight

High costs, end user difficulties, and poor audio/video have hampered the growth of telepresence robotics. Can new models and applications help grow the market beyond niche uses?

June 13, 2018
Keith Shaw

The public’s first exposure to telepresence robots likely came during a 2010 episode of The Big Bang Theory, when character Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) drives a robot to avoid catching germs from his friends and colleagues. The punchline was that Cooper was inside his bedroom one room away, not across the country like most users would be.

This should have been a watershed moment for the telepresence market – showing a mainstream audience the benefits of a mobile robot that could attend meetings in place of a worker being physically present. Almost eight years later, many people are still waiting to see more telepresence robots in their offices or homes.

Compared with robotics suppliers to the manufacturing, supply chain, and self-driving vehicles markets, telepresence robot companies have flown under the radar. Challenges including high costs, employee training, and public acceptance have slowed the market from growing to its potential, analysts said.

Waiting for the killer app

“The market seems to be in search of the right ‘killer application’ to bring the technology into mass adoption,” said Lian Jye Su, principal analyst at ABI Research. “There are certainly a lot more markets that are left untapped.”

The initial average cost for a mobile telepresence robot is between $8,000 and $10,000. In addition, vendors have had “difficulties trying to carve out a good value proposition for their products,” contributing to a slow-moving market, he said.

However, Su said the industry will slowly gain traction thanks to declining prices for parts and better messaging from vendors.

“The launch of BeamPro 2 by Suitable Technologies this year is an encouraging sign for the industry as a whole, as it signifies there is market acceptance for mobile telepresence robots targeted at the enterprise,” he explained. “We are also seeing more vertical focus messaging and branding from companies like OhmniLabs targeting the elderly care market and Blue Frog Robotics in the smart home market.”

ABI Research classifies telepresence robots as a subset of the global telepresence market. It has forecast growth from about 22,000 this year to about 50,000 units by 2023.

A 2017 report by market research firm Technavio predicted a 38% growth rate by 2021 for telepresence robots worldwide.

Su said companies that utilize a robots-as-a-service (RaaS) model will help lower the barrier to entry for many firms looking to implement telepresence robots.

Autonomy adds to ease of use Read more on Telepresence robots attempt to move back into the spotlight…

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The importance of teaching robots to hug

[Experiment participants “felt understood by, trusted, and liked the presence of [a] robot significantly more after” hugging and being hugged by it; this interesting story about medium-as-social-actor presence from IEEE Spectrum’s Automaton blog includes an interview with the study’s lead author in which he suggests that in the future robots will have “emotional intelligence” and that we may send each other remote customized hugs via robot. See the original story for a second image and a 1:11 minute video, as well as a link at the end to sign up for the blog. –Matthew]

The Importance of Teaching Robots to Hug

Knowing how to give good hugs is an important life skill, even for robots

By Evan Ackerman
June 5 2018

Hugs make us feel warm and safe and comforted and loved. They’re pretty great, if you’re into that sort of thing. If we need a hug and another human isn’t available, we can sometimes get a little bit of satisfaction from hugging inanimate objects like stuffed animals, but it seems like robots (that can hypothetically hug us back) might be able to be somewhat more fulfilling. While we’ve seen robots that are actively huggable before, and even a few that can hug you back, it’s not clear exactly how a robot hug compares to a human hug, and whether hugging a robot can confer any of the benefits that we get from hugging people.

At the ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human Robot Interaction (HRI) earlier this year, Alexis E. Block and Katherine J. Kuchenbecker from the Haptic Intelligence Department at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart, Germany, presented a paper on “Emotionally Supporting Humans Through Robot Hugs.” Their work explores how robots can be more effectively designed and taught to give the kinds of hugs that humans will love. If you hug robots every time you see them (like I do) and sometimes wish those robots could be just a little bit warmer and softer, this research is definitely for you. Read more on The importance of teaching robots to hug…

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Step inside a moment of history with Anne Frank House VR

[Oculus and the Anne Frank House museum have debuted a new 25 minute virtual tour across space and time to the Secret Annex where Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazi over seven decades ago. As this post from the Oculus Blog notes, “Hopefully it [will help] to encourage reflection on the dangers of anti-Semitism, racism, and discrimination and the importance of freedom, equal rights, and democracy.” See the original post for five images from the tour and a 0:57 minute video. –Matthew]

Introducing ‘Anne Frank House VR,’ an Immersive Experience that Recreates Amsterdam’s Secret Annex and Preserves a Piece of Holocaust History

Posted by Oculus VR
June 12, 2018

Today marks what would have been Anne Frank’s 89th birthday. As a teenager, she dreamt of becoming a journalist or writer—and while those dreams were tragically cut short, she succeeded in her ambitions not “to have lived in vain” and “to go on living” after her death through the pages of The Diary of a Young Girl. And her legacy can reach people in a brand-new way with Anne Frank House VR, now available on Rift, Oculus Go, and Gear VR.

The Anne Frank House museum partnered with developer Force Field VR to recreate the Secret Annex where Anne Frank and her family lived in hiding from July 6, 1942 until their arrest on the morning of August 4, 1944. Using cutting-edge visualization technology and extensive historical research, the end result opens up the experience to an even wider audience in a fully immersive way. Read more on Step inside a moment of history with Anne Frank House VR…

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New face-swapping AI: “The end of reality is imminent”

[Other coverage of the latest iteration of AI-based video manipulation of humans (e.g., in Gizmodo and TechCrunch) includes more details while noting the remarkably fast evolution of the technology, and the website of Stanford visiting professor Michael Zollhöfer includes much more information and a statement about both its positive and negative applications, but this short piece in Co.Design describes the implications most starkly. The articles all include the new 7:04 minute video, which is also available via YouTube.  –Matthew]

[Image: Screenshot from Deep Video Portraits demo video. Source: TechCrunch.]

This new face-swapping AI is scarily realistic

The end of reality is imminent.

June 12, 2018
By Jesus Diaz

AI-powered face-swapping technology awed the internet when it debuted last year at Siggraph, the annual computer graphics conference. The videos, known as “deep fakes,” quickly became an even more controversial–and painful–phenomenon as people used the algorithm to create porn videos using the faces of unwilling celebrities or private citizens. Even while the occasional artifact revealed the fakery, it was clear that the technology had torn down the wall between fiction and reality.

Now, a new iteration of the tech, called Deep Video Portraits technology, is debuting at this year’s Siggraph conference in August. The seven-minute video accompanying the paper, which was uploaded to YouTube this week, shows how the past year of research has pushed such technology to a reality-shattering new level. Read more on New face-swapping AI: “The end of reality is imminent”…

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How humans bond with robot colleagues

[This first story from BBC Capital’s new Augmented Reality column provides a vivid, link-filled overview of medium-as-social-actor presence responses to robots. The original version includes six more pictures. –Matthew]

[Image: German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets Pepper the Robot on Girls’ Day on April 26, 2017 in Berlin, Germany. The event is meant to encourage young women to pursue careers in all parts of the German economy, especially in sciences, information technology and engineering, and this year the event occurs simultaneously with the W20 women’s empowerment summit, sponsored by the G20 Group of 20 major economic powers. Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images.]

How humans bond with robot colleagues

They’re supposed to be coming for our jobs but in practice humans are developing a soft spot for their new robot colleagues.

By Zaria Gorvett
31 May 2018

In our new Augmented Reality column, BBC Capital will explore scenarios you might encounter in your not-so-distant future.

If you had visited Taji, Iraq in 2013 – well, you might have seen something peculiar. The site lies an hour north of Baghdad and is home to a US military base, with dusty floors and formidable concrete walls. It is in this brutal environment that, following a lethal explosion, a group of soldiers tenderly remembered their fallen comrade. He just so happened to be a robot.

To all who knew him, this brave hero was affectionately nicknamed Boomer. He had saved many lives during his service, by going ahead of the team to search for lurking bombs that had been laid by the enemy. At his funeral, Boomer was decorated with two medals, the prestigious Purple Heart and Bronze Star, and his metallic remains were laid to rest with a 21-gun salute.

Boomer was a MARCbot, a military robot that looks a bit like a toy truck with a long neck, on which a camera is mounted. They’re relatively affordable for robots – they’re each about $19,000, or £14,000 – and not particularly difficult to replace. And yet, this team of soldiers had bonded with theirs. When he died, they mourned him like they would a beloved pet.

Fast-forward a few years and this story isn’t as unusual as you might think. In January 2017, workers at CBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, threw a retirement party for five mail robots. Rasputin, Basher, Move It or Lose It, Maze Mobile and Mom had been pacing the company’s hallways for 25 years – delivering employee mail, making cute noises and regularly bumping into people.

There was cake. There were balloons. There was a nostalgic farewell video. There was even a leaving card with comments like “Thanks for making every day memorable” and “Beep! Beep! Beep!” The robots will likely spend their final years relaxing at one of the many museums that have requested them.

Though they’re often portrayed as calculating job-stealers, it seems that there’s another side to the rise of the robots. From adorably clumsy office androids to precocious factory robots, we can’t help bonding with the machinery we work with. We feel sorry for our non-human colleagues when things go wrong, project personalities onto them, give them names and even debate over their gender. One medical robot-in-training, Sophia, has been granted citizenship of Saudi Arabia.

Not all collaborative robots, or “cobots”, were designed to be likeable. Many are just rectangular boxes, that lack faces, the ability to speak, as well as any artificial intelligence. Why do we care about them? And what does it mean for the future of work? Read more on How humans bond with robot colleagues…

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VR and presence used for bear safety training in British Columbia

[The CBC report below is about a niche but potentially life-saving application of presence-evoking technology; the original story includes three different images. For more information listen to the 4:27 minute report from CBC’s Daybreak North radio program and see the VR Safety Training Solutions website. A short piece from MyPrinceGeorgeNow includes these additional quotes:

“’From the people we have talked to who have taken the [regular] training, they aren’t always confident that they would know how to use it effectively in the field even though they’ve taken the training,’ explains CEO Kelly O’Neill. ‘So we wanted to be able to provide them with an experience that is very realistic.’”

“’This is as real as it gets without being attacked, it is the most effective training tool I’ve seen. I definitely want to add this to our bear safety training programs,’ said Dan Le Grandeur, Bear Scare Inc., Wildlife Management & Training Expert, in a statement.”


This B.C. tech company is using VR for bear safety training

Virtual reality gives trainees hands-on experience beyond what classroom learning can provide

CBC News
Posted: Jun 09, 2018

If you found yourself being charged by a 270-kilogram grizzly bear, would you know what to do?

A tech firm in Prince George, B.C., is hoping to teach people how to respond to that exact scenario with a new virtual reality training program — and to make that training stick.

“We realized that a lot of the training you have to take is a little bit mind numbing, and we thought there must a better way to teach and a more effective way to teach,” said Kelly O’Neil, CEO of VR Safety Training Solutions.

Participants begin by donning a virtual reality headset and controller, the latter of which is used during the game to deploy bear spray.

The headset renders an idyllic woodland scene, complete with sound effects — but before long, the player is spotted by a bear, which then charges with frightening speed. Players must use their bear spray before it’s too late. Read more on VR and presence used for bear safety training in British Columbia…

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“The robot became part of me”: NeuroEmbodied Design for artificial limbs

[The profound implications of the innovation described in this story from the MIT Media Lab is clear in this sentence from the second-to-last paragraph: “We see a future in which our designed world will be carefully integrated within our nature: a world in which what is biological and what is not, what is human and what is not, what is nature and what is not, will be forever blurred.” See the original story for an additional image, three videos, an FAQ and more. Futurism’s coverage, titled “Artificial Limbs We Forget Are Artificial,” links to a story in Popular Mechanics with more information including an 8:25 minute segment from Science Friday. –Matthew]

Agonist-antagonist Myoneural Interface (AMI)

May 30, 2018

Humans can accurately sense the position, speed, and torque of their limbs, even with their eyes shut. This sense, known as proprioception, allows humans to precisely control their body movements.

Today’s conventional prosthetic limbs do not provide feedback to the nervous system. Because of this, people with amputated limbs cannot feel the position, speed, and torque of their prosthetic joints without looking at them, making it difficult to control their movement. In order to create a more complete prosthetic control experience, researchers at the Center for Extreme Bionics at the MIT Media Lab invented the agonist-antagonist myoneural interface (AMI). The AMI is a method to restore proprioception to persons with amputation.

Proprioception in people with intact biological limbs is mediated by biological sensors in muscles acting in opposition to each other in relation to a single joint. To replicate this feedback in an amputated residuum, an AMI is made up of two muscles – an agonist and an antagonist – connected mechanically; when the agonist contracts, the antagonist is stretched, and vice versa. The purpose of an AMI is to control and interpret proprioceptive feedback from a bionic joint. During an amputation procedure, a surgeon creates AMIs by linking together muscle pairs within the amputated residuum. Multiple AMI muscle pairs can be created for the control and sensation of multiple prosthetic joints. Artificial muscle electrodes placed over each AMI muscle communicate with small computers within an advanced bionic limb that control movement of the bionic joints. As the bionic limb moves, the AMIs enable a person with limb amputation to feel its positions and movements. The AMI was validated in extensive pre-clinical experimentation at MIT, prior to surgical implementation in a human patient at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital and bionic implementation at MIT. Read more on “The robot became part of me”: NeuroEmbodied Design for artificial limbs…

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With Venues, Oculus and Facebook push social VR into new territory

[Oculus Venues is a new platform for social VR and this story from Wired describes some of the key design choices its creators faced; it includes both explicit and indirect references to presence. The original version includes different images; for more information about what the Venues experience is like see stories in CNET and Mashable. –Matthew]

[Image: Source: VRScout]

With Venues, Oculus and Facebook Push Social VR Into New Territory

Peter Rubin
May 30, 2018

Tonight, more than 9,000 people will fill Red Rocks Amphitheatre outside Denver to listen to Vance Joy, an Australian singer-songwriter with a name like a game-show host and an abiding love for ukulele. He’ll be playing songs from his most recent album, gracing the same stage that hosted U2 during their now-iconic 1983 performance.

But those 9,000 people won’t be alone. They’ll be joined by others watching it live—perhaps as many as in Red Rocks itself, perhaps more. These other spectators will be watching from home in their virtual-reality headsets; courtesy of a new app called Oculus Venues, they’ll get their own panoramic three-dimensional view of the show.

Vance Joy at Red Rocks isn’t the first time people have been able to watch a live event via VR. That’s been possible since 2015. And multiuser VR platforms have been able to accommodate small crowds of people for just about as long. But as Venues’ inaugural event, this will be the first time they’ll be able to do it together, hundreds or even thousands at a time—talking with their friends, meeting new people, seat-hopping at will, and even ascending to a private viewing box if the crowd gets to be too much.

Oculus has never done anything like this. Its parent company, Facebook, has never done anything like this. When you’ve got hundreds of strangers gathered together, there’s a lot that could go wrong, and technical glitches are only the beginning. People could be bored; worse, people could be assholes. And on a stage as big as Red Rocks, with technology as young as VR, “there’s no such thing as bad press” decidedly does not apply.

So as anodyne as the choice of artists might be, tonight’s Vance Joy show masks a surprisingly risky move for a pair of companies that are at the forefront of a larger conversation about privacy and user safety. Yet, they designed Venues—in purpose and in practice—to anticipate and minimize that risk, and to open up a new category of experience they think may well represent the future of VR. Read more on With Venues, Oculus and Facebook push social VR into new territory…

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