ISPR Presence News

Category Archives: Presence in the News

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

Searing photos and the presence they evoked helped end child labor in America

[This story on Labor Day in the United States describes how the power of vivid early photographs of working children directly looking at the camera (and therefore the viewer) helped change public perceptions and end child labor in the U.S. As noted in the last paragraph, today other media including virtual reality (and the sense of presence it evokes) are also being used to show and combat social injustices. The interesting story is from The Washington Post, where the original includes eight more images (follow the link at the end for over five thousand more) as well as links to related stories. –Matthew]

[Image: A young spinner in a North Carolina cotton manufacturing company poses for Lewis Hine, the documentary photographer who inspired the creation of laws to ban child labor. (Library of Congress)]

The searing photos that helped end child labor in America

By Jessica Contrera
September 2, 2018

He arrived at the coal mines, textile mills and industrial factories dressed in a three-piece suit. He wooed those in charge, asking to be let in. He was just a humble Bible salesman, he claimed, who wanted to spread the good word to the laborers inside.

What Lewis Hine actually wanted was to take photos of those laborers — and show the world what it looked like when children were put to work.

In the early 1900s, Hine traveled across the United States to photograph preteen boys descending into dangerous mines, shoeless 7-year-olds selling newspapers on the street and 4-year-olds toiling on tobacco farms. Though the country had unions to protect laborers at that time — and Labor Day, a federal holiday to honor them — child labor was widespread and widely accepted. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that around the turn of the century, at least 18 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 15 were employed.

Hine’s searing images of those children remade the public perception of child labor and inspired the laws to ban it. Today, the Library of Congress maintains a collection of more than 5,000 of Hine’s photographs, including the thousands he took for the National Child Labor Committee, known as the NCLC.

“It was Lewis Hine who made sure that millions of children are not working today,” said Jeffrey Newman, a former president of the New York-based committee. Read more on Searing photos and the presence they evoked helped end child labor in America…

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Airlines find new uses for presence, including 360 cabin views for booking seats

[The airlines are finding interesting applications of presence-evoking technology. This story from MRO (“Maintenance, Repair & Overhaul”) Network is about new immersive tech Emirates Airlines is adopting for seat booking and other previews of the inside of its planes (more details, images and a 1 minute video are available from Emirates). APEX (“Airline Passenger Experience Association”) has a related story about a passenger survey supporting the addition of VR-based experiences in airlines’ airport pre-flight lounges. –Matthew]

Virtual Reality Informs Passengers Booking Airline Seats

Emirates helps make seat selection a more accurate experience for its passengers via an immersive, 3D, online process

Kerry Reals
August 29, 2018

Airlines are starting to use three-dimensional technology to provide customers with a detailed, immersive view of their aircraft interiors during the booking process.

By allowing passengers to virtually experience the cabin before selecting seats, the hope is that their expectations will be more accurately met. And by showcasing premium products in this way, there is a better possibility that customers will be tempted to upgrade.

In July, Emirates Airline announced that it had introduced 3D seat models to its online reservation system and says it is the first airline to use web virtual reality (VR) on its digital platform.

Alex Knigge, senior vice president of digital at Emirates, says the carrier had “been looking at this for about 12 months,” but it “wasn’t easy to find a vendor that fulfilled our requirements.”

The Dubai-based airline sought more than an app-only product. It wanted something that could be embedded into its website and accessed on desktops and mobile devices, with or without the use of VR goggles. Read more on Airlines find new uses for presence, including 360 cabin views for booking seats…

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San Diego Fire Department testing drones piloted via telepresence as part of FAA program

[This story from VentureBeat is about valuable applications of aerial telepresence; more details are on the Cape website and in coverage in Aviation Today, which includes this:

“The U.S. government launched the [drone integration pilot program] because drones are a quickly expanding industry. Civilians and companies alike are embracing them and finding new uses every day. [Cape CEO] Rittler is confident that we’re on the cusp of a broader integration into the fabric of society. ‘I really think we’re at that point, kind of like when the smartphone first came out, everybody said ‘This will never be used in enterprise,’ he said. ‘And all of a sudden, it became the enterprise tool, and everybody was creating mobile enterprise applications and mobile enterprise extensions. I think we’re right there at the end of that curve as well.’”


[Image: A Cape-equipped drone in front of the Ensenada, Mexico fire department.]

San Diego Fire Department to test remotely piloted drones as part of FAA program

Khari Johnson
August 10, 2018

The San Diego Fire Department (SDFD) today began tests of camera-equipped drones to help fight fires. Firefighters on the ground will deploy the drones, but once they’re in the air, the drones will be controlled by trained drone pilots using the Cape telepresence drone platform, a company spokesperson told VentureBeat in an email.

Once the drones receive regulatory approval, they can take flight in emergency response to give an overhead view of fires, identify people or hot spots with thermal sensors, and supply information that helps public safety officials make informed decisions in order to develop a plan of action before fire trucks can reach the scene.

Cape supplies telepresence capabilities to drone operators in various parts of the world so that trained drone pilots don’t have to physically be on the scene to do their jobs, an approach that can save time and expand viable use cases for a drone.

Drones have been deployed by dozens of fire departments across the United States, including some currently taking part in the fight against the biggest wildfires in the history of the state of California, but the SDFD deployment is different.

The Cape-SDFD partners is one of the first in a series of experiments as part of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) unmanned aerial systems integration pilot program, a project just beginning to explore transformative future use cases for drones. Read more on San Diego Fire Department testing drones piloted via telepresence as part of FAA program…

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Secret Location’s ‘The Great C’ takes an ambitious stab at long-form VR

[The creators of a new Cinematic VR film are testing the limits and learning best production practices for transitioning the VR medium from short-form demos and games to long-form engaging narratives. This story is from Variety, where the original includes more images. –Matthew]

Venice: Secret Location’s ‘The Great C’ Takes an Ambitious Stab at Long-Form VR

By Janko Roettgers
August 28, 2018

When the Venice Film Festival opens its doors this week, audiences will once again get to see a number of virtual reality (VR) titles. And anyone who has followed VR might notice a trend: Cinematic VR, as non-gaming titles are often being called, is getting longer, with experiences slowly but surely approaching the VR equivalent of a feature film.

Case in point: “The Great C,” which is based on a Philip K. Dick short story of the same name, clocks in at just above 30 minutes, and spans 20 unique environments. Luke Van Osch, who produced the animated film for the Toronto- and Los Angeles-based VR startup Secret Location, told Variety during a recent interview that many of the existing VR experiences out there still felt like a demo for the technology itself.

The goal with “The Great C” was to create something that felt “substantial,” he said. “We wanted to make something that feels like a rich and rewarding piece on its own.” Read more on Secret Location’s ‘The Great C’ takes an ambitious stab at long-form VR…

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UNC system launches VR app to improve college access

[As the fall semester begins it’s a good time to read about how The University of North Carolina System is using VR and presence to “promote and facilitate college access” across all of its campuses. It notes their plans for the use of chatbots and expansion to all colleges in the state. Most of the press coverage is drawn from this more detailed press release from UNC. –Matthew]

[Image: This still shot from a new virtual reality video compiled by the UNC System shows a class at N.C. State University. Source: News & Record.]


GEAR UP grant provides opportunity to visit the UNC System’s 16 universities

By ncbarkley@north…
August 8, 2018

CHAPEL HILL, NC – The University of North Carolina System has unveiled a new app that will allow users to take immersive virtual reality tours of each of the UNC System’s 16 universities. This innovative initiative, made possible through the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) NC program, marks the first wide-scale use of virtual reality to promote and facilitate college access.

The GEAR UP NC VR app is the first-of-its-kind and the largest VR project for social good to date. While other campuses have begun offering virtual tours, this marks the first time a university system has used the technology across all of its institutions.

GEAR UP NC VR was created with the specific purpose of helping students in rural, low-wealth, and first-generation families engage with the decision-making and application processes other college-bound students face with more secure support systems. The app helps build a college-going culture across the state, encouraging students to aspire to higher education and connecting them with the institution that will help them attain their academic and personal goals. Read more on UNC system launches VR app to improve college access…

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New VR tool uses presence to teach people to avoid being bitten by dogs

[This case study report from the Virtual Engineering Centre (VEC) at the University of Liverpool describes a unique and potentially valuable application of presence-evoking technology to help people learn the warning signs that a dog is likely to bite them. The link at the end leads to a 1:19 minute video of a first-person interaction with a virtual dog. –Matthew]


The Virtual Engineering Centre, in collaboration with Dogs Trust,  the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Infection and Global Health and Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, have created an immersive 3D environment to demonstrate the value of digital technologies in the identification and education of canines body language related to aggression.


6,740 hospital admissions for dog bites and strikes were recorded in the UK in 2013 and University of Liverpool research suggests that the burden of dog bites is considerably larger than those estimated from hospital records.

Dogs Trust is keen to better educate children and adults about the early identification of signs of aggressive behaviour within dogs in order to enable better prevention within the UK.

Dogs Trust wanted to help people to identify a range of stress and threat behaviours typically exhibited by dogs which have the potential to lead to a dog biting a person. The charity is therefore interested in understanding whether a digital model could help people to identify these signs and provide the ability to communicate, in particular to children, when a dog may not wish to interact and therefore becomes aggressive. This would helping to improve both animal and human welfare in the future.


Dogs Trust was introduced to the Virtual Engineering Centre (VEC) by academics from the University of Liverpool‘s Institute of Infection and Global Health, working in the Institute of Veterinary Science. The VEC aimed to create a proof of concept, immersive environment which would support academic research into further preventing dog bites. This could then be used as an educational tool, enabling users to better understand animal behaviour, in particular human-dog interaction and early signs of aggression. Read more on New VR tool uses presence to teach people to avoid being bitten by dogs…

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ASU partners with Google, Labster to use VR for biology lab classes, now planning expansion

[Arizona State University is using virtual reality to teach biology lab courses, and considering expanding the use of the presence-evoking technology to other fields and eventually incorporating AI for individualized teaching. This story from azcentral has the details and highlights some of the advantages; more information is available in ASU Now and the Google AR & VR blog. –Matthew]

[Image: Biological sciences student Victoria Quintana tries out a headset for a virtual-reality biology lab class during a trial run with Labster on the Tempe campus in June. Credit: Photo by Charlie Leight; Source:  ASU Now.]

ASU online biology course allows students to dissect animals — with no cutting involved

Rachel Leingang, Arizona Republic
August. 23, 2018

School supplies for some students in online biology classes at Arizona State University now include virtual reality goggles, a move toward further online science-lab instruction that many academics considered off-limits in the recent past.

ASU’s online biological sciences degree program, launched last year, started a pilot program this semester that uses virtual reality to teach labs. The pilot program is the nation’s first fully online biology class using virtual reality for labs, the university said.

The simulation lets students conduct tests and experiments. They can don goggles at home and move through lab simulations like dissections — without cutting into an animal. Or they can collect blood samples from basketball players and analyze glucose levels to understand cellular respiration.

ASU received 140 virtual reality headsets from Lenovo Group Ltd. to launch this semester’s pilot program. Labster, a virtual lab simulation company, developed the courses ASU students will use.

So far, 30 out of about 300 to 400 students in General Biology I are using the headsets. ASU plans for three additional online biology classes — cell and molecular biology, ecology and animal physiology — to use virtual simulations in classes later this fall and next year. Read more on ASU partners with Google, Labster to use VR for biology lab classes, now planning expansion…

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Two Bit Circus “micro-amusement park” will create entertaining, social presence in L.A.

[Presence field trip alert! The story from The Verge below provides a detailed description of Two Bit Circus, a new “micro-amusement park” opening in Los Angeles that uses a variety of technologies to evoke presence in “a tech-infused entertainment utopia wrapped in a circus-meets-Ready Player One aesthetic.” See the original story for lots of pictures and videos. –Matthew]


The ‘micro-amusement park’ combines VR, escape rooms, and carnival games to create a grand, playable adventure

By Bryan Bishop
August 22, 2018
Photography by Amelia Holowaty Krales

Throw out the term “amusement park,” and it conjures up visions of roller coasters and rides and costumed characters in massive, franchise-themed lands. But inside a warehouse in the downtown arts district of Los Angeles, a company called Two Bit Circus is building its own idiosyncratic riff on the idea, focused on the power of games.

Aside from a sign and some carnival-style light bulbs, the exterior of the self-styled “micro-amusement park” doesn’t seem all that remarkable. It’s a brick-faced building, a few blocks from a Blue Bottle Coffee, and across the street from a popular LA filming location that’s popped up in everything from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to Agent Carter. But stepping inside the park itself is like being whisked away into another world. There’s a video arcade, a steampunk carnival midway, and a section devoted to virtual reality experiences. There are escape rooms, a robot bartender, and a dinner club for interactive game shows and theatre productions. It’s a dizzying array of options; a tech-infused entertainment utopia wrapped in a circus-meets-Ready Player One aesthetic.

But to see it as simply a collection of games is missing the point entirely. Two Bit Circus is trying to create something bigger: a living, breathing world that’s tied together through communal gameplay, secret quests, and live actors, where guests may show up to play an arcade cabinet, but could soon find themselves pulled into a real-life story that will allow them to uncover the hidden mysteries of the park’s (alleged) past.

The Two Bit Circus micro-amusement park isn’t just an arcade. It’s one giant adventure game.


“We wanted to do our own place, our own bar, as early as 2009,” Two Bit Circus CEO and co-founder Brent Bushnell tells me. Bushnell is the son of Atari and Chuck E. Cheese founder Nolan Bushnell, and as he lays out his vision for the park ahead of its September opening, it’s easy to see the connective tissue between the new venture and his father’s own love of gaming and theme parks.

A decade ago, Bushnell and Two Bit Circus chief technology officer Eric Gradman worked together at Syyn Labs, an art and engineering collective that specialized in whimsical creations like the Rube Goldberg machine in OK Go’s “This Too Shall Pass” video. That project led to corporate gigs for clients like Disney and Google, and when Bushnell and Gradman founded Two Bit Circus in 2012, their new company went to work creating experiential marketing activations, combining virtual reality and physical elements in pieces for the NBA, the Super Bowl, and brands like Intel.

“Finally, in 2013, we were like, ‘Gosh, we’ve done a hundred events for everybody else, all these other branded things. Let’s do our own thing,’” Bushnell says. “And that was where our Carnival came from.”

Two Bit’s STEAM Carnival was a high-tech take on the carnival road show, incorporating custom-built games and steampunk-inspired robotic inventions. (Both Bushnell and Gradman have engineering backgrounds.) The goal of the venture wasn’t just to entertain; it was to encourage children to pursue study in science and the arts. The “STEAM” in STEAM Carnival came from science, technology, engineering, arts, and math, and to make it all as flashy as possible, the duo threw in a liberal dose of lasers and fire stunts. The “dunk tank flambé,” for example, was a riff on the classic dunk tank — though instead of dumping somebody in water, children had the opportunity to roast Gradman in a chamber filled with fire.

The carnival traveled to several cities, but in 2015, the impracticality of moving such an elaborate production turned their focus toward creating a more permanent installation that would eventually become the new park.

DIGITAL, MEET PHYSICAL Read more on Two Bit Circus “micro-amusement park” will create entertaining, social presence in L.A….

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How expiration of 20-year teledildonics patent will lead to presence innovation and worries

[Much of the coverage (and many of the company and product names) include terrible puns, but the expiration of “the teledildonics patent” has serious implications for the phenomena, design and study of presence experiences related to sexuality. This story is from Motherboard, where the original includes additional images. Gizmodo has more information about the effects of the patent expiring on innovation, Wired covers security and privacy concerns (including “attackers manipulating partner match ups, [so that] people might be controlling devices that they don’t have the consent to control”), and Engadget has a first-person report on the experience of using teledildonic devices. PS.: For more on the origin of the term, including Howard Rheingold’s contribution, see Future of Sex. –Matthew]

The 20-Year Patent on Teledildonics Has Expired

The 1998 patent on “interactive virtual control of sexual aids” has expired, but that doesn’t mean we should have a sex toy free-for-all.

By Samantha Cole
Aug 17 2018

On August 17, 1998, three men applied for a patent that envisioned how the future might f*ck, before we even had the technology to apply it. Today, it’s officially expired, ending a complicated 20-year relationship between teledildonics and patent law.

Warren J. Sandvick, Jim W. Hughes, and David Alan Atkinson called their patent “Method and device for interactive virtual control of sexual aids using digital computer networks,” or U.S. Patent No. 6,368,268. Sandvick is the president of a Texas company called HasSex, which seems to exist mostly to hold this patent. Since the patent was filed, it’s commonly been referred to as “the teledildonics patent.” In 11 incredible diagrams, it outlines how computers could connect to a device, that connects to another device, that connects to someone else’s setup and voilà: Everyone’s getting off, through the internet.

Utility patents like this one—which protect how something works, not how it looks—have a term of 20 years that starts on the patent application filing date.

Teledildonics, or at least the idea of them, has been around longer than the World Wide Web itself. Technology pioneer Ted Nelson is credited for coining the phrase “teledildonics” in 1975, but David Rothchild’s 1993 essay “High-Tech Sex” is one of the earliest visions of what teledildonics would really look like. He defined it as “the virtual-reality technology that may one day allow people wearing special bodysuits, headgear and gloves to engage in tactile sexual relations from separate, remote locations via computers connected to phone lines,” and that’s pretty much still spot-on. Teledildonics are internet-connected sex toys, put simply.

It was a more optimistic time, just five years before Sandvick, Hughes, and Atkinson even applied for the teledildonics patent. Twenty years later, in 2015, they sold the patent to Tzu Technologies, LLC, which immediately flipped it into a trolling effort. Tzu went after several companies that it claimed violated the patent, and killed a few of them, including an open source vibrator called the Comingle that raised nearly $60,000 in an Indiegogo campaign. Other nascent teledildonic startups caught in the blitz included Holland Haptics, Vibease, Internet Service, Frixion, and Winzz; several of these were forced to pay Tzu more than $50,000.

With its newfound, ruthless owners, the patent earned the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Stupid Patent of the Month in 2015, for being “ridiculously broad” and a case of patent trolling—squatting on a patent that’s so broad and obscure that it can be used to take legal action against a large number of companies, some of which might rather pay the patent holder than fight them in court. “There was nothing novel, nonobvious, or even patentable about this claim,” attorney Vera Ranieri wrote for the EFF. “It never should have been issued. Doing it with a computer (literally) does not make something patentable.”

A merciful end to a bullshit patent troll might seem like a unilateral good thing, but it’s been the environment sex tech developers have operated under for almost as long as their industry has existed, at least at an internet-connected capacity. Some things may change for the better—like easier, faster innovation without the threat of getting one’s ass sued off. Others might take that freedom and zip past important issues of data privacy and good interfaces before we’ve solved those problems. Read more on How expiration of 20-year teledildonics patent will lead to presence innovation and worries…

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Children can be swayed by robot peer pressure, study says

[I wish Cliff Nass could weigh in on the latest tests of the Computers Are Social Actors (CASA) paradigm; this story from The Washington Post summarizes and provides links for intriguing recent work that explores how children and adults respond to robots. More information about the replication of the Asch conformity studies is available in the University of Plymouth press release and in coverage from The Verge and Gizmodo (which both specifically discuss CASA) and a critique is presented in The Next Web. –Matthew]

Children can be swayed by robot peer pressure, study says

By Carolyn Y. Johnson, Reporter
August 15, 2018

When the robot revolution arrives, we all know the plot: Smarter machines will supersede human intelligence and outwit us, enslave us and destroy us. But what if it’s not artificial intelligence we have to fear, but artificial stupidity? What if it isn’t robot overlords that pose the greatest risk but our willingness to trust robots, even when they are clearly wrong?

As huggable social robots tricked out with humanlike facial expressions and personalities have begun to infiltrate our homes, experts are beginning to worry about how these machines will influence human behavior — particularly in children and the elderly. If people turn out to be easily swayed by robots, after all, the coming world filled with robot co-workers, caregivers and friends could hand immense power to marketers, rogue programmers or even just clumsy reasoning by robots.

“There is this phenomenon known as ‘automation bias’ that we find throughout our studies. People tend to believe these machines know more than they do, have greater awareness than they actually do. They imbue them with all these amazing and fanciful properties,” said Alan Wagner, an aerospace engineer at Pennsylvania State University. “It’s a little bit scary.”

A new study published in Science Robotics reveals how easily robots can influence the judgment of children, even when the robots are clearly in error — raising warning flags for parents and anyone thinking about the need for regulation. In the experiment, two groups of children, between 7 and 9 years old, were asked to complete a simple task: choose which two of several lines are the same length. One group did the task alone, and the other did the task while seated at a table with three autonomous robots that gazed at the same puzzle, paused and answered the question — incorrectly. The children who faced misleading robot peer pressure did less well, and three-quarters of their wrong answers were the same as the robots’ bad answers. Read more on Children can be swayed by robot peer pressure, study says…

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