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Category Archives: Presence in the News

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

Presence Pictures: Robots at Work and Play

[The Atlantic has published a set of 35 vivid photographs that demonstrate the diverse roles robots are occupying in 2018, and in many cases the medium-as-social-actor presence responses we have to them. Three of the photos are below and see the original feature for the full-size versions of all 35. –Matthew]

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Stanford research: VR (and presence) increases empathy and action on homelessness

[New research provides more evidence of the power of virtual reality and presence to enhance empathy, affect behavior, and improve people’s lives. This story is from Stanford News, where it includes a 1:05 minute trailer for the “Becoming Homeless” VR experience. Read the new paper at PLOS ONE. –Matthew]

[Image: Fernanda Herrera, left, watches as fellow student Hannah Mieczkowski navigates through the VR experience that begins with an eviction notice. Image credit: L.A. Cicero.]

Virtual reality can help make people more compassionate compared to other media, new Stanford study finds

Stanford researchers found that people who underwent a virtual reality experience, called “Becoming Homeless,” were more empathetic toward the homeless and more likely to sign a petition in support of affordable housing than other study participants. 

By Alex Shashkevich
October 17, 2018

A Stanford-developed virtual reality experience, called “Becoming Homeless,” is helping expand research on how this new immersive technology affects people’s level of empathy.

According to new Stanford research, people who saw in virtual reality, also known as VR, what it would be like to lose their jobs and homes developed longer-lasting compassion toward the homeless compared to those who explored other media versions of the VR scenario, like text. These findings are set to publish Oct. 17 in PLOS ONE.

“Experiences are what define us as humans, so it’s not surprising that an intense experience in VR is more impactful than imagining something,” said Jeremy Bailenson, a professor of communication and a co-author of the paper. Read more on Stanford research: VR (and presence) increases empathy and action on homelessness…

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Macy’s sees benefits from VR and AR for furniture and beauty product sales

[Digital Commerce 360 reports on how the Macy’s department store chain is using presence-evoking technologies to enhance customer experience, increase sales, reduce returns, and save space while increasing its offerings. For more information, see a press release via Business Wire, a CNBC interview with the CEO of Marxent Labs, an earlier story and video from Marxent, Marxent’s Products page, and a report in PYMNTS on both Macy’s and Walmart’s recent adoption of VR and AR. –Matthew]

Virtual reality increases furniture AOV by 60% at Macy’s

On the heels of a virtual reality furniture pilot, Macy’s adds augmented reality for furniture in its iOS app.

April Berthene
September 19, 2018

Macy’s Inc.’s in-store virtual reality pilot is increasing basket size and decreasing returns, the retail chain announced this week, along with other technology-focused news.

By early November, Macy’s will have in-store virtual reality spaces at 69 U.S. stores. In pilot stores, shoppers who used the virtual reality headsets to view Macy’s furniture had more than a 60% greater average order value than non-virtual reality furniture shoppers, Macy’s says. Plus, shoppers who used virtual reality had less than a 2% return rate on transactions. Macy’s would not reveal its average return rate.

The retailer says this is because, “customers more accurately visualize their space and add multiple furnishings with confidence.”

For Macy’s, it can offer a wider product assortment at stores using less space on the sales floor.

While virtual reality lets shoppers view virtual furniture in a virtual world, Macy’s recently launched an augmented reality feature in its iOS app that allows shoppers to view virtual furniture within the context of the real world. Read more on Macy’s sees benefits from VR and AR for furniture and beauty product sales…

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New DextrES ultra-light gloves let users feel and manipulate virtual objects

[This press release from ETH Zurich describes a promising new technology for evoking realistic haptic sensations that contribute to presence illusions. For more information watch a 1:58 minute video on YouTube and see the project’s web page (which features the full paper and a longer video). –Matthew]

Ultra-light gloves let users “touch” virtual objects

Scientists from ETH Zurich and EPFL have developed an ultra-light glove – weighing less than 8 grams – that enables users to feel and manipulate virtual objects. Their system provides extremely realistic haptic feedback and could run on a battery, allowing for unparalleled freedom of movement.

October 15, 2018

Engineers and software developers around the world are seeking to create technology that lets users touch, grasp and manipulate virtual objects, while feeling like they are actually touching something in the real world. Scientists at ETH Zurich and EPFL have just made a major step toward this goal with their new haptic glove, which is not only lightweight – under 8 grams – but also provides feedback that is extremely realistic. The glove is able to generate up to 40 Newtons of holding force on each finger with just 200 Volts and only a few milliwatts of power. It also has the potential to run on a very small battery. That, together with the glove’s low form factor (only 2 mm thick), translates into an unprecedented level of precision and freedom of movement.

“We wanted to develop a lightweight device that – unlike existing virtual-reality gloves – doesn’t require a bulky exoskeleton, pumps or very thick cables,” says Herbert Shea, head of EPFL’s Soft Transducers Laboratory (LMTS). The scientists’ glove, called DextrES, has been successfully tested on volunteers in Zurich and will be presented at the upcoming ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology (UIST). Read more on New DextrES ultra-light gloves let users feel and manipulate virtual objects…

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Snapchat’s Originals incorporate AR and presence for “whatever comes after TV”

[Presence-evoking technologies are changing traditional audio-visual media in interesting ways. Snapchat is experimenting with using augmented reality for both watching and responding to original interactive programming via mobile devices, as described in this story in Fast Company; see the original story for a 1:04 minute video and animated gifs. –Matthew]

Snap is making whatever comes after TV

Today the company is announcing new original programming that puts users inside the story. Is it prestige TV, social storytelling, or a whole new medium?

October 10, 2018
By Mark Wilson

I’m standing on a beach, and a group of beautiful twentysomethings gather round a bonfire. There’s Dylan, a passionate dreamer, who strums at an acoustic guitar in his millennial pink hoodie. And Summer, she’s an ambitious life-lover, who dons red Chuck Taylors that match her jacket.

I know their names, and their personalities, because their backgrounds float right over their heads. And in case I hadn’t made it clear, I’m not actually on the beach in Orange County. I’m standing in my basement, viewing the scene through a Snapchat AR “portal,” which immerses me in a 360-degree moment that feels like a cross between a chill beach party and a trailer for some new MTV reality show.

This effect is by design. The experience I’m previewing is part of a new Snapchat show called Endless Summer, produced by Bunim-Murray, the same production company that brought us The Real World. It’s all part of Snap’s continued obsession with leveraging its own interactive, social platform to push the nature of programming forward.

This week, Snap is unveiling its biggest initiative in original programming yet. Dubbed Snap Originals, it includes a dozen new shows produced specifically for Snap, ranging from a horror anthology, to a mysterious campus mystery created by a writer on Riverdale, to a docuseries about drag queens who are coming of age.

Snap’s own content hasn’t all been a hit–following a controversial redesign, especially, its publishers reported losing views. But over the last two years, it’s become a successful platform for the company that Sean Mills, head of Original Content for Snap, is quick to point out mirrors the habitual viewing style of TV audiences, rather than the viral one-offs of YouTube. SportsCenter’s show on Snapchat reaches 2.5 million viewers, and NBC News’s audience has doubled on Snap over the last year, from 2.5 to 5 million viewers a day. That’s a small cry from Snapchat’s 188 million daily active users worldwide, but puts NBC’s Snapchat viewership on par with a hit cable show.

With its new content push, Snap doesn’t want to just duplicate TV shows or Netflix binges, though. For whatever position its stock might be in, Snap wants to do something more ambitious: Push the medium of storytelling forward, leveraging its AR breakthroughs and social platform to do so. Read more on Snapchat’s Originals incorporate AR and presence for “whatever comes after TV”…

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Audible’s “A Harry Potter Pensieve Experience” takes readers into the narrative

[An interactive exhibit at the recent New York Comic Con “plung[ed] readers right in the narrative”; this story from Ad Age introduces a 3:43 minute video recorded at NYCC. Bleeding Cool has 14 images and a short video and The Verge provides more context regarding the innovations in and the popularity of audio books. –Matthew]

Read more on Audible’s “A Harry Potter Pensieve Experience” takes readers into the narrative…

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Mural Arts Philadelphia debuts its first augmented reality mural, ‘Dreams, Diaspora, and Destiny’

[Thanks to the Mural Arts Philadelphia program, since 1984 the city has been home to over 3600 murals, the “World’s Largest Outdoor Art Gallery”; the new mural described in this story from incorporates augmented reality and a soundtrack to tell an engaging story. See the original story for another picture and a 0:31 minute video. For more on public arts projects incorporating AR see the Mural Arts Philadelphia blog, and for more on the mission and history of the organization and the city’s murals see the Mural Arts Philadelphia website and coverage in the Huffington Post. –Matthew]

[Image: Credit: David Swanson / Staff Photographer]

Mural Arts Philadelphia debuts its first augmented reality mural, ‘Dreams, Diaspora, and Destiny’

By Grace Dickinson
October 10, 2018

Mural Arts Philadelphia is bringing art to life with the city’s first augmented-reality mural, Dreams, Diaspora, and Destiny. The project invites viewers to experience a large-scale painting completed on a warehouse at 53rd and Media Streets through the lens of a smartphone app that casts holograms and generates a changing soundtrack as you move from left to right.

Picture a metaphysical version of Pokémon Go in which the power of a screen momentarily alters reality around you.

To see the augmented-reality mural, you’ll need to download the free app, created by the local production firm Blue Design. It’s available in the Apple App store under the name “MuralArtsAR.” (Unfortunately, it’s not available for Android users.)

To see the augmented reality, point your phone screen at the mural. Immediately, elements such as light beams, colorful orbs, floating crystals, and sculpturelike figures will begin to pop out from the painting, covering a wall the length of a city block. You can start your AR experience at any point along the mural, but it’s best to begin at the left side, where the story of the mural begins. Read more on Mural Arts Philadelphia debuts its first augmented reality mural, ‘Dreams, Diaspora, and Destiny’…

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Virtual reality reimagines the haunted mansion – with eerily realistic effects

[The technologies used to create Halloween attractions are increasingly capable of producing rich and intense presence experiences, as detailed in this story from Fast Company; see the original version for other pictures and videos. –Matthew]

Virtual reality reimagines the haunted mansion–with eerily realistic effects

The Void’s hyper-reality experiences allow you to do more than just enter a new world–you get to touch, feel, interact, and even smell truly terrifying environments.

By Rina Raphael
October 1, 2018

I am screaming so loudly–repeatedly–that it’s more of a piercing shrill echo.

I fear it’s so disturbingly distracting that I can’t stop apologizing. “I am so very sorry,” I tell my fellow time-travelers, noting that once again, the demon got the best of me. He came out of nowhere and as much as I tell myself this isn’t real, it feels real. This, despite the fact that whenever I bring my hands to muffle my mouth’s sounds, they do not appear as my hands; they are the thin, leather-gloved fingers of a Victorian lady.

I am at Nicodemus: Demon of Evanishment, a new hyper-reality ghost tour presented by The Void, which produces immersive location-based VR experiences. In this new vision of the traditional haunted mansion, a group of four is hooked up to virtual reality headsets and jetpacks to set off into a maze of a dozen connected rooms that to the naked eye, resemble a laser tag playground. But for those equipped, we have traveled back to a detailed recreation of what was left of the forsaken Chicago World Fair in 1894.

There, amidst tarnished wrought-iron gates and decaying spiderweb-strewn exhibits, one explores the ruins of what was once a grand expo center. Gilded Roman statues crumble before you as rats scuttle across the dirtied stone floors. Sometimes a rotting corpse makes an impromptu appearance, its curdling blood slowly dripping by its wayside.

There’s also a more ominous element at play: A supernatural presence by the name of Nicodemus has somehow transported itself to the vacant grounds by way of an electro-spiritualism experiment gone wrong.

The monstrous demon, whom I assume hates fairs, kidnaps fine folks such as my newfound pals. We board a rickety train that abruptly halts and shakes whenever the sinister spirit attacks, but in reality, we simply walk from room to room, grasping at blank black walls whenever we need to steady ourselves.

Every so often, our expertise is commanded, such as when electricity valves need a surge or a chilling exhibit requires a lever pulled. It’s truly an interactive haunted experience, albeit more sophisticated than your average Halloween hayride.

Halfway through our 20-minute tour, one of my fellow explorers excuses herself. Not because of anything I’ve done or how long I’ve screamed, but because this hyper-reality ghost experience proves too much for her.

“I just freaked out,” she explains later. “It was too realistic.”

HORROR: THE NEXT GENERATION Read more on Virtual reality reimagines the haunted mansion – with eerily realistic effects…

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Facebook wants to fix video calls with Portal smart devices

[In addition to their features, most of the press coverage of Facebook’s new Portal devices emphasizes questions about the actual and perceived privacy the products will provide. This story is from Business Insider, where it includes other images. A 5:43 minute interview with Portal VP Rafa Camargo at Bloomberg includes the quote here about presence and several others including a specific reference to social and “video” presence. Wired has more details about the Portals including this:

“Get up and walk around, and the camera follows you, staying zoomed in. If there’s more than one human in the room, Portal will zoom out and recrop to fit everyone in the frame. If you want to zoom in on just one person, tap the screen and select ‘Spotlight mode,’ which locks Portal’s camera onto one face and body, keeping that person centered in the frame no matter who else comes and goes. The features are clever, and make the Portal feel miles more advanced than other dedicated videochat devices.”

At this writing the Portal website,, features a vivid image illustrating ‘connection’ between two users.  –Matthew]

[Image: Source: Bloomberg]

 Facebook wants to fix video calls with Portal, a $200 gadget that lets you talk to your Messenger friends

Rob Price
October 9, 2018

Facebook thinks video calls are broken — and it’s betting that people are willing to pay for a better experience.

On Monday, the Silicon Valley tech giant unveiled the Facebook Portal, a video-chat and smart-speaker device that it said would start shipping in November.

It’s a significant announcement for the company, one that puts it directly into competition with the likes of Google and Amazon and represents its first foray into building consumer hardware under the Facebook brand.

The Portal, which comes in two sizes, integrates with Facebook’s Messenger chat app and is designed to be used for video calls with a user’s friends.

The Portal will cost $199 and the larger Portal Plus $349, and it will be available only in the US. You can preorder it starting Monday.

The device also doubles as a voice-controlled home assistant and smart speaker in the vein of the Amazon Echo or Google Home. Facebook’s Portal comes with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant built in, allowing it to respond to voice commands to carry out various tasks. Read more on Facebook wants to fix video calls with Portal smart devices…

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NSF funds three-year Penn State study of VR simulations for teaching industrial engineering

[Researchers affiliated with Penn State University are designing not just individual VR simulations to teach industrial engineering but an integrated, thematic curriculum that incorporates VR and presence to serve both in person and remotely located students with “the potential to transform our concept of higher education and how we learn.” This story is from Penn State News, where it includes more pictures (see also related earlier coverage from Penn State News). –Matthew]

[Image: Researchers at the Data-Driven Decisions lab at Penn State Behrend and the Design Analysis Technology Advancement lab at University Park are developing a virtual-reality simulation that will place industrial engineering students in an interactive and immersive manufacturing environment. Credit: CANSTOCK]

NSF funds three-year study of virtual-reality engineering simulations

Robb Frederick
October 05, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Industrial engineering students often use simulation kits – boxes full of Lego blocks – to learn Toyota’s production system. They build Lego cars, sometimes using robots and programmable logic controllers to speed the process.

Researchers at the Data-Driven Decisions (3D) lab at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, and the Design Analysis Technology Advancement (D.A.T.A.) lab at University Park will soon test a different technique. They are developing a virtual-reality simulation that will place students in an interactive and immersive manufacturing environment where they can model and manipulate production systems. The VR environment, which will include concepts that are taught in a variety of courses, will move Penn State’s industrial engineering program toward a truly integrated curriculum, with a continuing theme, or story, that will reinforce key concepts as students progress through the program.

The National Science Foundation is supporting the project with a three-year grant of nearly $300,000. Read more on NSF funds three-year Penn State study of VR simulations for teaching industrial engineering…

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