ISPR Presence News

Category Archives: Presence in the News

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

2018’s political mess is a boon for VR escapism in 2019

[This opinion piece from The Next Web offers the kind of big picture perspective on presence that I find particularly interesting and important. The author makes logical if depressing predictions about how we will use and be impacted by presence-evoking technologies (she uses the term explicitly) in the year and years ahead. Note: This version is very lightly edited for typos. –Matthew]

2018’s political mess is a boon for VR escapism in 2019

By Alice Bonasio
December 25, 2018

As the late screenwriting legend William Goldman famously said; “nobody knows anything” so predictions – especially about technology – always run the risk of making people look silly in the not-so-distant-future.

That said, I’m going to go out on a limb and say in the next few years we’re going to see more people becoming “Virtual Reality Refugees.” By which I mean immersive technologies will provide increasingly attractive alternatives for those wishing to escape the dreamlike madness that has overtaken our real world.

This isn’t a completely new idea — it’s been explored in movies, literature, and tons of tech articles — but this past year has convinced me it’s not a far-off possibility, it will be our reality before we know it.

Why 2018 was the pivotal year Read more on 2018’s political mess is a boon for VR escapism in 2019…

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Celebrating Christmas 2018 virtually

[Here are three short stories about how people are using technology to celebrate Christmas virtually this year. I wish you all a wonderful, restorative Christmas and holiday season, mediated by technology and otherwise! –Matthew]

[The first story, from Patch, is about a “virtual Santa sleigh ride” attraction in Chicago; for more details see ABC7 TV’s 3:37 minute news report. For coverage of other attractions see “Mindful of Amazon, malls take the Santa experience high-tech” in the Chicago Tribune.]

[Image: Source: O The Places We Go, where you can watch the 1:23 minute sleigh ride video]

Water Tower Place Debuts First in the Country Virtual Santa Sleigh Ride

Claire Vartabedian (community member)
November 15, 2018

This winter, Santa is coming to town in style with a fun seasonal adventure at one of Chicagoland’s premier shopping destinations. Water Tower Place is partnering with Portable North Pole (PNP), a web and mobile platform that specializes in creating customized Santa videos, to bring a unique virtual sleigh ride experience exclusively to Chicago. As the only U.S. location to host the iconic red sleigh from PNP, Water Tower Place is elevating the traditional visit to Santa Claus this holiday season.

Between November 16 and December 24, Chicagoans and tourists alike can experience the holiday magic of an interactive virtual ride on Santa’s sleigh, parked on the 7th floor of Water Tower Place. For $39.99, visitors can take Santa’s reindeer on a training flight with immersive technology and have a recorded video of their thrilling adventure from Chicago to the North Pole sent to their email address to be shared with loved ones. After the sleigh ride, children can greet Santa’s elves and meet with Santa to have their picture taken. In addition to their virtual sleigh video, guests will receive complimentary digital downloads of the pictures with Santa, one 5×7 print, one 4×6 print and four wallet-sized photos.

Visitors can upgrade to a premium package priced at $49.99 and continue the magic at home by creating a highly personalized video at There are eleven videos to choose from, each offering incredible scenes from Santa’s North Pole village. In the tailor-made video message, Santa will mention children by name, show photos of them in his magic big book, list real details of their life and much more to create a truly special, personal experience. Read more on Celebrating Christmas 2018 virtually…

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Companies use VR, presence to train employees for hostage situations, robberies

[The story below is about a depressingly necessary application of presence-evoking technology; it’s from CBS News, where it includes a 3:56 minute video report from CBS Morning News. For more on STRIVR, see the company’s website. –Matthew]

Companies use VR to train employees for hostage situations, robberies

December 20, 2018

Virtual reality is often associated with video games. But well-known companies are now using it as a tool to train for potentially dangerous situations. Major companies like Walmart, Chipotle and Verizon are using VR to prepare employees for what they could see on the job.

Verizon has more than 1,600 stores across the country where front-line employees help people get connected and buy the latest gadgets to do so. But the harsh reality is that those hot-ticket items make them a target for armed robberies, a dangerous scenario that could be difficult to imagine – until now.

In one digital scenario, two gunmen strike as the store opens, taking one employee hostage and going straight for the safe. It was only a simulation, but as CBS News correspondent Tony Dokoupil learned firsthand at a Verizon training site outside Washington, D.C., the fear was all too real. Read more on Companies use VR, presence to train employees for hostage situations, robberies…

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In Dreamscape VR attraction you literally walk through the screen of your own movie

[Presence as immersion and transportation are highlighted in this story about a new VR attraction; the original version from TimeOut Los Angeles includes several more images and a short video. For more on the development of the feature “The Blu: Deep Rescue” (and for a video trailer) see coverage in Variety, and for a 4:23 minute video report and a 9 minute podcast on the opening of the attraction see coverage from KTLA in Los Angeles. –Matthew]

In the virtual reality Dreamscape, you literally walk through the screen of your own movie

By Michael Juliano
December 14 2018

You can play fetch with a frog-cat, fend off a ferocious beast with a flashlight and steal a lost pearl from a vengeful temple guardian. Listing off such “where else could you do these?” sorts of experiences feels like a trope when talking about virtual reality, but, seriously, where else could you do these outside of the boundless, ever-evolving worlds of Dreamscape Immersive?

Dreamscape, which opens its first storefront today, creates grand virtual reality encounters that allow visitors to literally step into the narrative. The Westfield Century City space debuts with three 12-minute productions running (Alien Zoo, Lavan’s Magic Projector: The Lost Pearland The Blu: Deep Rescue), and plans to add a fourth by next spring.

Unlike VR arcades, Dreamscape aims to set itself apart with its cinematic ambitions: Cofounder Walter Parkes has produced sci-fi standards like Men in Black and Minority Report and held top positions at Amblin and DreamWorks; Hans Zimmer’s production studio composed the music; and AMC has partnered with the company to host storefronts at movie theaters around the country. Dreamscape also brings a bit of theme park magic to its DNA, as CEO Bruce Vaughn previously served as Walt Disney Imagineering’s chief creative officer.

While its creative pedigree is impressive, ticket-buying Angelenos will be more interested in the end result to justify their $20 purchase: an immersive attraction (which accommodates up to six guests) that puts the agency of advancing the storytelling directly into visitors hands—and feet and over their eyes. As Vaughn puts it, the use of VR at Dreamscape is similar to scuba diving; the equipment is simply a means to transport you. Tech is downplayed in favor of that transportive theme, which comes front and center at its travel agency-themed storefront. You check in at a departures counter and receive a ticket with a three-letter code for your destination, and then you await your journey in a lounge dotted with display cases and detailed curiosities that tie into the three experiences. Read more on In Dreamscape VR attraction you literally walk through the screen of your own movie…

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Media artists’ “Telepresence” is a collective, social VR concert

[This story from the Georgia Straight describes an interesting, and aptly named, music performance designed by two Canadian artists. For more information, including bios and a 1:43 minute video, see the venue’s website; even more details are available in coverage by The Source. –Matthew]

Telepresence brings immersive virtual reality to concert setting

by Alexander Varty
December 12th, 2018

We can’t quite explain what you’re going to see if you go to Telepresence, an adventurous virtual-reality undertaking at the Western Front this weekend, but we can promise you this: it won’t be like anything you’ve seen before. The brainchild of media artists Kiran Bhumber and Nancy Lee, with assistance from trumpeter JP Carter and assorted coders and programmers, it aims to upend the conventions of the traditional concert in at least a couple of innovative ways—including breaking down the barrier between stage and seating.

“In general, the way contemporary music is performed, or jazz or electronic music, is very staid and performer-separated,” Bhumber explains, in a conference call with Lee and the Georgia Straight. “You’re in your role as a performer or as an audience member. And what Telepresence does is it allows a new space [in which] to experience a musical performance. And the way that happens is by using VR, but also by having the live performer and the audience members in the same stage area.”

“Virtual reality is kind of a new medium, but conventionally it’s used in a very visually centred way,” Lee adds. “In gaming or in cinema, it’s really focused on the visual element. So we really want to reverse that hierarchy between the audio and the visual, centre the focus and the attention around sound and music, and create a visual element in the virtual environment that will evoke a deeper listening.” Read more on Media artists’ “Telepresence” is a collective, social VR concert…

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Peter Jackson’s WWI documentary “They Shall Not Grow Old” evokes “astonishing” presence

[Peter Jackson’s new WWI documentary “They Shall Not Grow Old” illustrates the power of film to evoke several types of presence. The film’s website and trailer feature these three quotes from reviewers: “Heart-breaking immediacy,” “A deeply human experience,” and “A haunting and moving lesson in how to bring the past vividly alive.” The trailer text concludes with “Travel back in time to experience history with those who were actually there.” The story below from The New York Times describes how the film was created and includes more references to presence as well as five brief “before and after” clips. More information including photos and video is available from the Daily Mail. –Matthew]

How Peter Jackson Made WWI Footage Seem Astonishingly New

The director restored archival combat film to pristine clarity for “They Shall Not Grow Old.”

By Mekado Murphy
Dec. 16, 2018

As the director of elaborate fantasy epics like the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” trilogies, Peter Jackson has become known for meticulous attention to detail. Now he has put the same amount of care into making a documentary.

With “They Shall Not Grow Old,” Jackson has applied new technology to century-old World War I footage to create a vivid, you-are-there feeling that puts real faces front and center and allows us to hear their stories in their own words.

The documentary, which will screen nationwide Dec. 17 and Dec. 27, concentrates on the experiences of British soldiers as revealed in footage from the archives of the Imperial War Museum. Jackson and his team have digitally restored the footage, adjusted its frame rate, colorized it and converted it to 3-D. They chose not to add a host or title cards. Instead, veterans of the war “narrate” — that is, the filmmakers culled their commentary from hundreds of hours of BBC interviews recorded in the 1960s and ’70s.

The result is a transformation that is nothing less than visually astonishing.

“The clarity was such that these soldiers on the film came alive,” Jackson said in a phone interview describing the restoration process. “Their humanity just jumped out at you. This footage has been around for 100 years and these men had been buried behind a fog of damage, a mask of grain and jerkiness and sped-up film. Once restored, it’s the human aspect that you gain the most.” Read more on Peter Jackson’s WWI documentary “They Shall Not Grow Old” evokes “astonishing” presence…

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XTAL ultra high-end VR uses emotion analysis to understand and manipulate user experience

[The new product described in this story from UploadVR suggests a coming evolution of presence-evoking technology that will more powerfully and seamlessly measure and manipulate the user’s experience, with both potentially amazing positive and frightening negative consequences. For more information see the VRgineers website. –Matthew]

XTAL Ultra High-End VR Headset Adds Neurable’s Emotion Analysis

By Ian Hamilton
December 10th, 2018

A new partnership between Neurable and VRgineers adds the former’s “brain sensors” to the ultra high-end XTAL VR headset.

We tried out Neurable last year, a system which places EEG (Electroencephalography) sensors along the interior of a VR headset’s strap to gather data from contact with the skin around the brain. Combining that information in real-time with eye-tracking could allow the system to identify, measure and analyze the emotion and intent of the person wearing the headset. The XTAL VR headset from VRgineers includes eye tracking, so adding the EEG sensors and using Neurable’s analysis software might offer customers with very large budgets more capable analysis and training tools than consumer grade systems like Rift and Vive.

“We anticipate that this will be an enterprise-grade device, built for professional designers and engineers who require superior visual quality and highly accurate, reliable analytics,” Neurable CEO Ramses Alcaide explained in an email. “We’ve seen a lot of traction in three main areas: high-consequence simulation training for industrial applications, design feedback in AEC [Architecture, Engineering and Construction] use cases, customer research for retail.”

VRgineers claim,”Neurable’s unique ability to overcome the signal-to-noise issues of traditional non-invasive” brain-computer interfaces “enable them to deliver on the promise of truly useful BCI technology for enterprise and consumer applications.”

The expected use cases for the system make sense for the XTAL headset, which starts around $5,500 for its ultra-high end features which include a higher resolution panel, expanded field of view and integrated Leap Motion hand tracking. There’s no word yet on when the headset with Neurable integration will be available, or how much it will cost. Read more on XTAL ultra high-end VR uses emotion analysis to understand and manipulate user experience…

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US Navy using VR and presence to train aircraft carrier flight deck crews

[There are clear benefits to using presence-evoking technologies for the training described in this story from Federal News Network. Tthe original story includes a 2:43 minute video (also available via YouTube) and for more details see the Navy’s press release. –Matthew]

Using virtual reality to train for one of the Navy’s most dangerous jobs

By Scott Maucione
December 13, 2018

Flight deck operations on an aircraft carrier have been described as a ballet of chaos. It’s an apt description for one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.

The flight deck crew is responsible for assisting the takeoff and landing of jets at breakneck speeds, handling highly flammable jet fuel and negotiating catapult and arresting gear that allows planes to operate from a small strip in the middle of the ocean.

So you might not blame flight deck operators if they don’t want to go right out onto an aircraft carrier after some time off and getting a little rusty with their skills.

Now through video game technology, sailors can brush up on their skills before jumping back onto a flight deck and putting themselves and others into danger.

“Having training available where we can actually practice and repeat activities as a team or as an individual or a team of teams helps us simulate the very dangerous environment in a safe location,” said Courtney McNamara, Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division’s advance gaming interactive learning environment team lead, in an interview with Federal News Network. “Our new technology helps them simulate that in a safe location. It also helps them practice in emergency conditions that normally can’t be done on the real ship.”

The simulator looks like something you might see in an arcade. It has a panoramic screen and crew members can talk to each other over radio communications.

The simulator uses virtual reality, gesture recognition and touch screens for controls and real ship systems. It is comprised of three programs, one for landing signal officers, one for catapult launches and a third for primary flight control. Read more on US Navy using VR and presence to train aircraft carrier flight deck crews…

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VR art show at London gallery seeks to repair our ‘broken connection with nature’

[The art collective Marshmallow Laser Feast has a new immersive installation in London, as described in this story from The National (see the original for more pictures and two videos). The creators provide some insights about how to design effective and impactful presence experiences as the available technology improves. The new installation We Live in an Ocean of Air extends the environmental themes of earlier MLF works covered in ISPR Presence News, Treehugger: Wawona and In the Eyes of the Animal. –Matthew]

The virtual-reality art show that seeks to repair our ‘broken connection with nature’

We Live in an Ocean of Air, now showing at Saatchi Gallery in London, fully immerses visitors in a multisensory experience that’s incredibly emotional

Seth Jacobson
December 12, 2018

In a cavernous, dark space beneath the Saatchi Gallery in west London, you can walk into a forest clearing where a giant sequoia tree grows.

For a magical 15 minutes, with the assistance of virtual reality headsets, headphones and wrist sensors, you can explore the largest living individual organism on the planet, eventually soaring up through the enormous structure and watching it breathe.

We Live in an Ocean of Air is an extraordinary multisensory installation by art collective Marshmallow Laser Feast, which runs until January 20. The work pushes VR technology to its limits. After you enter into the bowels of the gallery, you are hooked into a harness that contains the computer that will drive your experience. The headset and various sensors – including an ear clip that monitors your heart rate – are attached, and then you enter the experience.

Up to six people can engage with the installation at any one time, and you will see them as pulsing human forms contained within the same grid as you. When you look at your own hands, you will see oxygenated blood surge through them, and other sensors will pick up when you breathe and represent it digitally as clouds of sparkling particles.

Gradually, the ground beneath you becomes the grassy floor of a forest, and the majestic sequoia appears. You can circle it or even go inside it, and soon you become one with the tree, an organism that grows to almost 100 metres in the wild, and which can live for longer than 3,500 years.

Emotions run high

The experience is incredibly emotional: from your initial tentative steps, carefully waving your hands in front of you, there is a sense of caution as you become aware of the other bodies around you.

But then as the visual splendour kicks in, and you explore the space, there are gasps of wonder and peals of laughter as visitors explore the possibilities of the artwork. As the world around you begins to fade away at the end of an all-too-brief spell, there is a genuine feeling of loss.

For Barnaby Steel of Marshmallow Laser Feast, a design studio in London whose work focuses on “expanding perception and exploring our connection with the natural world”, the key to the installation is making it as immersive as possible. Read more on VR art show at London gallery seeks to repair our ‘broken connection with nature’…

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From stinky to cookies: Orlando firm creates scents for virtual reality games, military training

[We focus so much on sights and sounds in creating presence it’s easy to forget the importance of smells; this story from the Orlando Sentinel briefly describes the work of one company that creates this part of the illusion – see the original version for a 2:11 minute video featuring the company’s president. –Matthew]

[Image: Global Technology Integrators works with chemicals to make 2,000 scents in all. This bottle contains “Custom 5009” – 90% Raw Seafood B, 5% Fire Damage, and 5% Cordite. Credit: Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda / Orlando Sentinel]

From stinky to cookies: Orlando firm creates scents for virtual reality games, military training

By Marco Santana, Orlando Sentinel
December 11, 2018

In a tiny office in east Orange County, a company called Global Technology Integrators is creating thousands of smells meant to bring even more life to virtual reality.

And that means the hallway that leads to GTI’s office can smell like chocolate chip cookies — or something really, really foul.

The company’s products are helping amusement parks, military trainers and others bring scents into VR, a technology that mostly has focused on sight and sound so far.

“It’s all part of that world that we can simulate to a user,’’ said CEO Tony Oxford, who started the business about three years ago. “Smell is the particular sense your mind hones in on before any other sense.” Read more on From stinky to cookies: Orlando firm creates scents for virtual reality games, military training…

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