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Category Archives: Presence in the News

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

How Facebook is taking mind reading from sci-fi to reality

[There’s plenty of press coverage of events and announcements at this week’s F8 Facebook Developer Conference (see Wired on Facebook Spaces VR, The New York Times on AR, and The Guardian for 8 takeaways from the conference), but less attention has been given to the company’s work on brain-computer interfaces. This story is from The Verge, where it includes more images and a 0:15 minute video. –Matthew]

How Facebook is taking mind reading from sci-fi to reality

Regina Dugan: ‘This isn’t cocktail party talk.’

by Nick Statt
Apr 20, 2017

The rumblings started months ago. Through a series of peculiar job listings and key hires, it became clear Facebook was up to something unlike anything it had ever pursued. Building 8, as the company would name it, was to be a new division under famed technologist Regina Dugan, former director of the government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Dugan had transitioned to the tech industry in 2012, serving as the head of Google’s experimental ATAP group. Among other things, it was responsible for the promising but now defunct Ara modular smartphone project.

On Wednesday, Facebook took the wraps off Building 8 and had Dugan tell the world know what exactly her fast-growing team has been working on. At the day-2 keynote at the company’s F8 developer conference in San Jose, Dugan announced Facebook’s plans for two ambitious projects: one to develop a system for letting you type with just your thoughts, and another to let you “hear” using vibrations on your skin. This would be done through brain-computer interfaces — devices that can read neural activity and translate it into digital signals, and vice versa.

The objective: to help Facebook take the lead in the burgeoning field of augmented reality, which integrates our online and offline lives using a variety of still yet-to-be-built devices. “The goal of an [augmented reality] system is to have a much more blended physical and digital world,” Dugan told The Verge in an interview. “I break that if I have an input mechanism that is not also blended between my physical and digital world.” In Facebook’s view, the road to AR will be paved with the smartphone camera. But eventually, it leads to the brain — which is where Dugan and her team come in. Read more on How Facebook is taking mind reading from sci-fi to reality…

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Battle mutant spiders as you drop 41 stories in Drop of Doom VR ride

[You will never, ever find me on this intense presence-evoking ride. The story below is from, where it features a photo gallery and a 0:45 minute video; for more information see the Six Flags press release mentioned in the story as well as another one with information about other Six Flags VR rides. –Matthew]

Six Flags announces new ‘extreme’ option for world-record ride

By Rob Spahr | NJ Advance Media for
April 20, 2017

JACKSON – Thrill seekers will soon have the opportunity to test their nerves even more on the world’s tallest and fastest drop ride at Six Flags Great Adventure.

The theme park announced on Thursday morning that for a limited time, beginning on May 5, guests will have the opportunity to ride Zumanjaro wearing fully integrated virtual reality headsets.

While they are being buckled into the ride’s floorless seats, riders over the age of 13 will have the option to strap on Samsung Gear VR headsets to wear as they plunge 41 stories at speeds of up to 90 mph.

The new ride experience, called Drop of Doom VR, will transport guests into a 360-degree virtual world where they become pilots of a futuristic gunship under attack by mutant spiders. Read more on Battle mutant spiders as you drop 41 stories in Drop of Doom VR ride…

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VR and presence shaping the future of insurance

[This story from Insurance & Risk presents some intriguing scenarios for the use of presence (though they also raise security, privacy and other concerns). For more, see the Bain & Company website for the new report “Digitalization in Insurance: The Multibillion Dollar Opportunity.” –Matthew]

[Image: Source: Newmark Insurance]

Virtual Reality Shaping the Future of General Insurance

Virtual Reality (VR) could shape the future of general insurance says third party claims expert Peter Tomkins.

19 April ’17

“Traditionally, the biggest challenge insurers face is understanding risk. Modern technology has come a long way to address this need – insurers are now using car monitors to understand driving behaviour, and Fitbits to understand a client’s health. VR is another powerful tool that an insurer can use to fill in their understanding of a risk profile,” says Tomkins, General Manager, Specialty Markets at Gallagher Bassett.

“Imagine a scenario where a risk assessor is making a judgement over insuring a building. They can base their decision on a few poorly shot pictures, or expend time and resources to view it in person. A better option may be viewing a 360° video of the site, allowing them to identify hazards that a limited view might miss.”

Tomkins also states that for brokers, the benefits of VR are clear. “As a Third Party Claims Administrator, Gallagher Bassett recognises that virtual reality has the potential to reduce costs, offer coverage anywhere, and provide more accurate results. There’s no doubt over whether this technology will be an intrinsic part of insurance; the only question is how soon.” Read more on VR and presence shaping the future of insurance…

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‘Teleconcussion’ robot could help solve sports-concussion dilemma in rural America

[This report from the UT Southwestern Medical Center Newsroom is about a study of yet another valuable application of telepresence. –Matthew]

[Image: A remote-controlled robot equipped with tools to diagnose concussion sits on the sideline of a Northern Arizona football game. Research shows doctors can use these robots to assess potential head injuries with the same accuracy as on-site physicians.]

‘Doctor’ robot could help solve sports-concussion dilemma in rural America

DALLAS – April 3, 2017 – From bustling cities to tiny farming communities, the bright lights of the local stadium are common beacons to the Friday night ritual of high school football.

But across the sprawling stretches of rural America, these stadiums are commonly far from doctors who could quickly diagnose and treat head injuries that have brought so much scrutiny to the sport.

A first-of-its-kind study from the Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute and Mayo Clinic shows the technology exists to ease this dilemma: By using a remote-controlled robot, a neurologist sitting hundreds of miles from the field can evaluate athletes for concussion with the same accuracy as on-site physicians.

The study provides preliminary data to support a nascent movement to utilize teleconcussion equipment at all school sporting events where neurologists or other concussion experts aren’t immediately accessible. Read more on ‘Teleconcussion’ robot could help solve sports-concussion dilemma in rural America…

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AMD: VR requires creators to ‘rethink the Z’ on way to ‘full presence’

[Aside from the main point about rethinking the Z-axis in designing presence experiences in VR, this report from DeveloperTech contains the noteworthy point made by an AMD VP that the ultimate goal is making the virtual indistinguishable from real life; a contrasting view is presented in an excerpt from a Medium contributor that follows below. –Matthew]

[Image: Source:]

AMD: VR requires creators to ‘rethink the Z’

By Ryan Daws
13 April 2017

VR is coming of age, but it will suffer unless creators ‘rethink the Z’ and don’t let content of the past define content of the future.

That was the message of AMD Corporate Vice President Roy Taylor in the opening keynote of VR World Congress. “Our understanding of virtual reality is seen through the prism of our current understanding, and our understanding is going to develop,” observes Taylor. Pioneering studies into how time distorts while in VR, and how pain can be decreased using virtual reality, could have a major impact on how content is developed for a wide range of use cases. “We are at the beginning, and we’re going to see some wonderful changes start to happen.”

BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) produced a sizzle reel highlighting the best of VR across various categories; each displaying how far the industry has advanced and the incredible content we’re beginning to see with deeper levels of immersion and engagement than ever before.

“As great as that content is, one of the challenges we have is we need to ‘rethink the Z’,” says Taylor. “We’ve been looking for 120 years through a window and we’re starting to experiment [;] for the first time we’ve stepped through that window into the other side – but we’re looking at it through the prism of our current knowledge and experience.”

It’s observed that early movies appeared like plays because we understood theatre, and the first VR now appears like movies because we understand film. Likening it to the ‘X, Y, Z’ axis on a graph, we’re able to go forward in ‘Z depth’ Taylor says, “in ways we’re yet to fully understand.” Read more on AMD: VR requires creators to ‘rethink the Z’ on way to ‘full presence’…

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Lockheed Martin’s Mars Experience Bus takes children on simulated trip to promote STEM

[The backstory of an ambitious project to create a touring group presence experience is told in this article from Adweek, where it includes more images and a 2:04 minute video. For more information, including images and videos, see the Lockheed Martin Mars Experience website, the Lockheed Martin Generation Beyond press release, Framestone’s website for the project (with a 5 minute behind-the-scenes video), an UploadVR interview with Framestore CG Supervisor Theo Jones, and a 6:20 minute video of a demonstration of the Mars Experience bus ride from YouTube. –Matthew]

The Inside Story of How McCann New York’s ‘Field Trip to Mars’ Came Together

Winner of Project Isaac’s top honor: the Gravity Award

By Marty Swant
August 21, 2016

It was at around 2 o’clock in the morning that Josh Grossberg landed on Mars.

The group creative director of McCann New York couldn’t sleep one night back in 2014. Lying in bed, he found himself watching a TV show about the latest in space travel. Space was once again a hot topic, thanks to movies like Gravity and Interstellar and private companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin sending spacecraft into orbit.

Suddenly, Grossberg thought of his client, Lockheed Martin, the company that helped build the Viking 1, which arrived on Mars in 1976 and became the first U.S. spacecraft to land on that planet. Last month, a Lockheed Martin-built craft arrived in Jupiter’s orbit. (One engineer at the firm equated the precision to swinging a golf club in New York and hitting a hole-in-one in California.) At the moment, the company is constructing the Orion capsule, which is scheduled to transport humans to Mars by 2028.

Grossberg thought Lockheed Martin should be part of this renewed love affair with space, which he saw as a prime opportunity to promote the company’s galactic pursuits as well as its investment in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs in schools. (Lockheed Martin says it spends about half of its philanthropic budget on STEM.)

What resulted was a virtual reality-equipped school bus ride that is the winner of the Creative Isaac and Event/Experience Isaac, both in the Marketing and Advertising category. Those two wins helped propel it to earn the Gravity Award, the highest honor in Adweek’s Project Isaac Awards competition—an annual celebration of creative innovation.

“The whole thing came out of this idea of, let’s stop being satisfied with going to the stuff we can do and let’s keep pushing so we can see all those movies I used to like as a kid,” says Grossberg, who collaborated heavily with executive creative director Dan Donovan. “I want to live in those.”

Working with VR and special effects studio Framestore, McCann converted an ordinary yellow school bus into a one-of-a kind space experience. From the outside, it looked like any other old bus. Inside, it became a vehicle that transported students across the surface of the red planet. Read more on Lockheed Martin’s Mars Experience Bus takes children on simulated trip to promote STEM…

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Pebby lets you play fetch with your dog even when you’re at work

[This new product lets you see, hear, talk to and play with (i.e., experience social presence with) your pet from anywhere in the world. The story is from Metro, where it includes more images and a video. A press release is available via PR Newswire, and more information is available from the product’s Indiegogo project website. –Matthew]

This gadget lets you play fetch with your dog even when you’re at work

Alice Sholl
Monday 10 Apr 2017

The only one in the world who loves playing fetch more than you is your pupper.

And sure, the novelty might wear off more quickly for you than them, but nothing beats the look on that face when they’re waiting for that ball to get thrown.

Until you have to take a break from your 24/7 fetch session to go to work, that is.

Which is where something called Pebby comes in.

Dubbed the ‘most advanced robotic pet sitter’, it’s essentially a ball and collar loaded with cameras and sensors that allow you to play fetch with your dog remotely.

The remote-controlled ball uses wi-fi and bluetooth so you can watch, interact and capture your pet being a big ol’ cutie in real time.

Like all good things, you can also share the images and videos it captures on social media at the touch of a button.

And for those of us firmly in the cat camp, there’s an animal and human-friendly laser attached too. Read more on Pebby lets you play fetch with your dog even when you’re at work…

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Is virtual reality the future of clubbing?

[This story from Highsnobiety includes interesting comparisons of the real and virtual versions of clubbing (“the boundaries between URL and IRL [are getting] increasingly pixelated”); the original story includes two more images and a 1:15 interactive preview video (which viewed on YouTube leads to other full-length videos). –Matthew]

Is Virtual Reality the Future of Clubbing?

By Bianca Giulione
April 11, 2017

Since its creation in 2011, Boiler Room has become nearly synonymous with underground dance music. Often a rite of passage for musicians and enthusiasts alike, it has invariably changed the way dance music is consumed. Having been to my first IRL Boiler Room back in 2013 when it was still quite a novel concept, I recall the sheer joy of loading up on free drinks from whichever alcohol brand was the sponsor and getting extremely wavy with my friends, knowing homies who didn’t make the guest list would be watching and commenting away at our livestreamed debauchery in the chatroom (R.I.P., but good riddance, honestly).

Fast forward four years and I’m sitting in Berlin’s Arena Club strapping a Google Pixel powered Daydream VR headset to my head for Boiler Room’s first-ever VR experience. Up until this point, my brushes with virtual reality were limited to this weird virtual hang gliding game at my local arcade growing up, and a stomach-churning free fall from a plane on one of the first Oculus Rift headsets. Daydream is nothing of that sort. It’s not clunky and cold; it looks as if it’s cut from the same cloth as your favorite pair of sweatpants. If the singularity is nigh, that is, if artificial superintelligence is about to trigger changes to human civilization we can’t even imagine, at least it’ll be cute and cozy.

We’re told we have 10 minutes to explore the 15-minute virtual reality film, and that we’ll be tapped on the shoulder when our time is up. I press play and I’m immediately transported to a VR version of the same room we’re currently in. Techno trio FJAAK begins their set, configured in a triangle in front of racks of analog synths. I turn my head, surrounded by enthusiastic Berlin partygoers who seem familiar. They’re chatting, doing the Berlin techno 2-step, rolling cigarettes — party business as usual. Aside from the fact that the bodies are slightly translucent, they seem quite real. Read more on Is virtual reality the future of clubbing?…

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Disney seeks new patent for soft robots playing characters

[Some of the coverage of this new Disney patent application for soft robots at its theme parks, which are sure to evoke medium-as-social-actor presence, refers playfully to the HBO series Westworld. This story is from the Orlando Sentinel; see also earlier information from Disney Research. The patent application is available from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. –Matthew]

[Image: Source: The Kingdom Insider]

Disney seeks new patent for soft robots playing characters

Paul Brinkmann
April 7, 2017

Soft-body robots could someday be roaming Disney theme parks, playing animated, humanoid movie characters and interacting with visitors.

A new patent application by the entertainment giant doesn’t name specific characters, but it describes “designing a robot that will move and physically interact like an animated character.”

A prototype sketch filed with the patent application shows a round body, echoing the shape of the Baymax soft-robot character in Disney’s 2014 movie “Big Hero 6.” The application, and theme park observers, say the big issue for robotic interaction is safety. The document, dated Thursday, shows Disney research scientists in Pittsburgh have worked on prototypes identified only as “soft body 300” or “soft body 1000.” Read more on Disney seeks new patent for soft robots playing characters…

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Ford puts babies to sleep with car-simulating cradle

[Technology is being used to create and recreate all kinds of experiences; this story from New Atlas is about how Ford has recreated the sleep-inducing experience of a car ride home for babies (much of the coverage asks about an adult version!). The original story includes a gallery of 14 images and a 1:39 minute video; the press release is available from Ford; and coverage by Engadget mentions a related product: “The Snoo smart sleeper mimics the sounds of a mother’s womb while keeping a baby from rolling over into a dangerous position. It also has built-in microphones so you can monitor you child from the next room and it can gently rock a little one to sleep.” –Matthew]

[Image: The pulsating lights simulate the passing streetlights]

Ford puts babies to sleep with car-simulating cradle

C.C. Weiss
April 7, 2017

It’s a phenomenon that many parents know well. The infant who just won’t go to sleep at night, in a warm, cozy haven of slumber, will nod off in the car as if the subject of a master hypnotist. It doesn’t matter that the engine’s rumbling, bumps and potholes rattling the chassis, horns blaring outside … baby’s fast asleep. This fact can sometimes motivate desperate 3 a.m. car laps around the block, but Ford has a better idea: a baby bed that mimics the feeling, sound and light of riding in a car.

In a nice little piece of advertising that highlights one timeless bond between car and family, Ford and partners have developed what they call the Max Motor Dreams cot. If it works as designed, many new parents might call it “godsend.” Read more on Ford puts babies to sleep with car-simulating cradle…

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