ISPR Presence News

Monthly Archives: January 2017

Call: Bodily Extensions and Performance (Avatars, Prosthetics, Cyborgs, Posthumans) – IJPADM special issue

International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media

Special Issue Call for Papers:
Bodily Extensions and Performance (Avatars, Prosthetics, Cyborgs, Posthumans)

Guest editors: Sita Popat and Sarah Whatley

EXTENDED DEADLINE: 31st January 2017

Full manuscripts should be submitted by email to
Publication: Autumn 2017 in Volume 13, Issue 2

The International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media is seeking contributions for a special issue on Bodily Extensions and Performance.

Bodily extensions are becoming everyday occurrences for many people, e.g. contact lenses, digital avatars, prosthetic limbs. Bodily extensions attach to or connect with bodies to adjust, change, or augment them in physical or virtual spaces. We may use them ourselves, or see them in work-places, in social environments, at home, or in the media. They may be perceived as enabling tools or disabling features, and they may be incorporated into body image and implicated in social identity. They may be used by choice or by necessity, based on personal, social, or cultural expectations. They can be as hi-tech as a surgeon manipulating a device to operate remotely on a patient in another country, as media-hyped as a Paralympian athlete with running blades, or as low tech as a blind person using a stick. These technical practices may appear diverse at first glance, but they raise critical questions about the body that performance is well placed to investigate.

We are particularly interested in essays that examine cultural and political impacts of bodily extension in performance; experiences and perceptions of extended bodies for artists, performers and audiences; and ways in which performance theories and practices are questioning the boundaries of what it means to be a body.  What constitutes an extended body, and how are bodily extensions portrayed in performance?  Can extended bodies be considered as part-human, super-human, non-human, or post-human, and how does performance comment upon or interact with such categorisations?

We invite full essays of between 5,000 and 8,000 words that might consider (but are not limited to) the following topics: Read more on Call: Bodily Extensions and Performance (Avatars, Prosthetics, Cyborgs, Posthumans) – IJPADM special issue…

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Is empathy via presence always a good thing?

[This story from Haaretz catalogs many recent uses of VR and presence to evoke empathy, with a variety of positive effects, but the last section considers more cautious perspectives (including from our colleague Doron Friedman) regarding the efficacy and morality of evoking empathy in this way. The original version of the story includes eight videos. –Matthew]

[Image: Trying on VR headset at Mobile World Congress, Barcelona, last February. Credit: Pau Barrena/Bloomberg.]

Can virtual reality bring world peace?

The technology is being put to seemingly good uses, but some researchers disagree.

By Shira Makin
Jan 16, 2017

You are standing on a street in Syria when suddenly an explosion is heard, body parts are flying everywhere and you run for cover. You’re in Gaza, experiencing the reality of a Palestinian woman who has lost her sons in an Israel Defense Forces attack. You’re in Nepal, spending a few hours alongside a teenage girl who’s trying to rehabilitate her life following the earthquake. You’re standing in line with homeless people in Los Angeles. You’re a black man. You’re a woman who’s being subjected to a sexual attack. Then you take off the virtual reality goggles.

A growing group of artists, social activists and human rights organizations maintain that virtual reality technology, which allows the creation of a environment using pictures and sound, can save the world – or at least improve it.

In recent years, dozens of projects have allowed the viewer – or more accurately, the participant – to experience events in a more intimate way than ever. This closeness, they say, strengthens empathy for other people. If we take someone and send him to see and hear the war in Syria up close, he will feel as if he’s really there and will care more. If we put a white man in a black man’s body, he’ll become slightly less racist. Read more on Is empathy via presence always a good thing?…

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Call: GFF 2017: Realities and World Building

Call for Papers

GFF 2017: Realities and World Building
University of Vienna, September 20th-23rd 2017

Bio and abstracts due: February 28th 2017

The creation and experience of “new” worlds is a central appeal of the fantastic. From Middle Earth to variations of the Final Frontier, the fantastic provides a seemingly infinite number of fantastic “worlds” and world concepts. It develops and varies social and cultural systems, ideologies, biological and climatic conditions, cosmologies and different time periods. Its potential and self-conception between the possible and the impossible offer perspectives to nearly every field of research.

The plurality and concurrent existence of different, even contradictory concepts of reality is an established topos in cultural and social sciences.[1] In a similar fashion, scientific narratives can simultaneously coexist with fantastic ones within the cultural network of meaning [2] – without creating an existential antagonism between them. The reason for that is not that one of these narratives is true while the other is not, but – following Hayden White, who assumed that scientific and literary narratives have more in common than not [3] – because both of them are fictional. If a fantastic narrative is internally consistent, it is in a Wittgensteinian sense [4] as true as Newton’s laws. This poses an existential problem for the fantastic: if it applies to every consistent narrative, what is the defining difference between fantastic and other narratives?

In our everyday practice, however, we seem to easily distinguish the fantastic from other aspects of reality. How is that possible? How can fantastic worlds emerge within and besides other multiple world-conceptions? What are the functions of fantastic worlds in the construction of reality? In designating texts as fantastic, we explicitly assert their fictitious character. Which practices do we employ to facilitate this designation?

We call narratives fantastic that violate our common reality consensus, thus establishing their own counter-reality consensus – in other words, a different world. This is done in different ways, thereby defining fantastic genres: for example, science fiction uses key motives like objects and cultural practices (interstellar travels, wormhole-generators, etc.) for world-building that belong to a realm of conceivable future possibility. While the modern scientific reality consensus does not categorically preclude beaming, it does deny the very possibility of a demon summoning.

In order to serve as a foil to the real, the fantastic has to play an ambiguous role: key motives of its multiple worlds have to be recognizable as imaginary, but at the same time at least some of these elements have to be linked with common reality consensus. A typical strategy for achieving this ambiguity is the incorporation of cultural practices that remind us of established perceptions of history, most prominently perhaps the European Middle Ages. Thus, a perceptible distance between the narrative and the recipient’s common reality consensus gets established, while using parts of this very consensus to render the narrative comprehensible.

Wolfgang Iser considers the “fictive” to be an intentional act, and the “imaginary” the recipient’s conception of the fictionalization’s effects.[5] World Building is part of every narrative, but as a result of variable cultural contexts, every narrative is involved in different modes of production and perception. The conference aims to emphasize and reflect these very acts of fictionalization used to build fantastic worlds – in different media, and on theoretical as well as methodological levels. Read more on Call: GFF 2017: Realities and World Building…

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Join the Obamas on an intimate behind-the-scenes virtual reality tour of the White House

[This week’s change in White House occupants is causing profound anxiety – a Scottish newspaper Sunday provided a creative suggestion that we’re living in a “huge interactive virtual reality project, which will unfold on TV, in the press, and on Twitter over the next four years” – but the Ad Week story below notes the continuity of efforts of U.S. Presidents to share the experience of being in “the people’s house,” with increasing ability to evoke a sense of (tele)presence. The new video is available on the White House Facebook page and a post on the Oculus blog has more details and links. –Matthew]

[Image: President Barack Obama appears in a new virtual reality tour of the White House. Credit: Felix and Paul Studios.]

The Obamas Gave an Intimate Behind-the-Scenes Virtual Reality Tour of the White House

A look at how the First Family lives

By Marty Swant
January 13, 2017

In exactly one week, the Obamas will move out of the White House.

After eight years, President Barack Obama and his family will move to a new home as his time in office comes to an end. But before it does, the First Family wanted to give the public one last tour of its home—but this time in virtual reality.

Felix and Paul Studios, working alongside Facebook’s Oculus team and the Obama administration, has spent months shooting an intimate behind-the-scenes tour of the White House to give viewers a more detailed look at what it means to live at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The eight-minute version of the film, which debuts today, will be followed sometime next year with a longer 20-minute film. Read more on Join the Obamas on an intimate behind-the-scenes virtual reality tour of the White House…

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Call: Hypertext 2017 – 28th ACM Conference on Hypertext and Social Media

Call for Papers
28th ACM Conference on Hypertext and Social Media 2017 (HT2017)
July 4 – 7, 2017, Prague, Czech Republic

Abstract submission for main proceedings: February 3, 2017

The ACM Conference on Hypertext and Social Media (HT) is a premium venue for high quality peer-reviewed research on theory, systems and applications for hypertext and social media. It is concerned with all aspects of modern hypertext research, including social media, adaptation, personalization, recommendations, user modeling, linked data and semantic web, dynamic and computed hypertext, and its application in digital humanities, as well as with interplay between those aspects such as linking stories with data or linking people with resources.

HT2017 will focus on the role of links, linking, hypertext and hyperlink theory on the web and beyond, as a foundation for approaches and practices in the wider community. Therefore, HT2017 has the following tracks:

  • Social Networks and Digital Humanities (Linking people)
  • Semantic Web and Linked Data (Linking data)
  • Adaptive Hypertext and Recommendations (Linking resources)
  • News and Storytelling (Linking stories)
  • Demonstrations

SUBMISSION INSTRUCTIONS Read more on Call: Hypertext 2017 – 28th ACM Conference on Hypertext and Social Media…

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Inside Ford’s virtual reality labs

[This story from TriplePundit provides a clear, layperson’s explanation of the many ways virtual reality (and presence) can improve the design, engineering and manufacturing of products, along with the lives of those involved in these processes. –Matthew]

[Image: Immersive virtual reality uses a 23-camera motion-capture system and head-mounted display to virtually immerse an employee in a future workstation. Credits: 1) Ford (for press use only); 2) Courtesy of author.]

Inside Ford’s Virtual Reality Labs

By Phil Covington on Friday, Jan 13th, 2017

These days the buzz in the auto industry is all about autonomous vehicles and the future of personal mobility. But a technology that’s less obvious — though forms an integral part of vehicle development — is virtual reality (VR).

This week, we were fortunate to visit Ford Motor Co.’s Virtual Reality labs in Dearborn, Michigan, to take a look at the innovative ways the automaker uses VR across a broad range of activities involved in bringing a new vehicle to market. We examine these in three main functional areas: design, engineering and manufacturing. Read more on Inside Ford’s virtual reality labs…

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Call: Equitable Access to Interaction with Mobile-based Virtual and Augmented Reality Systems (EquiVAR) at IEEE VR 2017

2017 IEEE VR Equitable Access to Interaction with Mobile-based Virtual and Augmented Reality Systems (EquiVAR)
Saturday (afternoon), March 18, 2017

Organized in conjunction with the IEEE Virtual Reality 2017 – Los Angeles, California on March 18-22, 2017,

Abstract submission: February 3, 2017
Submission Deadline: February 5, 2017


Virtual and augmented reality technologies and their applications in education, engineering, healthcare, and entertainment offer potentially unprecedented benefits to society. Thus, it is important for the research community to address social and economic imbalances so that people from diverse backgrounds have similar opportunities when it comes to accessing and using virtual and augmented reality. While the current cost of stationary VR systems is, and for a while will be, prohibitive to most of the world’s population, mobile-based head mounted displays are the means for democratization of access to VR and AR due to ever-increasing proliferation of mobile devices.

However, current mobile-based VR systems do not yet deliver a fluid, immersive experience comparable to stationary VR systems. While their quality of graphics and audio is quickly improving, one technological barrier that is not sufficiently addressed is their interaction. While stationary VR systems are often equipped with specialized spatial input devices, such as hand motion and pose tracking sensors, mobile-based HMDs provide, at best, voice input, head orientation, and a touchpad with a button or two. Mini-keyboards, touchpads, game controllers, and other standard input devices may be used in mobile-based VR, but they are neither effective in 3D interaction scenarios, nor do they provide input information necessary for adequate representation of the user in many application domains. In consequence, although the promise of virtual and augmented reality is to immerse the user in artificially generated, interactive 3D environments, mobile-based VR enables passive viewership rather than active participation.

The goal of this workshop is to facilitate discussions that will identify and categorize available input sources and interaction techniques that enhance the user’s immersion through mobile-based VR and AR, and thus positively impact equitable access to VR and AR. The expected contributions may examine the feasibility of using sensor data provided by low-cost, everyday devices to enable capturing of the user’s movement, identification and reconstruct the user’s environment, and recognition the user’s gestures, behaviors, poses, facial expressions, gaze direction, or emotional state. The proposed research does not need to be limited to the existing ecology of everyday devices, but may also uncover novel, low-cost input solutions that utilize EEG or EMG sensors, stretch bands, micro robots, audio and video input, and intelligent clothing, among other forms of input.

We invite authors to submit position papers, preliminary designs and research results, novel concepts, demos, prototype applications, or case studies. Submission length may vary from 2 to 6 pages (including references). Read more on Call: Equitable Access to Interaction with Mobile-based Virtual and Augmented Reality Systems (EquiVAR) at IEEE VR 2017…

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Telepresence robots let people explore cultural venues without really going

[This story from CNET makes clear the value of being ‘present’ in a museum via telepresence robot, with the second half providing the author’s impressions of the experience; see the original story for several more pictures. Google’s Arts & Culture resources provide a more limited but still presence-evoking experience of many cultural treasures (e.g., as a clock collector and enthusiast I’d like to visit the (U.S.) National Watch and Clock Museum in Columbia, Pennsylvania in person but I can ‘visit’ via Google. –Matthew]

[Image: My virtual experience in the museum was comparable to my real-life visit. Photo by James Martin/CNET.]

How robots bring the mob life to you

Special telepresence bots let people with physical disabilities explore cultural venues, such as Vegas’ Mob Museum, just like everyone else.

by Roger Cheng
January 7, 2017

Pamela Forth was determined to bring a little culture into her fiancé’s life.

That was no easy feat. Two decades earlier, a car accident left Roger Sprong a quadriplegic, with limited mobility. That made any trip too far beyond his Valparaiso, Indiana, home a challenge.

But Forth, a 61-year-old teacher from Palm Harbor, Florida, was determined, and learned about telepresence robots — roughly 5-foot tall machines with a large display and cameras, all on wheels — that let people with physical disabilities remotely tour different venues. As it turned out, the Mob Museum in Las Vegas had just invested in such a robot, the Beam Pro from Suitable Technologies, and was looking for guinea pigs.

So in March, Forth and Sprong sat together on his bed, turned on his computer, downloaded the software and piloted the robot through the first floor of the museum, which features a long hallway adorned with pictures of all the known mob “Made Men” and their associates.

Sprong used his keyboard to maneuver the robot, which the museum affectionately calls “Moe-Bot.”

“It was neat to go on a virtual date together,” Forth said.

They had a blast and made plans to see the final two floors. But Sprong died in August before he was able to complete the tour. Even so, his feedback helped shape the experience for future guests, many of whom deal with physical ailments.

The 5-year-old Mob Museum is just one of 10 museums that’ve adopted the Beam Pro robot to give people a chance to view an exhibit virtually. Other museums include the San Diego Museum of Art and the de Young Museum in San Francisco. As Forth and Sprong found, that’s a massive boon to people with physical disabilities, opening a pipeline into an array of cultural experiences.

“We certainly see Beam use growing in the museum and cultural arts markets,” said Christa Cliver, director of education business development at Suitable Technologies, which at CES 2017 announced a faster, longer-lasting version of its robot. Read more on Telepresence robots let people explore cultural venues without really going…

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Call: Researching the Transgressive Aspects of Gaming and Play (Media Mutations 9 pre-conference)

Call for Abstracts

Researching the Transgressive Aspects of Gaming and Play
(Media Mutations 9 pre-conference)
Bologna, Italy
May 22, 2017

Abstracts deadline: February 15, 2017

Diverting from a focus on games and gaming, game studies currently pays growing attention to play, playfulness, and play practices. The idea that games and play are about the fun and the safe has repeatedly been challenged from different angles. While the average game experience is often characterized by failure and frustration related to increasingly difficult challenges, children’s play often change from laughter to crying in a heartbeat, and playfulness is at the core of dangerous activities such as BASE jumping and race car driving.

Play is “something precarious, a balance that needs to be maintained unbroken but that at the same time needs to be challenged and put at risk in order to remain interesting” (Linderoth and Mortensen 2015), and in this seminar we are asking what methods we can use to better understand the dimensions of this elusive paradox of play. From this point of departure, we will explore questions such as:

  • With what methods can we best understand the dynamic and ambiguous activities related to play?
  • How do we research subjective player experiences?
  • How can we best research subversive, deviant and transgressive play practices?
  • To what degree can game research borrow methods from other disciplines, and at which point do we need to speak about and develop play/game specific methods?

We aim for the seminar to be a venue where researchers can present ideas and drafts for intended submission to for instance Media-ludic approaches: Critical reflections on games and research practice. Special issue in Mediekultur, edited by Torill Elvira Mortensen and Emma Witkowski. Read more on Call: Researching the Transgressive Aspects of Gaming and Play (Media Mutations 9 pre-conference)…

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The making of virtually real art with Google’s Tilt Brush

[This story from The New York Times provides an interesting look at the development and early-days potential of Google’s Tilt Brush technology and virtual art generally; see the original for more images and two videos. –Matthew]

[Image: Roz Chast’s cartoon made with Tilt Brush. Credit: Google]

The Making of Virtually Real Art With Google’s Tilt Brush

By Frank Rose
January 4, 2017

SAN FRANCISCO — In 1949, a Life magazine photographer named Gjon Mili made a pilgrimage to the French Riviera to see Pablo Picasso. Mili had come up with a way to photograph trails of light, and he wanted to shoot Picasso “drawing” in midair with a light pen — a process that would leave no trace except on film. Picasso loved it. The result, published in Life and exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, was Picasso’s celebrated series of “light drawings” of bulls and centaurs and the like — photographs that captured him in the act of creating the ultimate in ephemeral art.

Picasso is long gone. But some 68 years later, Google has been calling on dozens of artists, animators and illustrators with a high-tech update of Mili’s concept — a virtual reality setup that enables people to paint with light that actually stays where you put it, at least for viewers wearing a VR headset. In place of Gjon Mili are Drew Skillman and Patrick Hackett, a pair of video game developers turned virtual reality enthusiasts who live in San Francisco.

They were trying to build a 3-D chess application one night a couple of years ago when they discovered it had an unexpected side effect: As you moved the chess pieces around in virtual space, they left trails of light behind. Sensing that their bug was in fact a feature, the two dropped the chess project immediately and hurled themselves at the light trails, hoping to develop a tool for drawing in three dimensions.

In April 2015, seven months after they had cobbled together a rudimentary system they called Tilt Brush, Google bought their company for an undisclosed sum — which is how Mr. Skillman and Mr. Hackett have come to be ensconced in the company’s offices near the downtown waterfront here. With Google’s support, Tilt Brush has attracted a team of developers and evolved into a sophisticated tool for drawing, painting, even sculpting in space. It was released in April as a free add-on to the new HTC Vive, an $800 virtual reality system produced by the Taiwanese manufacturer HTC in partnership with Valve, an American video game developer. (It’s on sale as a $30 software package from Valve’s online store.) Reviewers immediately dubbed it the Vive’s killer app.

This is hardly the kind of reception the two inventors were expecting when they started working on it in Mr. Skillman’s apartment, a 400-square-foot studio in South Park, the little neighborhood that has been a hub for San Francisco’s digerati since the 1990s. “Not in our wildest dreams,” said Mr. Skillman, a slightly built 36-year-old with a neatly trimmed beard and a modest, unassuming manner.

Tilt Brush got its name because in its earliest versions, you would draw or paint on a two-dimensional surface that could be tilted in any direction in virtual space. But because the HTC Vive includes not just a virtual reality headset but also a pair of hand-held controllers and two tracking sensors that map your movement in space, the program was revamped to enable you to paint or draw anywhere within a room-sized area — no surface required.

One controller serves as a palette, with dozens of colors and effects; the other acts as a brush or pen. To watch someone use it is a bit unnerving, since the person appears to be making marks in midair, but you can’t actually see those. But put on a Vive headset and step between the sensors yourself — as I did in a windowless room in Google’s New York offices — and the illusion of delusion disappears. Instead, you suddenly see what has been produced: a phantom creation in three dimensions, something you can walk around, walk through, poke your head inside, do everything except touch.

Google’s investment in virtual reality pales beside Facebook’s $2 billion purchase of the VR pioneer Oculus. Still, Tilt Brush is part of a growing effort, one that began with the introduction in 2014 of supercheap cardboard headsets that work with smartphones, and continues with the recent release of a stunning virtual reality version of Google Earth as a free download for Vive owners.

Over the past year, Google has invited more than 60 people to try Tilt Brush and offer feedback, and this week the company is unveiling their work and participation. “You would never want to create an artistic tool with only engineers,” said Mr. Skillman. “That’s just absurd.” According to Tory Voight, Google’s Tilt Brush program manager, those who have joined this artists-in-residence program include Dustin Yellin, a Brooklyn artist known for his 3-D collages encased in layers of glass, and Jonathan Yeo, a British painter whose portrait of Kevin Spacey as the fictional American president Francis J. Underwood was exhibited last year at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery. Read more on The making of virtually real art with Google’s Tilt Brush…

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