ISPR Presence News

Category Archives: Presence in the News

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

Nadia the chatbot: The rise of emotionally intelligent, lifelike customer service avatars

[Here’s a good example of the evolution of presence-evoking technology and (though it’s not discussed in this story from idealog), the obvious ethical issues it raises. The idealog story includes more pictures and two videos; MIT Technology Review’s coverage includes a 1:42 minute video of Nadia; and more information is available from the Soul Machines website. For a related story that raises some of the ethical issues, see “Can Alexa lie?” from Shelly Palmer’s blog. –Matthew]

Soul Machines unveils its first emotionally intelligent, lifelike avatar

By Elly Strang
17 Feb 2017

A Kiwi company at the forefront of humanising AI technology has revealed its first virtual assistant called ‘Nadia’, which has been voiced by actress Cate Blanchett.

Soul Machines is an Auckland-based company that develops intelligent, emotionally responsive avatars that improve the user experience on artificial intelligence platforms.

After receiving a $7.5 million investment from Hong Kong-based artificial intelligence and virtual reality investor, Horizon Ventures, the company formally launched in November last year.

Its technology is based on ‘Baby X’, a creation by Mark Sagar and his engineering research team at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute at the University of Auckland. Sagar is the CEO of Soul Machines.

Baby X is an emotionally intelligent virtual agent – and a digital simulation of an infant – which reacts to the person it’s communicating with via facial expressions and words in real time.

The technology is incredibly realistic, albeit quite disconcerting to some – as demonstrated by one comment on the Baby X Vimeo: “I think that as soon as the baby turned into a floating brain is when I realised that night-terrors would be in my near future.”

“Just about everybody who sees it is absolutely amazed that it’s actually a digital creation and not a video image of a baby,” Soul Machines chief business officer Greg Cross says.

Now, after a process of R&D of about five years, Nadia is the first commercial project to be launched with Baby X’s technology.

It was developed for the NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) in Australia using IBM Watson’s artificial intelligence technology as a cognitive back-end and FaceMe, an Auckland-based real-time video communication company.

Nadia can speak, write and chat online, and was created to help disabled people that traditionally struggle with technology interfaces have better accessibility to the company’s services. Read more on Nadia the chatbot: The rise of emotionally intelligent, lifelike customer service avatars…

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Catch a virtual ball: Disney Research tech lets you interact with real objects in virtual reality

[Disney Research has taken another intriguing step toward compelling presence illusions; this story from Gizmodo (where it includes a 2:47 minute video) outlines some of the applications, and coverage in Mashable goes further: “if you really want to go long on futurecasting, this may also be an early look at a real Star Trek holodeck, a fictional room that allows users to feel real impacts from virtual objects. Whether we get there through haptic feedback suits, real world object tracking, or perhaps a combination of the two, Disney Research’s experiment is yet another indication that we’re just at the beginning of a number of exciting experiments in VR that may help it become, as many are predicting, the final computing platform.” For more information see the press release via EurekAlert! and the Disney Research website. –Matthew]

Watch This Guy Catch a Virtual Reality Ball That Turns Out to Be Real

Andrew Liszewski
March 20, 2017

When you strap on all of the gear required for a modern, immersive, virtual reality experience, you’re all but completely blind to the real world. But interacting with real world objects can often enhance a virtual experience, so Disney’s researchers came up with a way to let users catch a real ball without leaving a VR world.

Simply catching and throwing a tennis ball doesn’t exactly sound like a thrilling use of virtual reality, not when you can strap into a roller coaster or battle aliens on a far-away world. But imagine the feeling of grabbing an alien’s tentacle when you engage in hand-to-hand combat. That’s the ultimate goal of research like this, adding a tactile feeling to what’s being experienced in a virtual reality simulation. Read more on Catch a virtual ball: Disney Research tech lets you interact with real objects in virtual reality…

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Mathematicians create warped worlds in virtual reality

[This story from Nature describes the potential of presence to lead to new discoveries in mathematics; the original version includes another image, two videos, and references; for much more information about the project see eleVR’s website. –Matthew]

Mathematicians create warped worlds in virtual reality

Immersive experience set to become accessible to all.

Davide Castelvecchi
21 March 2017

“It feels like the entire universe is within a sphere that is maybe within a couple metres’ radius,” says topologist Henry Segerman at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. He is describing, not an LSD trip, but his experience of exploring a curved universe in which the ordinary rules of geometry do not apply.

Segerman and his collaborators have released software allowing anyone with a virtual-reality (VR) headset to wander through this warped world, which they previewed last month in two papers on the arXiv.org preprint server.

To explore the mathematical possibilities of alternative geometries, mathematicians imagine such ‘non-Euclidean’ spaces, where parallel lines can intersect or veer apart. Now, with the help of relatively affordable VR devices, researchers are making curved spaces — a counter-intuitive concept with implications for Einstein’s theory underlying gravity and also for seismology — more accessible. They may even uncover new mathematics in the process.

“You can think about it, but you don’t get a very visceral sense of this until you actually experience it,” says Elisabetta Matsumoto, a physicist at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. Read more on Mathematicians create warped worlds in virtual reality…

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Start VR and Australia hospital using presence to provide distraction from chemotherapy

[Most of the press coverage of this important application of presence is drawn from the Samsung press release below, which includes a 4:43 minute video. More information on the project is available from Start VR, and an excerpt from coverage in The Australian about the origins of the project follows the press release below. –Matthew]

Start VR Introduces Virtual Reality to Chemotherapy Patient Program at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse

Australia on March 07, 2017

Sydney based virtual reality studio Start VR have collaborated with Samsung Australia and Chris O’Brien Lifehouse to develop a ground-breaking initiative to supply Samsung virtual reality (VR) technology to help alleviate stress for diagnosed oncology patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse.

The project showcases the potential for VR to be used as a tool to help ease psychological stress and provide a form of “distraction therapy” during typically arduous chemotherapy treatments. Patients were provided with Samsung Gear VR headsets and the option to select an experience either from the Gear VR store or Start VR’s catalogue of content. Experiences ranged from transporting patients to a relaxing travel destination, plunging off an airplane in a skydiving stimulating experience, taking a boat ride through the Sydney Harbour, snorkeling through sparkling blue waters and petting Koalas at a zoo.

The initiative was spearheaded by Start VR’s Head of Content Martin Taylor, who collaborated with Chris O’Brien Lifehouse and Samsung Australia to bring the partnership to life. Read more on Start VR and Australia hospital using presence to provide distraction from chemotherapy…

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You can ban a person, but what about their hologram?

[Presence via holograms and augmented reality raises a lot of interesting and important practical and legal questions; this story is from Singularity Hub, where it includes a 1:32 minute video. –Matthew]

[Image: Source: Ukraine Today/YouTube]

You Can Ban a Person, But What About Their Hologram?

By Aaron Frank
Mar 17, 2017

If you think augmented reality is only fun and games, consider that we’ve already witnessed the first known police action taken against hologram technology. During the summer of 2015, a performance by controversial gangster-rapper, Keith Cozart, was shut down when local police discovered the musician was broadcast as a hologram into a benefit concert in Indiana—close to the border of his home state of Illinois.

Cozart, who goes by the stage name “Chief Keef,” is from a rough neighborhood in Chicago, and has ties to local gangs as well as a criminal record including felony gun charges. His music, which glamorizes a gang lifestyle and violence, has prompted public officials—including Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel—to pressure music festivals to avoid inviting Cozart because they say it poses a “significant public safety risk.”

Due to outstanding warrants for his arrest, Cozart can’t even return to Chicago, and so unable to perform in the area, he took the innovative approach of performing from California, but as a hologram beamed into the Indiana music festival. But even that was too much for police, and the performance was immediately stopped.

The Chief Keef incident signals the beginning of more issues to come. Regulating the free movement of augmented reality and hologram technology will be an increasingly painful headache for police forces and city officials going forward. Read more on You can ban a person, but what about their hologram?…

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Hello, Westworld: Sex doll brothel opens in Barcelona

[There are few applications of presence-evoking technology more interesting and fraught with ethical issues than sexuality. This story is from The Huffington Post, where it includes two videos; more information is available from Forbes. –Matthew]

[Image: “Kati,” the Lumi sex doll now at a Barcelona brothel]

Hello, Westworld: Sex Doll Brothel Opens In Barcelona

Industry edges closer to “realistic, robotic” sex partners.

By Mary Papenfuss
March 2, 2017

In the first known brothel of its kind, a Barcelona establishment is offering erotic sessions with sex dolls only.

Clients of the “agency” will have to pony up $127 an hour for a sex session with one of four big-breasted Lumi Dolls: blond Kati, Asian-featured Lili, dark-skinned Leiza and anime model Aki, who wears her blue hair in ponytails.

Why sex dolls?

For one thing, the silicone dolls are expensive to own — costing at least $5,500 — not to mention embarrassing to have around the house. In addition, having sex with a doll is not, technically, cheating on a spouse.

“They are totally realistic dolls both in their movements and in their ‘feel,’ and they will allow you to fulfill all your fantasies without limits,” promises the website for the Lumi models.

Clients are invited to request clothing and positions for encounters with their “mates” in a private room in a downtown Barcelona apartment. Romance is not required. Dolls will be disinfected after each use, the website promises, and clients are asked to use condoms. Organizers claim that several sessions with the silicone stable have already been reserved.

Though the Spanish brothel appears to be unique, Lumi Dolls join an increasingly crowded population of brands of realistic-looking plastic-and-silicone sex partners.

And they’re just the beginning of a revolutionary change in the industry that seems to be galloping toward something resembling TV’s futuristic “Westworld,” where robots nearly indistinguishable from real people fulfill the basest desires of human customers. Read more on Hello, Westworld: Sex doll brothel opens in Barcelona…

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New effects tech lets media creators and consumers change experience seamlessly in real-time

[Advances in technology are permitting both producers and consumers to effortlessly and instantly modify mediated experiences, making presence more common and determining what is ‘real’ increasingly difficult. This story is from Fast Company’s Co.Design, where it includes many images; the 1:33 minute The Human Race video (also available on YouTube); and a second, 1:49 minute video about the project. A short behind the scenes video is available on YouTube and Sam Russell, general director of global Chevrolet marketing, talks about the project in another YouTube video. –Matthew]

[Image: Source: Ad Week]

This Crazy New Technology Transforms Movies Into Video Games

New imaging technology from Epic Games can swap different vehicles into a car commercial in real time. What’s next? Everything else.

Mark Wilson
March 1, 2017

If you’ve played a recent Forza or Gran Turismo video game, you already know: These virtual cars are almost indistinguishable from their real life counterparts, with all the curves and light reflections that make them look like they’ve driven straight out of a car commercial and into the game. But unlike films made by companies like Pixar, these game cars aren’t rendered over the course of months. They render 60 times every second.

Now Epic Games—a company known for making the Unreal Engine which powers many big budget video game on the market—and VFX studio The Mill are showing just how far the realtime rendering of photorealistic graphics can go. In their new short called The Human Race, you can actually choose the car you want to star in a short Chevy commercial, then watch as it instantly appears within the video.

The end product is basically a choose-your-own-adventure The Fast & The Furious short. And technology like this is about to change the way movies, games, and everything in between are made forever.

“We created a virtual production toolkit to visualize what you see in the film—a virtual car,” says Boo Wong, global director of emerging technology at The Mill. “But that can be extended to any character, prop, etc. From a visual effects point of view, that’s super exciting.” Read more on New effects tech lets media creators and consumers change experience seamlessly in real-time…

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“I tried virtual reality breast implants”: Plastic surgeons recommending presence

[Here’s another very positive application for presence-evoking technology; the story, which includes extended quotes from our colleague Brenda Wiederhold, is from Tonic, where it includes two additional images. –Matthew]

I Tried Virtual Reality Breast Implants
Plastic surgeons are recommending this pre-op step.

Catherine Chapman
March 13 2017

A plastic surgeon’s office is no place for an anxiety-stricken perfectionist like myself, but there I was about to get a consultation for a breast augmentation.

I have never thought about changing my breast size, or that much about my breasts at all for that matter, but as a 28-year-old woman, my life has held endless periods of just generally wanting to look different. At those times, I might have tried a psychologist before opting for cosmetic surgery. Yet some people feel that surgery affords them the opportunity to look into a mirror afterward and genuinely like what they see.

For two thirds of British patients, however, feeling positive about that reflection is replaced with a feeling of regret, according to a 2014 survey by Medical Accident Group of 2,638 people that had undergone cosmetic surgeries. Remarkably, only 32 percent of those taking part in the survey had properly researched the procedure.

It’s reasons like this that have Gary Ross, a consultant plastic, reconstructive, and aesthetic surgeon, starting to use virtual reality (VR) and 3D simulations in his practice. Tools, he says, that help manage an individual’s expectations and add further certainty to the decision they’re making. Read more on “I tried virtual reality breast implants”: Plastic surgeons recommending presence…

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The war on the disturbingly real trolls in virtual reality

[It’s sad that an all-female team had to take the initiative and invent the “personal space bubble” feature discussed in this article from MIT Technology Review; note the explicit references to presence and how it, along with human nature and the anonymity of social VR, makes invasions of personal space more likely. The original story includes a video version of the image below and a 26:04 minute video. –Matthew]

[Image: Illustration by Veronyka Jelinek]

The War on the Disturbingly Real Trolls in Virtual Reality

When you feel like you really are inside a virtual body, protecting your personal space is important.

by Tom Simonite
March 13, 2017

I felt awkward when Katie Kelly, a slim woman in a turquoise sweater, stepped closer. Despite the crackling campfire, this was a professional meeting, and she had intruded on my personal space. “Around here it starts to feel a little bit too uncomfortable,” said Kelly, looking up at the white humanoid robot that was my own body.

Kelly was gently demonstrating why she and others at social virtual-reality startup AltSpaceVR have been working on ways to give people more control of their virtual personal space. Industry leaders such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg say that virtual reality must become a place we can socialize if the medium is to become widely popular. But the feeling of “presence” that can make virtual reality so compelling also makes awkward or hostile interactions with other people much more jarring.

In the latest evolution of online trolling, some visitors to AltSpace and other virtual social spaces where you can mingle with strangers exploit that, for example by touching people’s virtual bodies without permission. “The whole thing with presence is that it basically is the same as if it’s happening in the real world,” says Philip Rosedale, founder and CEO of social VR company High Fidelity (see “The Quest to Put More Reality in Virtual Reality”). Kelly and others in the industry say that the effects of such behavior tend to be disproportionately borne by women. “You have people getting close to you and wanting to touch your body because you appear as a woman, it’s really unpleasant,” says Jodi Schiller, founder and CEO of New Reality Arts, which helps companies build VR experiences for marketing purposes. “This is the next computing platform and it’s really important it includes women.”

Experiences like that were one reason that Kelly and coworkers at AltSpaceVR formed an all-female team last year to design a feature called the “personal space bubble.” It causes other people’s avatars to disappear and become inaudible if they get closer than about an arm’s length of your own virtual body, and makes you invisible and inaudible to them. The bubble is active by default, but you can turn it off if you do want to get closer to someone (Kelly says that air kissing is an important greeting between friends in AltSpace).

AltSpace also lets you mute specific avatars to prevent you from hearing each other, or to block them, making you and them mutually invisible. The company also has a human “concierge” available 24/7 to field reports of unsavory activity. Read more on The war on the disturbingly real trolls in virtual reality…

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Senior centers try robotic cats to soothe agitated elders

[Reminiscent of the PARO therapeutic robot, this story from The Philadelphia Inquirer describes the increasing use and positive impacts of medium-as-social-actor presence with residents of senior centers; the original story includes more images and a 0:43 minute video. –Matthew]

[Image: “Pearl”, one of the robot cats used at the Abramson Center for Jewish Life, lays across the lap of Ina Schecter, 91, a resident of the center, waiting to be petted. Credit: Michael Bryant / Staff Photographer]

Senior centers try robotic cats to soothe agitated elders

Updated: March 10, 2017
by Stacey Burling, Staff Writer

Stanley Ellis, who has dementia, was humming genially even before Daphne Da Silva gave him the gray-and-white robotic cat. He was conducting with his right hand, then clapping to the rhythm of a song only he could hear.

“Look who I brought to see you,” Da Silva said. She is a recreation coordinator at the Abramson Center for Jewish Life in North Wales, where Ellis lives.

His face brightened. He laughed. “I love this,” Ellis said, and it was obvious that he did. “This is cute.”

The cat, christened Mittens, could move its ears and eyes. It could lift its paw for washing and roll on its belly. Its purr, complete with vibration, was more convincing than its meow, but both were good enough to conjure memories of real pets, of real caregiving.

“Oh, I love this dog,” Ellis said as he stroked the long fake fur.

“It’s a cat,” Da Silva corrected.

Ellis, 92, sang to the toy awhile, his eyes riveted to its face. “What a good little pooch you are,” he said.

No matter. Ellis was happy and engaged. The cat — a rare toy designed specifically for the senior market — had done its job.

Abramson got its first robotic cat in December, when Marc Lipsitt brought an orange tabby for his significant other, Mary Rosenberger, 59, who has advanced, early-onset dementia. She didn’t care much for the cat, but lots of other residents did. Lipsitt gave “Timmy” to the center and a trend was born. Thanks to donations and purchases of its own, Abramson has 14 of the $100 toys. Hardly a day goes by, Lipsitt said, when he doesn’t see a cat in a resident’s lap.

“The reaction from residents has been absolutely tremendous,” said Tori Crumbie, Abramson’s director of recreation. “The residents have fallen in love almost instantly.”

She thinks the cats have held the most appeal for people with moderate to advanced dementia, but Will Gillespie, a recreation director, said even people who know that the cats aren’t real enjoy them. One former cat owner has been especially responsive. “I think it’s real enough that it brings that back, that feeling of being with a cat,” Gillespie said. “It’s a reminder.”

Toy cats, real feelings Read more on Senior centers try robotic cats to soothe agitated elders…

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