ISPR Presence News

Category Archives: Presence in the News

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

More presence coming to the dining experience

[This story from the Irish Independent describes several ways presence experiences are becoming more common at restaurants; the original version includes two more pictures and for more information check out the websites of Shanghai’s Ultraviolet and Ibiza’s Sublimotion. –Matthew]

[Image: Sea food: Diners at Shanghai’s Ultraviolet restaurant take in an underwater experience. Photo: Scott Wright of Limelight Studio]

Out for a byte: dining is now a feast for all senses

Technology à la carte will whisk you away to a Tuscan garden while kitchen robots flip your burgers. Sue Quinn savours the thought

June 7 2017

Have a taste of this: you fancy going out for dinner, so you ask your voice-activated reservations device to recommend a restaurant based on your culinary tastes and budget. When you walk through the restaurant door, staff instantly recognise your face, recall your name and remember it’s your birthday, along with your favourite drink and the most appropriate food for your genetic profile.

You sit down at your interactive smart table and an iBeacon triggers a menu to appear – a virtual buffet that you tap to order. While a kitchen robot chops your salad and flips your burgers, you strap on a headset that whisks you to a virtual world: should you eat your meal underwater or in a sun-drenched Tuscan garden?

Forget about catching the eye of a server – Kinect sensors pick up hand gestures that send a request for more wine. And when you’ve finished eating, there’s no waiting for the bill: you get up and leave, automatically paying for your meal with your phone.

Futuristic fantasy? Not at all, say the experts designing tomorrow’s restaurants. Almost all the technology in this scenario is now being developed and could soon be headed to a restaurant near you. Read more on More presence coming to the dining experience…

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Finally: An augmented reality app that injects the internet into real life

[As this story from Wired notes, in the possibly-near future a virtual layer of experience will become overlaid on and intertwined with our nonmediated world, with lots of potential uses and impacts. The new Mirage app is an early step toward that future. –Matthew]

Finally: An Augmented Reality App that Injects the Internet into Real Life

Peter Rubin
August 8, 2017

When Ryan Staake and Patrick Piemonte first worked together, they helped you get around: Both were interface designers at Apple, with Piemonte working specifically on the iPhone’s map technology. Now, nearly a decade later, the two are working together again—but this time, instead of helping you get around, they want to use the power of augmented reality to appreciate the hidden things around you.

That’s the idea behind Mirage, an iOS app the duo and a small team just released. It’s not the first AR app available in the App Store, and it certainly won’t be the last, but it may well be the only one to marry augmented reality’s hidden-world appeal with social media’s shareable, re-mixable content. And in doing so, it’s making AR not simply a technology of curiosity, but one of connection.

In case you’ve been at a three-month silent retreat, you’ve likely heard something about how certain tech titans are charging toward AR—and using your phone’s camera to get there. Both Facebook and Apple have introduced developer platforms that allow people to integrate AR effects into apps. However, while early experiments have been encouraging, especially those using Apple’s ARKit, they’re essentially built around simulations that bridge some sort of experience gap: What does that bulgogi bowl look like in real life? Could my yard handle a SpaceX Falcon 9 landing? How many cats fit in my office? Whether they’re useful or fantastic, they feel very much like sealed products. You fire it up, see the thing you need to see, and … well, that’s it.

Mirage, for its part, is even less useful than a floating tic-tac-toe game. But that’s the idea. It’s not a service or a simulation or a product—it’s a palette. The whole point, as Staake says, is for people “to communicate through the real world.” Read more on Finally: An augmented reality app that injects the internet into real life…

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Beyond virtual reality: Synthetic reality and our co-created futures

[This big picture perspective on the future of mediated experience from Forbes makes a compelling case that today’s technologies are leading us toward what has only been considered in science fiction, raising some of the same intriguing philosophical questions about the nature of humans and how we would use or misuse such technologies. –Matthew]

[Image: A picture taken on June 8, 2016 in the gardens of the Chateau de Versailles shows ‘Waterfall’ installation by Danish artist Olafur Eliasson. The spectacular installation cascades into the Grand Canal of the famous royal gardens outside Paris. Eliasson created eight works for the palace built by ‘Sun King’ Louis XIV, the most absolute of France’s absolute monarchs.  (Photo credit: Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/AFP/Getty Images)]

Beyond Virtual Reality: Synthetic Reality And Our Co-Created Futures

Robert C. Wolcott, Contributor – I explore business, leadership and humanity in our technological age.
August 18, 2017

Louis XIV of France, the quintessential absolute monarch, demanded that the extensive water features of his beloved Versailles palace grounds remain constantly in operation.  His minister of finance, Jean Baptiste Colbert, recognized this would be financially ruinous. To satisfy the king’s demand, the Versailles staff constantly tracked his whereabouts, ensuring that all of the fountains he could see would be in operation, leaving the rest dormant but ready.

Louis’s agents were creating a ‘virtual’ reality responsive to his desires. As far as the Sun King knew, his fountains were always on. Technology later this century will enable each of us to command our realities in a similar fashion— or for others to create our realities on our behalf.

Many people perceive virtual reality (VR) as a sort of video game: an environment constructed by programmers in which the user is simply a participant. As VR matures, users will become increasingly engaged in co-creation. Platforms like Minecraft already offer this, where users create their own virtual worlds and interact with others within them. The experience will become far more comprehensive and customized.

Beyond ‘Virtual’ Realities

Later this century, virtual environments may become experienced comprehensively as new versions of reality, as we have explored in past articles in Forbes and HuffPost. The only way you will know they are virtual (i.e. not the “default world”) is that you will know they are so, similar to how dreams feel real while dreamt.

As computational systems become more capable of deciphering and anticipating human preferences, such systems could generate customized environments in real-time with less conscious input from users. Eventually such systems may not require conscious input to capture and respond to shifting user preferences, though user intervention might still remain an option.

The notion of ‘virtual’ fails to accurately describe such a world. Even the terms ‘augmented reality’ and ‘mixed reality’ reflect neither the permutations that may evolve, nor the manners of their construction. We propose a new moniker to describe where we’re heading: synthetic reality. Such systems will synthesize our will and preferences, whether or not consciously provided, into new, ever-evolving realities.

VR experiences are always co-created to some extent, between the pre-defined capabilities and rules of the environment and the cognitive boundaries of users. As this process becomes more organic, arising from interactions between human and AI systems, and dynamic, potentially based on the preferences of multiple systems and actors in a given environment, new realities will synthesize, evolve and proliferate. Ones not bounded by our imagination or perception of our current default world’s limitations. Again, dreams offer a good analogy– where our default world’s rules can be bent and our mind accepts such conditions as reality. Read more on Beyond virtual reality: Synthetic reality and our co-created futures…

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Ethical, practical challenges of VR-AR-AI-IoT blurring the lines between physical and virtual reality

[Presence scholars should lead the way in making sure everyone involved considers and addresses the challenges created by evolving technologies, as highlighted in this column from Futurism. –Matthew]

[Image: “Reality is An Illusion” by Louis Dyer via Deviant Art]

Will AI Blur the Lines Between Physical and Virtual Reality?

By Jay Iorio, Innovation Director for the IEEE Standards Association
August 15, 2017

The Notion of Reality

As technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), big data, 5G, and the internet of things (IoT) advance over the next generation, they will reinforce and spur one another. One plausible scenario is a physical world so enhanced by personalized, AI-curated digital content (experienced with what we today call augmented reality) that the very notion of reality is called into question.

Immersion can change how we interact with content in fundamental ways. For example, a fully immersive AR environment of the future, achieved with a wide-field-of-view headset and full of live content integrated with the built environment, would be intended by design to create in the user an illusion that everything being sensed was “real.” The evolution toward this kind of environment raises a host of ethical questions, specifically with attention to the AI that would underlie such an intelligent and compelling illusion.

When watching a movie, the viewer is physically separated from the illusion. The screen is framed, explicitly distinct from the viewer. The frame is a part of traditional art forms; from the book to the painting to the skyscraper, each is explicitly separated from the audience. It is bounded and physically defined.

But with digital eyewear, things change. Digital eyewear moves the distance of digital mediation from the screen (approximately 20 feet) to the human face, which is at zero distance, and almost eliminates the frame. It starts raising inevitable questions about what constitutes “reality” when much of one’s sensory input is superimposed on the physical world by AI. At that stage of the technology’s evolution, one could still simply opt out by removing the eyewear. Although almost indistinguishable from the physical world, that near-future world would still be clinging precariously to the human face.

The next step would be moving the source of the digital illusion into the human body – a distance of less than zero – through contact lenses, implants, and ultimately direct communication. At that point, the frame is long gone. The digital source commandeers the senses, and it becomes very hard to argue that the digital content isn’t as “real” as a building on the corner – which, frankly, could be an illusion itself in such an environment. Enthusiasts will probably argue that our perception is already an electrochemical illusion, and implants merely enhance our natural selves. In any case, opting out would become impractical at best. This is the stage of the technology that will raise practical questions we have never had to address before. Read more on Ethical, practical challenges of VR-AR-AI-IoT blurring the lines between physical and virtual reality…

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Understanding children’s relationships with social robots

[This post from the MIT Media Lab website (it also appears in Medium and IEEE Spectrum) is a first-person report on a program of research that examines children’s social (medium-as-social-actor presence) responses to robots; I think it’s a model for how to introduce a wider audience to these ideas (e.g., I plan to assign and discuss it in undergraduate courses). The original version includes several more pictures and a video. –Matthew]

[Image: A child listens to DragonBot tell a story during one of our research studies. Credit: Personal Robots Group]

Making new (robot) friends

Understanding children’s relationships with social robots

by Jacqueline M. Kory Westlund

Hi, my name is Mox!

This story begins in 2013, in a preschool in Boston, where I hide, with laptop, headphones, and microphone, in a little kitchenette. Ethernet cables trail across the hall to the classroom, where 17 children eagerly await their turn to talk to a small fluffy robot.

“Hi, my name is Mox! I’m very happy to meet you.”

The pitch of my voice is shifted up and sent over the somewhat laggy network. My words, played by the speakers of Mox the robot and picked up by its microphone, echo back with a two-second delay into my headphones. It’s tricky to speak at the right pace, ignoring my own voice bouncing back, but I get into the swing of it pretty quickly.

We’re running show-and-tell at the preschool on this day. It’s one of our pilot tests before we embark on an upcoming experimental study. The children take turns telling the robot about their favorite animals. The robot (with my voice) replies with an interesting fact about each animal, Did you know that capybaras are the largest rodents on the planet?” (Yes, one five-year-old’s favorite animal is a capybara.) Later, we share how the robot is made and talk about motors, batteries, and 3D printers. We show them the teleoperation interface for remote-controlling the robot. All the kids try their hand at triggering the robot’s facial expressions.

Then one kid asks if he can teach the robot how to make a paper airplane.

We’d just told them all how the robot was controlled by a human. I ask: Does he want to teach me how to make a paper airplane?

No, the robot, he says.

Somehow, there was a disconnect between what he had just learned about the robot and the robot’s human operator, and the character that he perceived the robot to be.

Relationships with robots?

In the years since that playtest, I’ve watched several hundred children interact with both teleoperated and autonomous robots. The children talk with the robots. They laugh. They give hugs, drawings, and paper airplanes. One child even invited the robot to his preschool’s end-of-year picnic.

Mostly, though, I’ve seen kids treat the robots as social beings. But not quite like how they treat people. And not quite like how they treat pets, plants, or computers.

These interactions were clues: There’s something interesting going on here. Children ascribed physical attributes to robots—they can move, they can see, they can feel tickles—but also mental attributes: thinking, feeling sad, wanting companionship. A robot could break, yes, and it is made by a person, yes, but it can be interested in things. It can like stories; it can be nice. Maybe, as one child suggested, if it were sad, it would feel better if we gave it ice cream.

Although our research robots aren’t commercially available, investigating how children understand robots isn’t merely an academic exercise. Many smart technologies are joining us in our homes: Roomba, Jibo, Alexa, Google Home, Kuri, Zenbo…the list goes on. Robots and AI are here, in our everyday lives.

We ought to ask ourselves, what kinds of relationships do we want to have with them? Because, as we saw with the children in our studies, we will form relationships with them. Read more on Understanding children’s relationships with social robots…

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Google’s presence experiment: VR vs. video to train people to make espresso

[This post from Google’s blog reports on interesting results and lessons learned from an experiment in presence. The original includes more images; for more information see coverage in Daily Coffee News. –Matthew]

Daydream Labs: Teaching Skills in VR

Ian MacGillivray, Software Engineer
July 20, 2017

You can read every recipe, but to really learn how to cook, you need time in the kitchen. Wouldn’t it be great if you could slip on a VR headset and have a famous chef walk you through the basics step by step? In the future, you might be able to learn how to cook a delicious five-course meal—all in VR. In fact, virtual reality could help people learn all kinds of skills.

At Daydream Labs, we tried to better understand how interactive learning might work in VR. So we set up an experiment, which aimed at teaching coffee making. We built a training prototype featuring a 3D model of an espresso machine which reacts like a real one would when you press the buttons, turn the knobs or drop the milk. We also added a detailed tutorial. Then, we tasked one group of people to learn how to pull espresso shots by doing it in VR. (At the end, we gave people a detailed report on how they’d done, including an analysis of the quality of their coffee.) For the purpose of comparison, another group learned by watching YouTube videos. Both groups were able to train for as long as they liked before trying to make a coffee in the real world; people assigned to watch the YouTube tutorial normally did so three times, and people who took the VR training normally went through it twice.

We were excited to find out that people learned faster and better in VR. Both the number of mistakes made and the time to complete an espresso were significantly lower for those trained in VR (although, in fairness, our tasting panel wasn’t terribly impressed with the espressos made by either group!) It’s impossible to tell from one experiment, of course, but these early results are promising. We also learned a lot of about how to design future experiments. Here’s a glimpse at some of those insights. Read more on Google’s presence experiment: VR vs. video to train people to make espresso…

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“Be there” for the August 21 total solar eclipse via 4K and VR

[This story from 4K describes options for experiencing next week’s total solar eclipse via technology. The CNN press release notes that “While only a fraction of the country will be able to witness the total eclipse in-person, CNN’s immersive livestream will enable viewers nationwide to ‘go there’ virtually and experience a moment in history, seven times over.” For more information about all aspects of the eclipse see coverage on the NASA website. –Matthew]

Where to Watch The 2017 Total Solar Eclipse In Full 4K And Virtual Reality

by Stephen on August 14, 2017

Although not even the best 4K OLED or QLED TVs on the market will beat experiencing a Total Solar Eclipse live and in-person with your own eyes (while using special-purpose solar filters, such as “eclipse glasses” or hand-held solar viewers), for those who can’t get a true naked-eye view of the upcoming fantastic astronomical event, there’s CNN. In partnership with Volvo, CNN will be broadcasting 2017’s Total Solar Eclipse of North America on August 21, and you’ll be able to watch it on your 4K resolution TV/Monitor or in immersive 360-degree virtual reality using a VR head-set.

The broadcast will be available all around the world in 4K resolution at, or in 4K and other available resolutions and formats through CNN’s mobile apps, Samsung Gear VR powered by Oculus via Samsung VR, Oculus Rift via Oculus Video and through CNN’s Facebook page via Facebook Live 360.

According to CNN, the livestream will be enhanced by real-time graphics, close-up views of the sun, and the running commentary of experts from the science community. Four cameras will be spaced across the United States in four different locations: Snake River Valley, Idaho; Beatrice, Nebraska; Blackwell, Missouri; and Charleston, South Carolina. Each camera will be shooting 4K video shot of the total eclipse’s path.

Other sites like NASA, The Weather Channel, National Geographic and will be also broadcasting the natural event through their main websites and Facebook pages, presumably in 4K as well at least for NASA, which has a regular habit of shooting astronomical events in ultra HD for public consumption. Read more on “Be there” for the August 21 total solar eclipse via 4K and VR…

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Have a near death experience in VR in “Flatline”

[This short interview from the Vive blog is about the use of virtual reality and presence to explore a universal experience in a visceral, first-person way. The original blog post includes a second image; for a text and audio report on the experience that includes more images see coverage by Southern California Public Radio (SCPR); and a 0:39 minute trailer is available on YouTube. –Matthew]

Take a trip to The Other Side in Flatline

Stephen Reid
August 3, 2017

What happens at the exact moment of death? Religion and science disagree, but many survivors of near-death experiences have similar stories from all around the world. In Flatline, you’ll have your own near-death experience in virtual reality. We chatted to Julian McCrea of Portal Experiences about the creation of this unique app.

Hello Julian! Tell us your part in the production of Flatline.

I’m the Executive Producer on Flatline (find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram). The production was directed by Jon Schnitzer and co-produced between Portal Experiences, The Brain Factory and 3DLive AXO. Our website is at

How would you describe Flatline?

Flatline is a non-fiction VR series where the audience have a near-death experience, go to the Other Side and come back, irreversibly changed.

In each episode you experience a Flatline, as retold by someone who had experienced it, first-hand. At the end of the episode you can hear from world expert psychologists, cardiologists and spiritualist who try and explain what happened to that ‘Flatliner’.

What was the initial inspiration for Flatline?

The initial inspiration came from the director Jon Schnitzer who had a close friend of his retell a near-death experience that had happened to him 16 years ago.

As we began digging into it, two things stuck out. Firstly the stories were viscerally very different but patterns started to emerge. It was like peeling an onion; every time you read a new one, the mystery of what happened on the Other Side grew larger and larger.

Secondly, virtual reality was perfect for telling these stories as it could allow us to retell the stories in first-person, intimately, in a visceral way that no-other medium could. We try and explain it as ‘Dr Strange meets Tree of Life‘. You will understand what I mean when you do it! Read more on Have a near death experience in VR in “Flatline”…

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Augmented reality graffiti will lead to advertising ambush wars

[This story from New Scientist highlights negative consequences of presence-based advertising; while it focuses mostly on competition between advertisers, the larger concern is unwanted clutter in augmented/mixed reality, as illustrated in the Kevin Matsuda short film Hyper-Reality. The original story includes a 0:35 minute video and a different image. –Matthew]

Augmented reality graffiti will lead to advertising ambush wars

By Matt Reynolds
4 August 2017

Imagine looking up at the sky and seeing every cloud crammed full of adverts. High above a fast food restaurant, a competitor has scrawled its own cheeky pitch, urging shoppers to eat their burgers instead.

This future is nearer than you might think: last month saw the launch of the first augmented reality app that lets anyone write on the sky. And, according to a report released this week by a global law firm, advertisers are worried.

The new app, called Skrite, lets users write messages or post photos onto the sky. Anyone who has installed the app can then point their phone skyward to see what other users have left there. “The sky’s not the limit, in fact, it is a barrier that must be broken,” the company wrote in a press release that was reprinted at Wired.

Right now, the only companies using the app to advertise to customers are small businesses in Orlando, Florida, says Skrite co-founder Arshia Siddique. But she’s hoping to entice big brands. Augmented reality, she says, is a “third space” – after the physical world and the internet – just waiting to be “filled with content”. Read more on Augmented reality graffiti will lead to advertising ambush wars…

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Exhibit explores realism and artifice in photographic portrayals of war

[This disturbingly timely story from Yale News describes a new exhibition about the blurring of the real and artificial in our representations and understanding of war. The original includes five more images, and more information and images are available at the Gallery’s website. –Matthew]

[Image: A detail from An-My Lê’s Film Set (“Free State of Jones”), Battle of Corinth, Bush, Louisiana, 2015. Inkjet print. Courtesy STX Entertainment]

Exhibit features photographic portrayals of war, real and staged

July 21, 2017

“Before the Event/After the Fact: Contemporary Perspectives on War,” an exhibition that brings together a range of contemporary approaches to the visual representation of conflict, is on view at the Yale University Art Gallery through the end of the year.

The works in the exhibit depict not only combat zones but also training sites, forensic reconstructions, and popular entertainment. Encompassing conceptual, documentary, and architectural imaging techniques, the exhibition investigates the visual relationships between staged images and real events, and between factual data and their digital representations. Among the works on view are photographs by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, An-My Lê (Yale M.F.A. ’93), and Peter van Agtmael (Yale B.A. ’03); a video installation by the filmmaker Harun Farocki; and a video and digital reconstruction created by the interdisciplinary design studio SITU Research. Read more on Exhibit explores realism and artifice in photographic portrayals of war…

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