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Category Archives: Presence in the News

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

Parallux’s “Cave” at Tribeca: Are collective shared experiences the future of virtual reality?

[The VR company Parallux has created a new type of shared presence experience for audiences, as reported in this story from Techradar. See the original story for more pictures, and for more information see the NYU news release and an interview in No Proscenium. The Hollywood Reporter has a rundown of the VR-AR programming at the upcoming Tribeca Film Festival. –Matthew]

Are shared experiences the future of virtual reality?

By Catherine Ellis
April 23, 2019

VR is traditionally a lonely experience. After slipping on a headset, you’re typically isolated (even if you’re sitting in a group), and even multi-person experiences only let two or three people share the same world. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

From April 26 to May 4 at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, virtual reality company Parallux is premiering a new experience that 16 people can watch and enjoy together. The experience, Cave, is a tale set 12,000 years ago when stories were told around fires, harking back to the earliest days of shared storytelling.

“When people will show up at Tribeca, they’ll enter the VR arcade, and our experience cave will be in a separate room there,” explains Sebastian Herscher, CEO of Parallux. “There are going to be 16 headsets on 16 seats, set up in two rows. They’re going to walk in, be asked to sit down and relax, and be introduced to the equipment that we’re using, just as a little bit of onboarding.

“Then they’re going to put on their headset, and the moment that they put it on they are going to be transported to the world space of Cave.”

When a member of the audience looks left or right, they’ll be able to see virtual representations of the people sitting either side of them. These won’t just be placeholders, either – each avatar will follow the movements of the person it represents, turning its head in the same direction and ‘looking’ wherever he or she does.

“On top of that, every seat has a unique viewpoint, like a theater,” Herscher says. “So the person on the left side of the audience is having a very different experience and a different viewpoint than a person on the right side of the audience. They are then going to sit back watch our short, and then take off the headset and mosey on out just like a theater or a movie.” Read more on Parallux’s “Cave” at Tribeca: Are collective shared experiences the future of virtual reality?…

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Treating anhedonia: Using VR and presence to boost positive feelings in patients with depression

[In addition to describing new research on the use of presence to treat a specific symptom of depression, this story from STAT provides a link-rich summary of its use in other aspects of mental health care. –Matthew]

Can virtual reality boost positive feelings in patients with depression?

By Megan Thielking
April 22, 2019

Michelle Craske is asking patients to dive into coral reefs, ride on bullet trains rushing past pine trees, and cheer on soccer teams from the stands — at least virtually — in a bid to tackle a symptom long sidelined in depression treatment.

The University of California, Los Angeles, psychiatry researcher and her colleagues are testing whether virtual reality can curb anhedonia, a symptom of depression and other serious mental health conditions that’s marked by a lack of interest or ability to feel pleasure. They’re putting patients into pleasant scenarios — like a stroll through a sun-soaked forest while piano music plays — and coaching them to pay close attention to the positive parts. The idea is to help patients learn to plan positive activities, take part in them, and soak up the good feelings in the process.

It’s an unconventional strategy — not just for its use of virtual reality, but also for how it approaches a patient’s symptoms. Treatments for depression and other serious mental health conditions primarily target negative symptoms, like hopelessness, sadness, and anxiety — but they often don’t help with the lack of positive feelings that some patients experience.

“Most treatments, up until now, have done an OK job at reducing negative [symptoms of depression], but a very poor job at helping patients become more positive,” said Craske.

There aren’t data yet to determine whether virtual reality treatment can make a meaningful difference in anhedonia. But the technology is increasingly popular in mental health care. Other studies have suggested virtual reality can be useful in easing certain phobias, helping people with psychotic disorders experience less paranoia and anxiety in public settings, and reducing social anxiety.

“It goes to the heart of the very best of psychological therapy — going into environments that cause difficulties and learning different ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving,” said Dr. Daniel Freeman, a University of Oxford psychologist who is studying whether it’s possible to use virtual reality to automate therapy for certain conditions, such as a fear of heights. Researchers elsewhere are using virtual reality for everything from treating PTSD in people who’ve experienced sexual trauma to equipping service members with coping skills they’ll need in combat zones.

“Mental health and the environment are inseparable,” said Freeman. “The brilliant thing about virtual reality is that you can provide simulations in the environment and have people repeatedly go into them,” he added. Read more on Treating anhedonia: Using VR and presence to boost positive feelings in patients with depression…

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Robert Rodriguez’ “The Limit” captures the push and pull between VR’s past and future

[This story from The A.V. Club nicely captures some of the challenges of creating compelling presence experiences using virtual reality. The original story includes the trailer video for “Spheres: Songs Of Spacetime”; for more information about “Spheres” see UniFrance and for more on “Dinner Party” see that film’s website.  –Matthew]

[Image: Robert Rodriguez’s The Limit. Credit: STX Financing, LLC.]

A Robert Rodriguez virtual-reality film captures the push and pull between VR’s past and future

Alex McLevy
April 18, 2019

Unless your name is James Cameron, you’re probably a little skeptical of the recent surge in virtual reality as a medium for storytelling. (And even he wants you to know that what we tend to call “VR” isn’t true VR to Hollywood’s biggest devotee of technological advancements.) For most people, it’s still a limited platform, both cost- and access-wise; the forms of available VR platforms (Oculus, Steam, Vive, Google Play, PS4, etc.) are growing, but the amount of content waiting to greet those who pony up the hundreds of dollars for the necessary equipment isn’t yet commensurate with the investment. The richest source of entertainment in VR, unsurprisingly, is gaming, where the immersive environment is more useful as both a tool and aesthetic enhancement. Games like Superhot and Moss showcase the best the technology has to offer, making the player’s broad control of perspective an essential aspect of the experience.

But when it comes to cinematic narrative alone, harnessing VR’s potential becomes more challenging. It’s not simply that a large portion of a director’s skill lies in guiding the eyes of the viewer exactly where they’d like them to be, and facilitating the transition from one sight to the next at a pace—and in an order—meant to maximize emotional impact, or illuminate a certain element of the frame for tactical purposes. There’s also the fact that almost no one seems to have figured out how to shoot a VR movie in a way that would compensate for the option to move your head and disrupt even the most rudimentary of compositions—essentially throwing the meticulous art of cinematography out the viewer-controlled window.

As a result, a number of creators of VR stories are splitting the difference between filmmaking and games, essentially turning their short-film experiences into more of a theme-park ride than a piece of cinema. The latest and clearest example of this sort of breezy, cheap-seats entertainment is Robert Rodriguez’s The Limit, a 20-minute virtual reality action spectacle that slams the viewer into an adrenaline-fueled race through three major set pieces in service of a simple sci-fi conceit. The viewer assumes the point of view of a mysterious agent imbued with some unknown cybernetic enhancements, who makes contact with an assassin (Michelle Rodriguez) similarly gifted with digital upgrades. The mission: to fight back against the organization that created your character, and is now trying to shut its experiment down. Read more on Robert Rodriguez’ “The Limit” captures the push and pull between VR’s past and future…

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Butterfly World: Gaming and VR for insect and ecosystem conservation

[A computer scientist and a biologist are using presence to teach users about insects and environmental conservation; some of the details are in this press release from EurekAlert!. More information is in their article in Rethinking Ecology, and see the project’s Patreon page for a 2:21 minute video (also available via YouTube; an earlier 1:30 minute YouTube video is also available). –Matthew]

Living room conservation: Gaming & virtual reality for insect and ecosystem conservation

Players explore and search for butterflies using knowledge gained through gameplay

News Release 18-Apr-2019
Pensoft Publishers

Gaming and virtual reality (VR) could bridge the gap between urban societies and nature, thereby paving the way to insect conservation by the means of education, curiosity and life-like participation.

This is what Florida International University‘s team of computer scientist Alban Delamarre and biologist Dr Jaeson Clayborn strive to achieve by developing a VR game (desktop version also available) dedicated to insect and plant species. Focused on imperiled butterflies, their innovative idea: Butterfly World 1.0, is described in the open-access journal Rethinking Ecology.

Butterfly World 1.0 is an adventure game designed to engage its users in simulated exploration and education. Set in the subtropical dry forest of the Florida Keys (an archipelago situated off the southern coast of Florida, USA), Butterfly World draws the players into an immersive virtual environment where they learn about relationships between butterflies, plants, and invasive species. While exploring the set, they interact with and learn about the federally endangered Schaus’ swallowtail butterfly, the invasive graceful twig ant, native and exotic plants, and several other butterflies inhabiting the dry forest ecosystem. Other nature-related VR experiences, including conservation awareness and educational programs, rely on passive observations with minimal direct interactions between participants and the virtual environment.

According to the authors, virtual reality and serious gaming are “the new frontiers in environmental education” and “present a unique opportunity to interact with and learn about different species and ecosystems”. Read more on Butterfly World: Gaming and VR for insect and ecosystem conservation…

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Vulcan Holodome at TED2019: An immersive 360-degree world… without a headset?

[As this report from the TED2019 blog makes clear, immersive platforms that don’t rely on isolating headsets have important advantages in the creation of (social) presence experiences. The original story includes more images and  for more information Axios has a concise summary, GeekWire has a detailed story about a new interactive, haptic-enhanced game for the Holodome as well as an earlier report on the platform’s debut in Seattle, and a 1:00 minute video that includes viewer reactions is available via YouTube. –Matthew]

[Image: Step up close to, and almost into, the work of Monet, a favorite artist of Vulcan founder Paul Allen. Vulcan brought their new Holodome environment to TED2019: Bigger Than Us, in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Credit: Bret Hartman / TED.]

Vulcan Holodome at TED2019: An immersive 360-degree world… without a headset?

Posted by: TED Staff
April 17, 2019

Have you ever loved a painting so much you wanted to step inside it? While the world of VR is usually utilised to take us to inaccessible locations like the depths of the ocean or the surface of the Moon, Vulcan’s Holodome offers the opportunity to enter the world of an impressionist painting in one of two experiences previewing at TED2019.

Unlike the usual headset-based VR experience, the Holodome is a fully immersive environment you can explore with your fellow adventurers, unhindered by wearable equipment. Inspired by a love of Monet’s works, the late chair of Vulcan, Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, wanted to create a way to step inside them. One where you can walk across the painter’s Poppy Field as it undulates around and beneath you, and Woman with a Parasol disappears over a nearby rise.

“With Holodome, our goal is to transport people into immersive adventures across real and imagined worlds, from the highest mountaintop to an impressionist landscape to the boundaries of space, without the need for mounted headgear,” says Kamal Srinivasan, Vulcan’s director of product management. Read more on Vulcan Holodome at TED2019: An immersive 360-degree world… without a headset?…

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Baylor virtual reality project puts viewers in Victorian poets’ living room

[Here’s another example of the potential of presence to enrich and expand education. The story is from the Waco Tribune-Herald, where it includes two more images. For more information see an earlier story in Baylor’s Instant Impact and Amanda Gardner’s website. –Matthew]

[Image: Baylor graduate student Amanda Gardner puts on the virtual reality goggles to experience a film shot in the Armstrong Browning Library’s salon room, a recreation of the living room of poets Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Credit: Rod Aydelotte.]

Baylor virtual reality project puts viewers in Victorian poets’ living room

By Carl Hoover
April 11, 2019

Baylor graduate student Amanda Gardner always treated English and literature as immersive subjects for her high school students to plunge into and find shared experiences that could be transformative.

Her latest educational project also immerses participants, but in a virtual way: a short virtual reality film that puts viewers in the living room of British poet Robert Browning, where Browning, his son Pen, their friends and family recall the life and poetry of Browning’s wife Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

For Baylor’s Armstrong Browning Library, which preserves one of the world’s largest collections of Browningiana, Gardner’s Cinematic Virtual Reality project offers an unusual way to celebrate the library’s annual Browning Day on Friday.

Gardner and her virtual reality collaborators will talk about the project with participants able to see for themselves through Oculus Go VR goggles.

The library’s salon provided the ready-made and authentic setting during filming last year. It’s a recreation of the Brownings’ living room in Casa Guido, their home Florence, Italy, complete with Elizabeth’s writing desk, a prayer stand and two tables used by her sisters.

Baylor theater professor Steven Pounders and students Noah Alderfer and Bailey Harris led a cast of about 10, all dressed in period costumes and working off a script written by Gardner.

Those who put on the VR goggles can walk through the room and eavesdrop on several conversations as those at the memorial, set in 1866, share their memories of the poet and some of her work.

If they are more inclined to explore her work and her life, then the immersive film has done what Gardner thinks VR filmmaking will bring to 21st Century classrooms: open students’ eyes to subject matter that they’ll then want to explore on their own. Read more on Baylor virtual reality project puts viewers in Victorian poets’ living room…

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Antony Gormley’s Lunatick VR experience invites Londoners to moon walk

[The VR installation described in this story from de zeen offers a version of an otherwise unavailable experience that offers new perspective, actual and metaphorical. If you’ll be in London before April 25, consider visiting. The original story includes more images. –Matthew]

Antony Gormley’s Lunatick invites Londoners to moon walk

Augusta Pownall
April 15, 2019

Artist Antony Gormley has teamed up with astrophysicist Priya Natarajan on a virtual-reality experience that allows users to walk on a digital version of the moon created using data from NASA.

The 15-minute immersive experience sees visitors don a virtual-reality (VR) headset to travel from an imagined version of Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean, through the earth’s atmosphere to the moon, where they can walk across its surface.

On the way, they pass through the stratosphere and around virtual asteroid belts before eventually travelling from the moon on towards the sun.

“Our nearest neighbour is the moon, and this project allows us to experience it as a found object in space, to explore its vast open spaces and swoop the ridges and valleys of its craters,” said Gormley.

“This collaboration is an opportunity to experience the mind/body relationship in a new way and consider our own body’s relationship to other bodies in space.”

Surface of the moon digitally recreated

Produced with Acute Art, a virtual and augmented reality production studio that specialises in creating digital artworks, the experience takes place in a room kitted out with five VR headsets at The Store X‘s space at 180 The Strand in London.

With Acute Art’s chief technology officer Rodrigo Marques, the pair recreated the surface of the moon, using the publicly available data set from NASA’s ongoing Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter – a robotic spacecraft currently orbiting and mapping the earth’s moon.

Using a hand-held gaming stick and the movement of their own bodies, visitors are able to move across the moon’s craters, and experience the weightlessness of bouncing on its surface.

“This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Only 12 human beings have walked on the moon to date, but many unmanned missions have provided comprehensive high-resolution maps of the lunar surface,” said Natarajan.

“We can experience walking on the moon, feel the sensation in our bodies and minds of stepping on the surface that has been so intricately mapped with data that space missions have provided,” she continued. Read more on Antony Gormley’s Lunatick VR experience invites Londoners to moon walk…

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AR will spark the next big tech platform – Call it mirrorworld

[This recent Wired story from the magazine’s founding editor is a thoughtful and thought-provoking perspective on the evolution of technology that explains how and why presence illusions will increasingly occur via augmented reality, creating both important benefits and potential costs. The original version of the story is extremely long so it’s abridged here, but see the original for more information and detail. –Matthew]

AR Will Spark the Next Big Tech Platform—Call it Mirrorworld

Kevin Kelly
February 12, 2019

EVERY DECEMBER, ADAM Savage—star of the TV show MythBusters—releases a video reviewing his “favorite things” from the previous year. In 2018, one of his highlights was a set of Magic Leap augmented reality goggles. After duly noting the hype and backlash that have dogged the product, Savage describes an epiphany he had while trying on the headset at home, upstairs in his office. “I turned it on and I could hear a whale,” he says, “but I couldn’t see it. I’m looking around my office for it. And then it swims by my windows—on the outside of my building! So the glasses scanned my room and it knew that my windows were portals and it rendered the whale as if it were swimming down my street. I actually got choked up.” What Savage encountered on the other side of the glasses was a glimpse of the mirrorworld.

The mirrorworld doesn’t yet fully exist, but it is coming. Someday soon, every place and thing in the real world—every street, lamppost, building, and room—will have its full-size digital twin in the mirrorworld. For now, only tiny patches of the mirrorworld are visible through AR headsets. Piece by piece, these virtual fragments are being stitched together to form a shared, persistent place that will parallel the real world. The author Jorge Luis Borges imagined a map exactly the same size as the territory it represented. “In time,” Borges wrote, “the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it.” We are now building such a 1:1 map of almost unimaginable scope, and this world will become the next great digital platform.

Google Earth has long offered a hint of what this mirrorworld will look like. My friend Daniel Suarez is a best-selling science fiction author. In one sequence of his most recent book, Change Agent, a fugitive escapes along the coast of Malaysia. His descriptions of the roadside eateries and the landscape describe exactly what I had seen when I drove there recently, so I asked him when he’d made the trip. “Oh, I’ve never been to Malaysia,” he smiled sheepishly. “I have a computer with a set of three linked monitors, and I opened up Google Earth. Over several evenings I ‘drove’ along Malaysian highway AH18 in Street View.” Suarez—like Savage—was seeing a crude version of the mirrorworld.

It is already under construction. Deep in the research labs of tech companies around the world, scientists and engineers are racing to construct virtual places that overlay actual places. Crucially, these emerging digital landscapes will feel real; they’ll exhibit what landscape architects call place­ness. The Street View images in Google Maps are just facades, flat images hinged together. But in the mirrorworld, a virtual building will have volume, a virtual chair will exhibit chairness, and a virtual street will have layers of textures, gaps, and intrusions that all convey a sense of “street.”

The mirrorworld—a term first popularized by Yale computer scientist David Gelernter—will reflect not just what something looks like but its context, meaning, and function. We will interact with it, manipulate it, and experience it like we do the real world.

At first, the mirrorworld will appear to us as a high-resolution stratum of information overlaying the real world. We might see a virtual name tag hovering in front of people we previously met. Perhaps a blue arrow showing us the right place to turn a corner. Or helpful annotations anchored to places of interest. (Unlike the dark, closed goggles of VR, AR glasses use see-through technology to insert virtual apparitions into the real world.)

Eventually we’ll be able to search physical space as we might search a text—“find me all the places where a park bench faces sunrise along a river.” We will hyperlink objects into a network of the physical, just as the web hyperlinked words, producing marvelous benefits and new products.

The mirrorworld will have its own quirks and surprises. Its curious dual nature, melding the real and the virtual, will enable now-unthinkable games and entertainment. Pokémon Go gives just a hint of this platform’s nearly unlimited capability for exploration.

These examples are trivial and elementary, equivalent to our earliest, lame guesses of what the internet would be, just after it was born—fledgling Compu­Serve, early AOL. The real value of this work will emerge from the trillion unexpected combinations of all these primitive elements.

The first big technology platform was the web, which digitized information, subjecting knowledge to the power of algorithms; it came to be dominated by Google. The second great platform was social media, running primarily on mobile phones. It digitized people and subjected human behavior and relationships to the power of algorithms, and it is ruled by Facebook and WeChat.

We are now at the dawn of the third platform, which will digitize the rest of the world. On this platform, all things and places will be machine-­readable, subject to the power of algorithms. Whoever dominates this grand third platform will become among the wealthiest and most powerful people and companies in history, just as those who now dominate the first two platforms have. Also, like its predecessors, this new platform will unleash the prosperity of thousands more companies in its ecosystem, and a million new ideas—and problems—that weren’t possible before machines could read the world. Read more on AR will spark the next big tech platform – Call it mirrorworld…

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The sky as canvas: Japan company to create on-demand artificial meteor showers

[I missed this BBC story from January about efforts to create presence illusions in space (!). See the original version for four different images, and see the ALE 1:17 minute concept video in coverage from Science Alert, which also notes that “the trend of sending frivolous objects to space seems to be gaining traction in a worrying way. A year ago it was a mirrored “disco” ball, launched quietly from New Zealand to orbit Earth for a few months. Another artist sent a giant shiny thing called the Orbital Reflector into space in December. China wants an artificial moon to save money on street lights. Yesterday, we reported on a Russian company that wants to put advertising in space.” –Matthew]

The Plan to Make Artificial Meteor Showers

By Chris Baraniuk
11 January 2019

If you ever find yourself sitting back in wonder as super-bright artificial meteors flash across the sky, you will be able to thank the credit crunch – at least in part. After the crisis of 2008 that Lena Okajima decided to leave her job at a financial company for a radical new venture: a firm that aimed to put satellites in orbit capable of launching artificial meteor showers.

“I had to change my job because the financial situation was very bad at the time,” she explains now, nearly 10 years later.

It was even earlier, way back in 2001, while watching the natural Leonid meteor shower that she first had the idea of trying to recreate such a display artificially.

“These meteor showers occurred from very small particles from outer space so we thought we could recreate the same situation using little satellites,” Okajima says.

Now her company, Astro Live Experiences (ALE), is on track to launch its first satellite and begin experiments in space for the first time [the successful launch was on January 18 –ML]. If successful, ALE could be on its way to creating meteor shows at special events for crowds of thousands. And other forms of artificial celestial entertainment may follow. But will Okajima’s plan really work? Read more on The sky as canvas: Japan company to create on-demand artificial meteor showers…

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Are we living in a simulation? This MIT scientist says it’s more likely than not

[Aside from being a provocative and intriguing idea, the Simulation Hypothesis represents the ultimate example of presence, and the latest analogy for the nature of the universe (following a watch or clock, a steam engine, and others). This interview with Rizwan Virk about his new book on the subject is from Digital Trends (where it includes 4 other images); see his zenentrepreneur blog for more information. Variety also has a story on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of “The Matrix” that presents Virk’s list of “The Top 5 Virtual/Simulated Characters and How They Foretold the Future.” –Matthew]

Are we living in a simulation? This MIT scientist says it’s more likely than not

Dyllan Furness
April 9, 2019

What if I told you that physical reality is an illusion and we all live in a computer simulation?

That hypothesis, famously probed in the 1999 film The Matrix, is the subject of a new book by Rizwan Virk, a computer scientist and video game developer who leads Play Labs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In his book, The Simulation Hypothesis, Virk endeavors to unpack the heady arguments that call our physical world into question.

Are we all just artificial intelligence (A.I.) programs running on the basement servers of some advanced future civilization? Or perhaps the Wachowskis were on to something when they depicted modern society as an illusion used to enslave our minds, as our bodies powered a dystopian planet ruled by robots. Maybe there really is no spoon.

It may sound like a far-fetched idea, but the simulation hypothesis is today discussed seriously in academia and more popularly by people like Elon Musk.

We spoke to Virk about the hypothesis, why it matters, and why it has gained traction 20 years after The Matrix hit theaters. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Read more on Are we living in a simulation? This MIT scientist says it’s more likely than not…

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