ISPR Presence News

Category Archives: Presence in the News

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

Free virtual reality app drops users in the heart of historic Armenia

[Presence can play a key role in preserving cultural heritage, and not just when sites are under threat. This story from describes a new free app designed to “bring the value of Armenian cultural heritage out of the abstract and into the lives of millions.” See the original story for more images. –Matthew]

[Image: Khachkars are prominently visible in front of the Noravank monastery. Credit: Sossi Madzounian, My Armenia Program.]

This Free Virtual Reality App Drops Users in the Heart of Historic Armenia

Painstaking imaging of cultural heritage sites worldwide has the potential to usher in a new era of participatory preservation efforts

By Ryan P. Smith,
June 28, 2018

Armenia’s medieval monastery at Noravank, nestled amid the craggy slopes of the country’s mountainous terrain, is a striking exemplar of Armenian architectural tradition. Elegant geometrical symmetries abound in its places of worship, and the ancient technique of khachkar—the carving of ornate crosses into steles—is on display outside, where several of the tall stone slabs watch over the complex like holy sentinels. A few miles to the north lies the cave system known as Areni-1, where the earliest known evidence of both human shoes and winemaking was uncovered by archaeologists.

Few American citizens are familiar with these awe-inspiring historical sites, and fewer still have had a chance to visit. With the aid of a brand-new virtual reality app titled My Virtual Armenia, however, anyone in possession of a smartphone can tour the sites at their own pace, taking in the scenery with a panoramic “Magic Window” view and listening to audio commentary from regional experts.

The app—now freely downloadable on both iOS and Android devices—is the product of deep collaboration between the Smithsonian, the world heritage preservation organization CyArk, and the educational app developer FarBridge. Attendees of this year’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which is celebrating the rich culture of Armenia through live performances and craft demonstrations on the National Mall, are invited to use the app to enhance their experience. But users all over the world, not just in Washington, D.C., will be able to explore the wonders of Noravank and the Areni caves in high-resolution digital form even after the festival. Read more on Free virtual reality app drops users in the heart of historic Armenia…

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Do Brexit and Trump show that we’re living in a computer simulation?

[Recent events have me thinking again about the argument, offered even before the 2016 U.S. elections (see this ISPR Presence News post), that the rise of Donald Trump is evidence that we’re living in a computer simulation. It’s either a cruel experiment or prank by our digital overlords or some kind of glitch. The column below from The Conversation makes the counterargument to the first possibility by noting that any society that survives long enough to develop the capability to create such a sophisticated simulation would have had to develop a moral code that would prevent such cruelty. Of course in the context of genocides and world wars, Trump and Brexit are minor inconveniences, and to me the glitch seems to be an equally compelling, if deeply disturbing, prospect. In any case, just the fact that these events continue to cause many of us to ask these questions about the nature of reality is a really interesting presence phenomenon. –Matthew]

Do Brexit and Trump show that we’re living in a computer simulation?

Michael Frazer, Lecturer in Political and Social Theory, University of East Anglia
March 10, 2017

Recent political events have turned the world upside down. The UK voting for Brexit and the US electing Donald Trump as president were unthinkable 18 months ago. In fact, they’re so extraordinary that some have questioned whether they might not be an indication that we’re actually living in some kind of computer simulation or alien experiment.

These unexpected events could be experiments to see how our political systems cope under stress. Or they could be cruel jokes made at our expense by our alien zookeepers. Or maybe they’re just glitches in the system that were never meant to happen. Perhaps the recent mix-up at the Oscars or the unlikely victories of Leicester City in the English Premier League or the New England Patriots in the Superbowl are similar glitches.

The problem with using these difficult political events as evidence that our world is a simulation is how unethical such a scenario would be. If there really were a robot or alien power that was intelligent enough to control all our lives in this way, there’s a good chance they’d have developed the moral sense not to do so. Read more on Do Brexit and Trump show that we’re living in a computer simulation?…

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Will you watch the next World Cup on your coffee table in 3-D? New tech impresses

[This story from King5 TV in Seattle describes a new system that may be a glimpse of how we’ll experience a greater sense of presence in future sports broadcasts. See the original version of the story for a 2:04 minute video report.

Coverage in ZDNet includes additional information and this assessment: “While still in an early development stage, the results are compelling enough to suggest there could be a real future in this kind of system for home sports viewing — and it could come sooner rather than later. … Unlike most newfangled 3D entertainment, this is something I can actually envision using myself.”

For more details including a research paper and a longer video, see the project’s website. –Matthew]

[Image: Source: ZDNet]

3-D soccer: Is this UW’s ultimate goooooooal?

One researcher from the University of Washington wants you to stop looking at screens when you watch soccer and start looking down at your coffee table.

Author: Guiliana Viglione
June 28, 2018

What if you could watch the next World Cup play out on your coffee table in 3-D? Researchers at the University of Washington Reality Lab are hoping to make that science fiction scenario a reality by using sophisticated computing techniques to turn two dimensions into three.

Konstantinos Rematas, a postdoctoral researcher at UW, led the team that developed a program they call “Soccer on your Tabletop.” It takes a simple highlight video and maps it into three dimensions. With the aid of an augmented reality device, the video can be displayed on any flat surface and the viewer can walk around to see the play from different angles. Read more on Will you watch the next World Cup on your coffee table in 3-D? New tech impresses…

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VR pilot training now comes with a sense of touch

[Virtual reality offers advantages over traditional physical mock-up flight simulators, but until now also the important disadvantage of minimal haptic feedback. This (lightly edited) Wired story explains how that’s being addressed. See the original story for two more images, and for more information see the Go Touch VR website. –Matthew]

VR Pilot Training Now Comes With A Sense Of Touch

Ric Adams
June 26, 2018

Aviation simulators—the most valuable training tool pilots have—have to get things right. The instrument panel. The wind and the rain. The response of the aircraft when you flip a switch or pull on the yoke. It all must be as high fidelity, as true to life, as possible. Otherwise, pilots risk uncertainty or disorientation when transferring their simulated experience to the real world.

With the rise of virtual reality-based simulation, in which users wear headsets instead of sitting in a cockpit where everything is real but the view out the windshield, the challenge of maintaining that verisimilitude has really taken off. These systems cost just a few thousand dollars, instead of the tens or hundreds of thousands you pay for a full-size cockpit mockup. They’re smaller and more portable too, a plus for clients like militaries who like the option of training pilots in remote locations.

The downside is that in today’s systems, beside the joystick, rudder pedals, and maybe a throttle lever, all the controls are digital renderings. You “activate” the switches and dials by poking and jabbing into thin air. That amplifies the challenge of VR-based training, where the nuances of touch and movement are essential to programming the pilot’s brain.

One solution—long pursued across many virtual-reality applications, from gaming and design to sex—is haptic feedback. Mechanical actuators placed in contact with different areas of the user’s body, most notably the hands and fingertips, add the sensation of touch to these computer-generated worlds. Now, a French company called Go Touch VR is putting it into action. Read more on VR pilot training now comes with a sense of touch…

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Regulating presence and sex: Making laws and claims without evidence

[As the story below from Motherboard notes, the evolution of technology raises important ethical and legal questions about how “sex dolls, robots, and artificial intelligence will be regulated in the future, and whether legislators are ready to consider the nuances of sex with humanoids.” For two recent related stories see “We Have No Idea What Having Sex With Robots Might Do to Us” in Futurism and “One of the World’s Most Famous Sex Robots Can Now Revoke Her Consent” in Dazed. All of these stories emphasize the need for more research.

Here’s an excerpt from the Futurism article: “Several companies are already working on more advanced bots — one boasts AI software that enables its sexbot to ‘hold long-term persistent conversations’ with humans — and people seem pretty open to giving them a shot. One survey of 263 heterosexual men found that 40 percent could see buying a sexbot for themselves in the next five years. A larger survey of 2,000 men and women in the U.S. found that 49 percent of men would be open to a romp with an ‘enhanced, hyper-realistic’ doll.”


The House Unanimously Passed a Bill to Make Child Sex Robots Illegal

Dan Donovan’s “Curbing Realistic Exploitative Electronic Pedophilic Robots,” or CREEPER Act, has good intentions—but it’s vague and largely unsupported by strong evidence.

Samantha Cole
Jun 15 2018

Wednesday, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill that aims to ban the importation and transportation of child sex dolls.

The “Curbing Realistic Exploitative Electronic Pedophilic Robots (CREEPER) Act,” is a bipartisan bill sponsored by Rep. Dan Donovan (R-NY.)

Even aside from the goofy name, the bill is odd. It’s very short, but makes a lot of big, broad claims. Its name focuses on robots, but humanoid—and child-shaped humanoid robots—aren’t nearly as widespread as their analog doll counterparts. It’s probably not the worst idea to ban child sex robots, but the bill makes a few claims that would seem to be impossible to prove, namely that “dolls and robots not only lead to rape, but they make rape easier by teaching the rapist how to overcome resistance and subdue the victim.”

The bill also claims that “dolls and robots are intrinsically related to abuse of minors, and they cause the exploitation, objectification, abuse, and rape of minors.”

“Right now, a few clicks on a computer can allow a predator to order a vile child sex doll,” Donovan said in a press release. “This is not only disturbing—but also endangers the most innocent among us. Once an abuser tires of practicing on a doll, it’s a small step to move on to a child.”

There isn’t a lot of evidence to support the claims made in the bill, and some researchers have tried to make the argument that child sex dolls could be used—or at least should be considered—to potentially rehabilitate pedophiles.

“There is no research,” David Finkelhor, a professor of sociology and the director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, told me in an email. “But who’s going to vote against it? It is very likely that people who buy these also have child porn and are at greater risk to commit hands on offenses, but whether the dolls in themselves promote offending or change norms is not clear.” Read more on Regulating presence and sex: Making laws and claims without evidence…

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The Weather Channel uses “immersive mixed reality” to simulate a tornado hitting the studio

[The Weather Channel’s new use of mixed reality to engage viewers and educate them about how to stay safe during tornadoes is pretty compelling. This story about it is from AR Post, where the original version includes more images and the full 7:45 minute video segment. –Matthew]

The Weather Channel Launches Mixed Reality Broadcasts

The Weather Channel incorporates immersive mixed reality into their broadcast to demonstrate the power of a tornado.

Gergana Mileva
June 22, 2018

This week The Weather Channel was hit by a tornado—a virtual cataclysm brought forth through immersive mixed reality technology. It was meteorologist Jim Cantore who showed viewers the early stages of a tornado strike all the way up to a catastrophic EF5 behemoth, which eventually wiped out the studio.

The segment aired at three different time slots on the morning of Wednesday, June 20. It began like any other weather program, with the anchor standing before a screen that supposedly shows real-time footage of a tornado. As the funnel cloud started to form and move, a power line can be seen crashing onto the floor of the studio. The anchor then taught viewers a few safety measures when surrounded by downed power lines.

Floating yellow boxes popped out of nowhere, revealing important facts. One of those boxes informed viewers to keep a safe distance from a fallen power pole.

Mixing Education and Entertainment

Cantore’s program is designed to educate and inform, but it also does not fall short of entertaining. It elucidates how such a natural phenomenon can pose risks to people and properties. The meteorologist-turned-anchor laid out the facts as he dodged and yelled as power lines and debris kept on flying into the studio, including a beat-up car.

Using immersive technologies, the network was able to make the studio appear like it was being whiplashed by 200mph winds. It illustrates how far the tornado’s strong winds can carry objects of different weights and sizes.

As the storm got closer to the location, Cantore donned a helmet and ran off screen to take cover. The studio itself was ripped apart by the virtual tornado, leaving nothing but rubble, smoke, and the American flag, which somehow didn’t fall to the ground.

Introducing Interactive Mixed Reality to Broadcasting

The broadcast seemed vaguely similar to a video game. The Norwegian-based developer, The Future Group, might have something to do with that. Together, they fashioned an interactive mixed reality experience using Epic Games’ Unreal Engine. Their partnership with The Weather Channel was first announced in April.

Mo-Sys’ newest camera tracking system was also utilized in the process. The Future Group made the virtual experience life-like by using latest particle systems, dynamic textures, and other state-of-the-art effects from the Unreal Engine. Read more on The Weather Channel uses “immersive mixed reality” to simulate a tornado hitting the studio…

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Dave & Buster’s Jurassic World VR ride goes for safe thrills

[The latest Jurassic World movie just had a successful opening weekend (as reported by CNN); the story below from CNET reviews a new VR-based attraction tied to the film that’s available at over 100 Dave & Buster’s entertainment centers. Both as an experience and from a marketing the standpoint, the verdict is positive. See the original story for a second image and a 1:49 minute video, and for more information see the press release via PR Newswire. –Matthew]

Dave & Buster’s Jurassic World VR ride goes for safe thrills

Mini theme park attraction or massive arcade game?

By Scott Stein
June 15, 2018

Maybe Dave & Buster’s has solved the VR problem: Don’t make large-scale expensive experiences, just go for quick, fun rides. And throw in a lot of virtual dinosaurs.

The first thing I noticed when I saw Dave & Buster’s new Jurassic World: VR Expedition ride, which opened Thursday, is it looks like all the other crazy games at this arcade chain. Neon blue, a large bouncing row of seats, monitors with videos of dinosaurs… it’s flashy, and begs to be ridden.

Some of the recent pop-up location-based VR experiences at movie theaters and elsewhere let players wander around and shoot things with Ready Player One-like haptic vests. Dave & Buster’s is going simpler: you can’t walk anywhere. This is a ride, several minutes long. And it costs only $5, versus the $20-plus that some of the larger-scale VR experiences ask for. HTC Vive headsets come wired into each seat, ready to put on.

The ride is set between the first Jurassic World movie and the newest sequel, Fallen Kingdom, that’s arriving in the US next week.

I didn’t think this is what Dave & Buster’s was planning when it announced that VR was coming to all its locations, but a bunch of my colleagues and I tried it out at the Times Square location in New York, before the ride opened to the public. And… it’s fun! It’s bouncy, realistic and feels like a little mini Disney ride in VR. Read more on Dave & Buster’s Jurassic World VR ride goes for safe thrills…

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How eye tracking in VR can be a valuable tool for researchers and designers

[Because it can evoke presence, virtual reality represents a powerful venue for researchers if we have the tools to measure user responses during the experience; this story from Forbes describes one such tool and its potential. See the original story for a second image and follow the link to Tobii Pro for more information. –Matthew]

Looking Through Your User’s Eyes With Virtual Reality Gaze Tracking

Alice Bonasio, CONTRIBUTOR – I cover the intersection between business and immersive technologies
June 21, 2018

Eye-tracking technology is nothing new in itself, but it is gaining rapidly both in scope and popularity as immersive virtual experiences become more widely used both in business and leisure contexts.

This type of technology is a natural fit for VR, as most headsets have inbuilt eye-tracking technology to allow them to deliver immersive experiences in the first place, as gaze is one of the primary ways in which you interact with those types of environment.

After developing eye-tracking commercial solutions for years, Swedish company Tobii Pro is now bringing to market a new analytical tool which leverages these capabilities in Tobii Pro VR.

The tool integrates into Unity environments and allows eye-tracking studies to be conducted within 3D virtual reality environments. It also comes with automated features for visualizing and measures what a user sees, tracking their interactions and navigations within a simulated world. Read more on How eye tracking in VR can be a valuable tool for researchers and designers…

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VR and presence are helping chemists discover new life-enhancing drugs

[This story from Wired describes how biochemists are using virtual reality and the sense of presence it creates to better understand and manipulate the structure of molecules and improve the process of discovering effective drugs. See the original story for a 1:29 minute video. –Matthew]

[Image: Credit: C4X Discovery]

Virtual reality is helping chemists discover new life-enhancing drugs

What one thing do scientists really need to help them discover new life-saving drugs? Virtual reality

By Phoebe Braithwaite
13 June 2018

Blue skies, streaked with clouds – an unending expanse of grid to stand on – and one massive molecule: in the drug-discovering virtual world, for the first time, scientists can get up close and personal with the drugs they’re designing. Grabbing hold of a virtual molecule, floating in space before them, using two lightsaber-wielding claw-like hands, the chemist can get as close to touching the desired structure as is (meta)physically possible.

Drug discovery company C4X Discovery (C4XD) has developed its own VR tool, 4Sight, to help its chemist visualise the structure of complex molecules and come up with new drugs. C4XD develops new drugs for conditions like cancer and chronic addiction – the company is, for instance, working with pharmaceutical company Indivior.

Biochemists at C4XD are today using virtual reality technology to develop drugs which treat respiratory conditions and neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and dementia. The company had been using its incredibly detailed proprietary database in its work, and have just partnered with Invidior to try developing a drug that treats addiction. This database records an unusually high level of information about each drug molecule, the different formations it takes, and how often they take them. But, over the past six months, chemists at the company have begun using 4Sight to develop new drugs.

“Starting to use VR was quite transformative, because all of a sudden the molecules become part of my world and I can manipulate them in space just ahead of me, like you would do comparing two oranges and two apples,” says Thorsten Nowak, medicinal chemist at C4XD. With the VR platform, drug discovery “became as visual as it can really ever be”. Read more on VR and presence are helping chemists discover new life-enhancing drugs…

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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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